What do you get when you mix Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page and developer Quantic Dream? Apparently, a really average game with on-point voice acting. Beyond: Two Souls was released in 2013 as an exclusive on PS3. On the 24th of November 2015 the game was rereleased on PS4 with slightly different combat, better controls, improved graphics, and added features. After playing the re-release, I am left frustrated because the game had so much potential. Beyond: Two Souls is sub-par because it fell flat on its face in certain aspects, especially in its game play. Overall the game is average, with an amazing concept and an advanced narrative that engages the audience but with tedious and boring game play which is insulting in its simplicity. The player is left confused and questioning the choices made by developer, Quantic Dream. With great characters, masterful story portrayal and engaging themes, Beyond: Two Souls could have been an amazing game, but its lackluster game play ruined the experience and will leave the player angry at how such great potential was ruined.
The redeeming features of the game are present in the cinematics and the concept. Conceptually, the game is original and engaging. The player is led through the life of the protagonist, Jodie Holmes, in a non-chronological order. Playing through various scenes in Jodie’s life, you are shown a mix of her childhood as she faces loneliness and rejection, her teens as she struggles to live a normal life, and her adulthood as a developed complex character. The cinematic nature of the game is intriguing and with a non-chronological approach it is enticing and engaging.
The positives of the game are only ever present in the cinematics of the game, especially through the central characters. Ellen Page and William Dafoe certainly bring an extra edge to the experience. Ellen Page especially, presented a comprehensive character in Jodie Holmes, who, as the protagonist, has an immaterial and spiritual being tethered to her. This spiritual being, named Aiden caused Jodie to be a social outcast with ‘special’ powers. Aiden is a playable character who is able to manipulate characters through mind control and engage with the environment physically, despite never being seen by anyone. This ability leads to a series of events in the game that lead to Jodie’s ostracism and abandonment by her foster parents. However, the game also explores the positive side to these powers through the kind side of Jodie’s character. It therefore illustrates a duality that runs central to the themes of the game. The special powers or spiritual being that Jodie has been forced to accept lead to her ruin but also becomes her greatest asset.
Willem Dafoe presents an equally convincing character, troubled by the pain in Jodie’s life as he is her doctor but becomes her de-facto father figure. As he struggles with raising Jodie and exploring her spiritual powers, the two explore a father-daughter relationship that is analysed in the game and torn apart by Jodie’s burdensome powers. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe created convincing characters in their voice and their motion capture work. This skillful performance exacerbates the other positives in the game and brought an original touch to the cinematic nature of the game.
The rework of the game included features that did bring the game into this generation of console gaming. The PS3 version was reputed for having excellent graphic quality. While the graphics have improved for the PS4 version, they are not inline with the greats of aesthetics for this generation, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider or Alien Isolation. Statistics have been introduced for the rework of the game, so that you can know the decisions you made compared to most others who have played the game. Because the decisions made in each chapter can affect subsequent chapters, this is quite a quirky feature that really interested me. Slightly different combat fixed a few bugs with the PS3 version with the intention of making combat smoother. This attempt to fix combat really didn’t work so well, since game play is still the worst part of this game, by far. Another façade to the rework is the ability to play the game chronologically. For those gamers who don’t like the non-chronological approach, this is a relief. However, the non-chronological nature of the narrative of the game is part of its biggest appeal. So this seems superfluous and brings nothing new.
All this work and ingenuity on the cinematic nature and narrative of the game is wholesomely undone by basic and frustrating gameplay. The main strain of gameplay is through interaction with the environment and quick time events. This game is overly dependent on the scourge of a mechanic, quick time events. Quick time events are tedious, boring and unoriginal. It seems lazy from developer, Quantic Dream. The other main source of gameplay is from simple interactions with the environment. For example one of the chapters is playable by simply opening the door and removing a piece of wood from the fence, to sneak out. No matter how advanced of a narrative the game produces, the game play should be the body of the game, not an afterthought.
The game does produce an interesting stealth mechanic, but underutilises it. The stealth mechanic is reminiscent of early Metal Gear Solid games, but is rarely used. However, the stealth mechanic, the only bearable part of the gameplay, is not only underutilised but it is undone by the frustrating camera angles. Bad camera angles should stay a part of the PlayStation one era of gaming, yet astonishingly, this game manages to have frustratingly bad camera angles, exacerbating the simplistic and unintentionally insulting gameplay. The use of Aiden, the spiritual being playable through Jodie, could have liberated the game from its terrible and simple mechanics but, it doesn’t. All Aiden can do is interact with physical objects and spiritual objects. This woefully simple model of gameplay requires no skill and is passive, unengaging, and presents itself as insulting any gamer who wishes for any challenge.
Beyond: Two Souls is a game that had so much potential with an advanced story that was told through an original and interesting non-chronological approach. With convincing and thorough characterisation, the game could have been a masterpiece. However, with basic, uninteresting, unchallenging and passive gameplay the game becomes a frustrating mix of engaging narrative and repulsive gameplay. Beyond: Two Souls managed to draw me into Jodie’s story but push me away through the abortion of any model of game play. Any positive aspects of the gameplay were never highlighter and were underscored by other problems. As such, this game and its re-release were made even worse by its frustrating mix of allure and repulsion.