Video Game Review: ‘BEYOND: Two Souls’
In many ways the swan song for the Playstation 3, BEYOND: Two Souls is a mess. It’s a beautiful mess, but it’s still a mess.
Controversial writer/director David Cage and his company Quantic Dream have been known to deliver divisive products, as even the adored Heavy Rain has its detractors. However, BEYOND: Two Souls is so divisive that it practically reinvents and redefines the word. There will be those who will hate it and there will be those who love it. At the end of the day however, just because something is different and can initiate conversation does not necessarily mean it’s going to be a new standard bearer.
Perhaps the best word besides divisive that can be used to describe B:TS is frustrating. The gameplay can be frustrating, the story is frustrating, the emotions in the game are frustrating. I can’t quite decide if this is by design or not. BEYOND: Two Souls is almost like that indie film that tries so hard but in the end you’re left with something that is convoluted, gives you brief moments where you see what the director is trying to do but ultimately the film just crumbles under its own weight and nothing in BEYOND suffers from this more than the actual story. The basic story of B:TS follows a young woman named Jodie Holmes (excellently played by Ellen Page) who since she was very young has been linked to an entity called Aiden. Living a normal life is practically impossible so her parents seek the help of researcher Nathan Dawkins (played by Willem Dafoe) who takes Jodie in and studies what goes on around her, while also being a surrogate father figure to her. This story, instead of being told in sequential order, is told through scenes in a somewhat fragmented and random order. You’ll go from a scene with teenage Jodie to one with her as a little child and then suddenly with her as an adult. Some of fragmentation actually does work as you’ll see why David Cage put one scene before or after another, but more often than not you’ll just wonder why in the world it couldn’t just be told in a straight-forward manner. Why do I need a scene of Jodie joining the CIA and then the next scene is her having a snowball fight as a little girl? I have no idea.
This leads into the next problem with the story: for every one thing the story does that evokes emotion out of you and causes you to really empathize with Jodie as a character, it will do two things to make you not care about something else. The game contains several arcs with Jodie as an adult that are just simply unnecessary and unwanted. The real meat of the game is Jodie’s inner struggle with her entity and the chaos it causes in her life. Why is there not more of that but we’re given more and more of the terrible and clichéd storyline of Jodie and the CIA? Quantic Dreams works best when dealing with human stories and human emotions, not games with military espionage and recycled storylines. Speaking of gameplay, this is where more frustration sets in. Heavy Rain contained gameplay situations and moments that felt like they had weight to them; consequence. This is almost entirely stripped down for BEYOND. Controls are over-simplified for starters, as you could genuinely screw up in Heavy Rain and you had to move on but BEYOND does everything it can to never ever let you mess up. This completely removes any weight of any decision, but this really doesn’t even matter as decisions the game presents never have any real consequence anyways.
Where B:TS does shine it’s in the production values and how the game is put together overall. BEYOND is quite possibly the best looking game available on the Playstation 3 and I would even say it looks better than some of the upcoming Xbox One/PS4 launch titles. Through each scene of B:TS fragmented story, environments are detailed to obsessive levels. You can feel the rain, shiver at the cold and snow. Even small things like the way Jodie walks are detailed. If you’re playing a scene where she’s angry she’ll stalk around slamming her fists into the side of her leg or walking through the small as a child she will move very slowly and sway as she crunches through the ice. None of these details would have life however if not for the performances involved as well. The previously mentioned Ellen Page completely owns this role, haters be damned. Supporting actors such as Willem Dafoe and Eric Winter are fine but this is Page’s show. Also adding to the production values is the fantastic score from Normand Cobeil, Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer.
While the story can be frustrating in many instances, it does shine in quite a few spots as well. Whenever B:TS forgets all the CIA and other terrible storylines that it contains and just gives you a scene with Jodie living life, whether as a kid or adult, this is where BEYOND grabbed me. It says a lot when the best scenes in the game are Jodie attending a birthday party as a teenager, playing around with her mother’s make up as a child or her hastily throwing dinner together and getting dressed as an adult because there’s a date coming over. These scenes don’t worry about moving any nonsensical plot forward but instead just let you focus on taking care of Jodie and seeing her develop as a character. Quite honestly these scenes save the game, because if not for them then I would have even cared less than I already did during the other scenes.
At the beginning I called BEYOND: Two Souls a “beautiful mess” because that is exactly what it is. Story-wise and gameplay-wise it is in utter chaos but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love to look at the game, hear the game and experience the quiet, human moments with Jodie. It’s very rare that a game isn’t given a stellar review but I would still tell people to buy it. BEYOND: Two Souls is not perfect and it is frustrating like you can’t believe, but under no circumstances should you leave this generation of consoles without experiencing it. Not everything that is different is necessarily perfect and this game proves it, but the fact that it’s different and has enough gumption to do what it wants to do is commendable. You need to experience BEYOND: Two Souls.
It is such a beautiful mess.