BEYOND: TWO SOULS
Console: Playstation 4
Start Date: November 12, 2016
End Date: November 18, 2016
After Uncharted 4 and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, my honeymoon with the Playstation 4 continued with Quantic Dream‘s Beyond: Two Souls. I enjoyed the hell out of Quantic Dream’s two previous games (Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain), but this is the developer’s best work so far.
Beyond: Two Souls is the story of a young woman named Jodie (played excellently by Ellen Page) who is permanently bonded to a ghost-like entity named Aiden. The game’s narrative structure is nonlinear, and takes us through all the stages of Jodie’s life, from her childhood to her rebellious teenage years to her adulthood as a CIA agent.
Jodie’s life takes her to a wide variety of locations and situations, so the game’s chapters feel like very distinct and unique vignettes. But no matter which phase of Jodie’s life you’re playing through, you can be sure of one thing: her life is a fucking nightmare. Aiden’s constant presence means that Jodie appears to have all sort of superhuman abilities, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the X-Men movies, it’s that superpowers = persecution.
I don’t wanna spoil too much, but this story is so fucking compelling. Jodie is an awesome character, brought to life with such richness by Ellen Page. In fact, the acting is pretty great across the board, particularly Willem Dafoe and Dwayne Wayne as the scientists who become Jodie’s caretakers.
Like Quantic Dream’s previous titles, gameplay largely consists of contextual quick-time events. I’ve complained about the trend of QTE-based gameplay many times before, but I feel like this games makes some positive steps forward with the concept. There’s plenty of the usual “Press X, Now Press Y, NOW PRESS X AND Y AND ALSO L2” bullshit, but a new system is in place for combat gameplay which involves observing your character’s movements and tilting your analog stick accordingly. It’s definitely an improvement, but it’s worth noting that I still fucking suck at it, and messing up these segments led to poor Jodie dying many, many times.
Even sadder were the many times my lack of reflexes got other characters killed, including most of my favorite characters in the game. Jimmy, the homeless heroin addict who was kind to me during my lowest moment? Dead. Paul, the patriarch of the Navajo family who gave me a home when I had nowhere else to go? Dead. Dwayne fucking Wayne? Dead dead dead dead.
But you know who’s not dead? This fucking creep:
That’s Ryan, Jodie’s awful love interest. I tried everything I could to spurn this douche’s advances, but the game just wasn’t having it. I ended up kissing him and telling him I love him, because I had no choice, but guess what Ryan? I don’t love you. I never did. You should have burned to death in that fire instead of poor, sweet Jimmy.
Aside from murdering everyone you love as Jodie, you also frequently get to play as Aiden, and these are the game’s funnest moments. As a ghostly type of dude, Aiden can effortlessly pass through walls, ceilings and floors to perform reconnaissance missions and eavesdrop on distant conversations. He can also trash rooms poltergeist-style, and attack or possess people. The control method for Aiden’s interactions with the world are unusual, and usually involve manipulating a pair of glowing blue dots:
This scheme works well for the most part, but it seems arbitrarily inconsistent – sometimes you have to push the dots together, and sometimes you have to pull them apart like a slingshot and let them snap back into place. I could never identify a pattern to this, so the first step in every task was experimenting to figure out which method to use this time. This led to some panicked moments, but overall didn’t tamper my enjoyment of the Aiden segments.
Eventually, you find out exactly what Aiden’s deal is, and it’s very emotionally impactful. The whole game is, in fact, which all culminates in the final, gut-wrenching choice you are forced to make (which I won’t spoil here). Ultimately I think I made the right decision, but man was it a doozy.
Here’s a gallery of my trophies (SPOILERS!):
If you’re a fan of Quantic Dream’s previous work, or of narrative-driven video games in general, Beyond: Two Souls is definitely worth checking out. All the flaws of this genre are still here, but many are vastly improved, and the engaging story, performances and gameplay more than make up for the shortcomings.
The Black Hand Gang