Beyond: Two Souls Review

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As a game reviewer, Beyond: Two Souls puts me in a precarious position. This game completely blew me away. It enthralled me, sucked me in, and left me desperate to start a second play-through, but after all that I couldn’t decide if Beyond: Two Souls is actually a good game, or if I’m just an artsy, indie, gaming hipster.

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Confused? Welcome to my conscience.

Somehow, this game becomes an awkward metaphor for itself. It’s divided much like the gaming industry, with one half concerned with the quality of storytelling and the other with the gameplay mechanics. The differences between the artsy side and the traditional gaming side are staggering in a way that hinders my ability to draw direct conclusions about this title, so to clear things up here’s two reviews: one for the artsy side, and one for the traditional.

 

Beyond: Two Souls: Holy crap, everything is different now.

Wow. Just wow. No one has ever attempted what Quantic Dream has done, and I don’t just mean hiring the first ever A-list actors to model, voice, and star as major video game characters.

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I said A-list actors.

This game has hit a new high-water mark for what is assumed possible in a game. The story of a girl with ghost powers is fleshed out over the course of the character’s entire life. We see her birth, her early childhood, and the increasingly tragic events in her quest to get everyone to just leave her the hell alone. No game has ever mapped out a single character’s journey to this extent, and B:TS completely nails it. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe’s acting makes falling in love with these characters almost natural, and every line had me wondering why no one had ever done this before? Even among game of the year contenders like The Last of US, the difference in the quality of the acting doesn’t even seem fair.

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Of course, they did work at it.

Also, this game is absolutely beautiful. It looks like a Sony first-party title, something that we have not really seen since God of War 3, or again, The Last of Us. Special attention has clearly been given to each character’s facial expressions, and sometimes they looked so realistic that it actually caught me off guard.

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Apparently, we had been settling on quality and never knew it.

Even the story, typical video game premise that it is, has been fleshed out above and beyond what any previous title has ever attempted. How many games have you played that included a sequence of being homeless, or getting ready for a date, or being a teenage girl throwing a temper tantrum that was not only relevant but enticing. Quantic Dream has a knack for unique gaming experiences, and with B:TS they went crazy while still tying everything together with a bow.

Beyond: Two Souls could be the turning point for our industry. If it does well enough, it could lead us into a new world of actors getting into game projects, and it certainly has changed what is expected of games in the future. It plays with the grandeur of a movie, but a movie could never do what B:TS has done. This is an excellent game for the collection, and just maybe a good sign of progress for the industry.

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Willem Dafoe: world’s greatest NPC.

 

Beyond: Two Souls: That was pretty good.

Story is an important part of most games, but it can never be everything. The power of video games over other mediums is the element of immersion that comes with controlling a character, or an event, or a fleet of star ships. Immersion makes an action something that we own. The characters become us, the actions are our actions, and the game is our playground for a while, so for a game to be good, it must be able to immerse us. Beyond: Two Souls… well it has a lot of heart.

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Trophy for effort

Undeniably, the story is great, the graphics are the best in the industry, and the acting is top-notch, and, oh, how I wanted to spend 12 hours nestled deep in this game’s perfectly rendered bosom. Unfortunately, this title doesn’t take to well to one of these:

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They’re more like frienemies, really.

If you’ve played Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, you know that Quantic Dream has never quite gotten down the human element of their video game epics. Once again, the walking controls are just about impossible in tight spaces, and their efforts to make movement flowing and graceful means that any kind of precision walking involves smashing your head into a wall several times.

The quick time events also make a triumphant reappearance. They’re not bad, really, unless you have a previous aversion to QTE’s, but frankly there’s too many of them. QTE’s are used for any variety of trivial things, such as grabbing a letter from someone’s hand, something that I thought would be handled automatically, especially since the QTE interrupted the cut scene in which I was being handed the letter. I was under the impression that if I did nothing eventually whatever I was doing would change, but I never figured out the timer length because if it exists then it is just too damn long. I understand that the idea is to maintain the immersion or give the player something to do, but if I’m manually doing what should be done automatically then maybe I should be doing either none or all of it.

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“Use the right analog stick to draw each letter.”
“Oh, Hell, no.”

The worst design choice is in the combat. Combat QTE’s are based on the right analog stick. Players are supposed to move the analog stick in the direction of the character’s attack to fulfill the attack. Moving away from an opponent’s attack dodges. Now let’s add blocking. You block by moving towards the opponent’s attack, and it’s a nightmare. I must have failed every block attempt in this game, thinking I was supposed to dodge.

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This one’s probably a dodge.

But the part that upsets me is actually that my repeated failures had such a minimal effect. Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t have game overs, at least not as far as I can tell one play-through in. failed QTE’s change the events of each chapter, which is a cool and original concept, but the story can only branch so far into parallel dimensions. After a while, I began to realize that this game was more interested in railroading me through the story than giving my mistakes meaning, and though I loved the story, I would have really loved to see how crazy things could have gotten if the game had the capability to explore those options.

 

Beyond: Two Souls: Conclusion: Overuse of colons

Beyond: Two Souls is another example of a great story, but maybe not necessarily a great game. I mean, it’s still a good game, of course, and anyone familiar with Quantic Dream’s control schemes or style will recognize this game as their opus. It is a record-shattering accomplishment for interactive media, and it’s flaws are not damning but they certainly stick out. With tighter controls, or a bit more consequence to the player’s actions, this title could have been an easy choice for game of the year. Instead, it joins a close GOTY battle during a great year for gaming.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play it a second time…