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Beyond Two Souls

*-Beyond_Two_Souls_final_coverI love you, Ellen Page.

After a brief hiatus of not beating games for a while, I’m back! Hubby and I played Beyond Two Souls together. Playing cinematic adventures created by Quantic Dream together has kinda become our “thing” since playing Indigo Prophecy together back before we were married. Ah, memories.

So. Friday night we finally reached the conclusion of this game. For those of you not familiar with these Playstation exclusive gems; Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, and Beyond Two Souls are video games created by Quantic Dream. They are more video than game (becoming more and more “video” as time goes on) but the experiences each provides are certainly unique and definitely interesting, to say the least. This is only a Beyond Two Souls review so I won’t speak too much on the other games. All I will say is that these are all experiences worth having if you own a Playstation 2 or 3.

I will say that I generally enjoyed our experience with Beyond. There are plot summaries and descriptions of this game all over the internet so I’ll keep the plot synopsis to a minimum. But the thing is, this game is ALL plot so I have to talk at least a little about it to explain the good andbad. You essentially have two main characters:  Jodie, the woman acted by Ellen Page, and the disembodied soul who attaches itself to her, Aiden.  The player gets to play as both characters, depending on what the game requires at the time. Usually it is pretty clear as to whether you should be Jodie or Aiden. Sometimes you can cheat the game and choose to explore as Aiden. When you do so, you’ll usually stumble upon some Bonus unlockables. Otherwise, it is quite clear as to who you should be controlling.

And unless you’re finding some unlockable bonus items you’ll never look at, there is very little reason to stray from the main narrative. Beyond Two Souls is masterful at telling a story, don’t get me wrong (thanks, in no small part, to the amazing acting), but as far as being a video game, it falls a bit short. At least with Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, I felt like my actions contributed to something. Heavy Rain, especially, had significant and lasting effects to how the story played out depending on my actions and skill as a gamer. Beyond Two Souls? …Not so much. No matter whether we screwed up a quicktime event or not, the game continued on with the same story and events. Okay, until you get to the game’s climax. Responding to the quicktime events doesn’t require quite so much skill as it does, I don’t know… good guess work?

Call me a moron, but about half the time I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to be pressing for directions. in Beyond Two Souls, your cinematic events are navigated through responding to on-screen prompts (pretty easy) or moving the right analog stick. When prompted to move the right analog stick, the game goes into slow motion and you’re supposed to respond according to how Jodie is swinging her limbs. I had a really hard time figuring out if I was supposed to be aiming up, left, right, down, or wherever during most of these action sequences. Sometimes I felt like the game gave it to me just because. “Yeah, it’s like, up or right, close enough. Wherever you think the bad guy’s balls are.” You get the idea.

When you aren’t haphazardly responding to ambiguous quicktime prompts, you’re watching an interesting story unfold. Along the way, the main character Jodie and her attached soul Aiden are involved in a love/hate relationship with each other and the rest of the individuals they meet along the way. The story is told through snippets of memory along a nonlinear path. It is reminiscent to me of a certain autobiography I read relatively recently. Anyway, you’re in for a story told from a bouncing point of a view. I find this to have pros and cons. I am assuming from the game creator’s point of view, the “pro” comes in the form of being able to adequately space out the action sequences from the slower, more plot relevant sequences. I can appreciate that. Really, from a gamer’s perspective, I do. But from the storyteller/writer’s perspective, you have a discombobulated game that bounces from scene to scene, and it is quite hard to follow. And it feels like the writers wanted me to follow. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t. Most of the time I looked to my husband who has the better memory to remind me of the scenes before and after what we just did and connect the dots for me.

That’s what happens to players like us who go a week between gaming nights.

If you’re a better gamer than me and can beat this game in less than a week, then I suspect that’ll be less of an issue. But for those more distracted gamers like me. it is a bit of a problem. I’m not kidding, at the end of the game, when you get to pick the character Jodie chooses to stick with, I was like, “Wait a minute, who is that guy?!” This might be more of a commentary on my pathetic memory than the actual game, but I think it says something when a character doesn’t leave a big enough impression on my mind for me to remember his damn name when push comes to shove. To be fair, this particular guy’s chapter had little to do with the overall plot of the game.

Without going on for a few paragraphs about the game’s story, I will make a few observations. I did enjoy seeing Jodie grow up; as painful and action-deprived as the chapters may have been. Understanding where a fictional character comes from is very important in understanding where they are going; especially when it comes to knowing why they make the decisions that they do. As an aspiring author, I firmly believe this. And because I play video games for a myriad of reasons, I am willing to forego the necessity of killing things or breaking property to come to that realization. I would’ve much appreciated a coherent story than what I was presented with. Anyone who disagrees probably shouldn’t be playing this type of game.

Overall, I’m going to come out and say I think I liked Quantic Dream’s predecessor, Heavy Rain, more. I think breaking up the narrative through four different character’s eyes come across better than bouncing back and forth through one person’s point of view. Then again, that was a different story with a different presentation. So from a video gamer’s perspective, I’ll say that giving the player an actual reason to PLAY than to WATCH, is received much better. Us people who play video games like to think our input amounts to something. I certainly didn’t get the impression the buttons I was pressing on the controller meant much of anything. Until the ending, that is. And then it was pretty blatant. I tried so hard to kill a certain-douchebag-someone at one point… but the narrative decided I couldn’t. If you’re writing a video game, that seems pretty lazy. If there are certain repercussions, then show us what those are! Don’t rule them out entirely.

If you’re like me and recall those glory days of playing video games for their impacting story, then Beyond Two Souls is definitely for you. To be honest, the game doesn’t have much else going for it. If you decide to partake on this great adventure, you’ll come away with a great respect for all the actors who brought these characters to life. The dialogue the writers made them perform certainly didn’t do the trick.

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