Beyond Two Souls is arguably the best looking game of the year and is home to one of videogame’s finest ever performances. So far so good right? Well, yes, but one should also take into consideration that it is also home to one of the more ludicrous plots devised in quite some time (and I don’t mean that in a good way) and some of the most inconsequential and downright basic videogame mechanics of all time.
The problem with Beyond Two Souls is that, by removing the consequence driven mechanics that drove David Cage’s previous works forward, Beyond Two Souls is essentially left as a mildly interactive, ‘mostly’ well-acted but ultimately poorly realised movie. The mechanics are much the same as those found in both Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, albeit, in a slightly refined form, but due to the story being so consistently linear with the majority of outcomes set regardless of your actions, all of the tension that was formerly tied to those mechanics has now been largely removed.
Sure, the elaborate QTEs of Heavy Rain were nothing special and arguably more simplistic than what is found here, but when you knew that success or failure had genuine consequence, the type that might conceivably mean death for one of the games’ leading characters, they were imbued with the kind of tension that made each of them a genuine event. With that largely removed for Beyond Two Souls, the experience is robbed of its immediacy and tension, thus leaving an interesting, but ultimately convoluted and hokey tale that, while starting rather well, soon descends into the kind of nonsense that is quickly becoming David Cage’s unfortunate calling card.
That’s not to say the experience is without merit though. As previously stated, the performances, while uneven, are a huge step-up from Cage’s previous work. Heavy Rain might have been a great premise, but some of the performance and writing were truly atrocious. Some of the writing here is a tad on the clunky side too, but the whole experience is elevated, thanks in no small part to the genuinely fantastic performance of, Ellen Page as the games’ lead, Jodie. With the narrative following four periods of her life, Quantic Dreams has us jump back and forth in time throughout her life. Sadly, it’s very hard to see the positives of such a move from a narrative perspective; the jumps, instead of building a sense of mystery or suspense, work primarily to keep you disconnected from the story, and in some respects, criminally disconnected from it’s fantastic lead.
Still, embrace the lunacy and the story of Jodie and her supernatural, poltergeist-like companion, Aiden is still an enjoyable enough ride with a few scenes in particular really hitting the mark. It’s a shame that the storytelling and gameplay isn’t more consistent, but there are at least flashes of brilliance amongst the disappointing mediocrity and, despite its many missteps, still represents something genuinely unique in an industry that loves to farm out identikit sequels.
I’d love to say that the inclusion of the mysterious, Aiden and the ability to play from a first person perspective as a ghostly apparition brought the game to life (no pun intended), but even these sections are relatively rudimentary with interactions, despite being able to travel through walls, still limited to items with a blue or white dot. It’s also a shame that the intriguing concept of Aiden’s existence isn’t more fully investigated. Instead, his inclusion seems little more than an excuse to turn the crazy up a notch or two rather than attempt to deal with larger, more interesting concepts.
Beyond Two Souls is a slicker, prettier, better scripted and far better acted product than its predecessors, but thanks to its linear design, fails to capture the imagination in the same way as the flawed but entertaining experiments that came before it. The inclusion of multiplayer and tablet support does provide a fresh twist on what are essentially the same mechanics as found in its predecessors, but they simply can’t save Quantic Dream’s latest from being a hugely interesting, but ultimately flawed experience.
Ellen Page shines (Willem Defoe not so much) and, through her performance, gives genuine credence to the argument that videogames are now being taken more seriously than ever as a genuine art form. It’s just a shame that, while certainly not lacking ambition, Beyond Two Souls does not deliver the accompanying experience that her stellar performance deserved. It looks fantastic, sounds fantastic and certainly starts promisingly enough, but the lack of choice and subsequent consequence invariably robs the experience of its immediacy, leaving behind a hollow shell of a videogame.
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