Review: Beyond – Two Souls

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The role of Jodie is portrayed by Hollywood actress Ellen Page, who supplied her likeness and her voice talent (image: SCE)

Quantic Dream rose to prominence with its near-perfect interpretation of the interactive film Heavy Rain. Director David Cage recreated a modern version of story-telling by allowing players to step into the shoes of the main character through a strong narrative and an interesting game mechanic, which played out like a silver-screen blockbuster.

The role of Jodie is portrayed by Hollywood actress Ellen Page, who supplied her likeness and her voice talent (image: SCE)
The role of Jodie is portrayed by Hollywood actress Ellen Page, who supplied her likeness and her voice talent (Image source: SCE)

Cage’s Quantic Dream has again ventured into the interactive film-game genre, and this time Beyond: Two Souls has players experience the world through the eyes of Jodie, a girl who has an entity tethered to her soul.

The role of Jodie is portrayed by Hollywood actress Ellen Page, who supplied her likeness and her voice talent to the tormented character, while screen veteran Willem Dafoe acted out the role of her scientist guardian and mentor.

What we like about it


Alternating between events in her life, players get to live through Jodie’s experience of being a scientific study between the ages of about five to 23 year’s old. She resides at a secret CIA base of most of her life, under the watchful eye of Nathan (Dafoe), as she tries to come to grips with Aiden, the entity that is tethered to her soul.

This also brings in an interesting aspect into the title, as players not only control Jodie for the majority of the game, but they will also have to control Aiden to help her. While the game does not have a multiplayer mode, it does have a duo control scheme. One player will control Jodie, while a second player will be able to control Aiden through a smartphone or tablet that is connected to the same network as the PlayStation 3.

In what is a bit of trademark for Cage, players do not have control over conversations, but rather Jodie’s emotions. Depending on what emotion players select, that will be her response to questions, statements or general conversational topics. And tagging onto trademarks, the title does borrow many elements from Heavy Rain – which gamers should enjoy.

The plot is a complex structure of going back and forth in Jodie’s life - even as a homeless person (image: SCE)
The plot is a complex structure of going back and forth in Jodie’s life – even as a homeless person (image: SCE)

In terms of plot, it is a complex structure of going back and forth in Jodie’s life as she tries to navigate her teenage angst, her drafting into the Army and the CIA, and even struggling to come to grips with Aiden’s constant presence from a young age.

Things start to unfold during the course of the title, and Jodie realises that there is no turning back towards a normal life – and ultimately she starts questioning what happens after death.

One aspect of the title that is distinctly Quantic Dream is the high quality of graphics. But with that said, there are some instances where it fails. Facial animation, the accurate portrayal of emotion and attention to small details all contribute to a convincing title – which is expected from a game of this magnitude.

But while the developers focussed on tiny strands of hair on Dafoe’s face and detailed wrinkles around Page’s eyes, they neglected to place tyre tracks or footprints in the snow. Small, but noticeable, details detract from the title, as it seems they only really focused on the important characters.

What we do not like about it

Small details aside, the title delivers an overall satisfying experience, but there are a number of factors that might annoy players. Much improvement has been made since the days of Heavy Rain, but for some reason Jodie has no sense of urgency.

There are a number of occasions where players need to run towards danger or escape from it, and Page’s character will just amble along, constantly looking over her shoulder. The lack of a ‘run’ button means that players will have no choice but to simply direct the strolling character out of harm’s way at a pace decided by the developers.

While much effort has been put into accurately recreating the likeness of Dafoe and Page, there were occasions where Jodie more resembled Kirsten Bell than Page – especially in her teenage years. And whether intentional or not, Dafoe’s laboratory partner (portrayed by Kadeem Hardison) is kind of creepy toward Jodie throughout the game.

Screen veteran Willem Dafoe acted out the role of Jodie's scientist guardian (image: SCE)
Screen veteran Willem Dafoe acted out the role of Jodie’s scientist guardian (image: SCE)

Dafoe has starred in many, many films since his debut in 1980, and has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor twice, but the portrayal of Nathan would not have been different if it was any other actor – and the same can be said for Page.

And once players play attention to it, they will realise that there is an awful lot of crying in Beyond. The streaking tears running down Jodie’s face in all its Quantic Dream detail is impressive the first couple of times, but after a while it loses its awe.

…which also brings forth the issue of character growth and development. Sure, Jodie has more than her fair share of troubles than your average teenager, but she hardly shows any character development.

In Crystal Dynamics’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise, players experienced the hardship and violence that Lara Croft had to endure, and she had a tangible development cycle – going from scared and alone to fierce and aggressive. The same development was witnessed from Jason Brody in Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3.

Jodie’s character however stays pretty flat throughout the title, and it’s actually difficult to peg a personality to her. And with the lack of that, players might feel hard-pressed to develop an emotional link to her like they did with Ellie from The Last of Us.

Conclusion

Beyond: Two Souls is an entertaining title, but players should not look at it as an interactive film, but rather as a highly-detailed and immersive video game – which is exactly what it is. In terms of controls, it handles perfectly (even if some characters still struggle to run in a straight line) and the game does provide a tutorial through some interesting missions.

The graphics are superb in all the right places, but there are some aspects of slight neglect which removes some of the realism that Cage was trying to instil in players. The title also provides players with a number choices throughout the game, which will affect conversations and actions. Depending on which actions players take, it will determine the ending of the title – and there are four endings that can be explored.

Beyond does start out rather slow, slower than Heavy Rain at least, but it does pick up the pace somewhat once the plot unfolds and Jodie realises that things are heading downhill. Fans of Heavy Rain will no doubt enjoy Beyond: Two Souls, but it will remain to be seen for how long Cage and Quantic Dream will be able to keep up the allure and immersion of the “interactive movie” before interest starts dwindling.

Our score: 8/10

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor