Beyond: Two Souls (PS3), Review

The outstanding graphics and phenomenal acting of Beyond Two Souls can’t save the game from its awful script...

Release Date: October 8, 2013Platform: PS3Developer: Quantic DreamPublisher: SonyGenre: Adventure

At the conclusion of the opening sequence to Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, the lead character dives in front of oncoming traffic in a failed attempt to save his 10-year-old son. The young boy is killed and the main protagonist goes into a coma for months. It is a powerful prologue that played with the emotions of many gamers, including this writer. I was shocked. I was hurt. And I was absolutely hooked on Heavy Rain, a game that would tug on the heart strings several more times in order to keep gamers engaged with the story.

It is with these memories in mind that I fired up Beyond: Two Souls, Quantic Dream’s latest attempt at creating an interactive adventure game. The studio has upped the ante since its Heavy Rain days, hiring professional actors like Juno’s Ellen Page in an attempt to further elevate the game’s story and strengthen that emotional connection with players. Knowing just how much effort and money went into making the spiritual successor to one of my favorite games of this generation, I went in with my guard up, waiting for that first powerful moment that would make my jaw drop.

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But that moment that never came. I walked away from the title after a dozen hours feeling cheated and disappointed.

To be fair, there’s a lot to like about Beyond: Two Souls. The graphics are some of the best on PS3, the actors do a great job with what they have to work with, and the soundtrack is moving and adapts well as the story jumps from sci-fi to horror to many other genres.

But unfortunately for Quantic Dream, none of that great work stands up in light of the awful script by director/writer David Cage. Beyond: Two Souls’ story is a clichéd, nonsensical, boring mess that will make you cringe. By the time I was halfway through, I was audibly laughing at some of the game’s plot devices.

If you decide to give this game a shot, (I’d suggest just a rental), you’ll play as Jodie, a young girl who is haunted by a ghost named Aiden. The story will take you through different points in Jodie’s life, jumping back and forth between her years as a young girl, teenager and adult. The basic premise is that Jodie’s life is a wreck because of Aiden’s connection with her. Her parents are afraid of her and she eventually falls under government control. The government trains Jodie to become a CIA agent so she can use Aiden for something useful.

Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe and the other actors are beautifully rendered. The game is a perfect swan song for the Playstation 3 in the graphics department. There are plenty of small details, like the contents of Jodie’s room as child or teen, that will make you smile. If you’re a big Ellen Page fan, you’ll enjoy this game on her presence alone. The soundtrack, by legendary producer Hans Zimmer and composer Lorne Balfe, is also a highlight.

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Gameplay consists of controlling Jodie and occasionally Aiden. As Jodie, you’ll make different choices that will affect the outcome of later events. As Aiden, you won’t have quite as much freedom, but you’ll be asked to assist Jodie by doing things like moving objects, attacking enemies or even possessing other people. The gameplay isn’t anything to write home about, but again, that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to find out how your gameplay choices will affect the story. And that’s where things start going off track. It often feels like most of the bigger plot points are preordained no matter what you do. Your decision on what to wear or cook for your big date can have an effect on the date’s outcome, but when it comes time to kill someone, the game can kind of feel like it’s on rails, just pushing you along to the same destination no matter what you decide along the way. This is the first Quantic Dream title I’ve played in which I felt like the plot was kind of forced on me.

It doesn’t help that the story in between those major plot developments is filled with unintentional humor. Jodie has every stereotypical quality you would expect a young girl to have. Her dialogue comes off sounding like what a middle-aged game developer thinks a teenage girl sounds like, instead of anything authentic. Many of the plot developments will have you rolling your eyes at another Hollywood movie cliché instead of keeping you on the edge of your seat. Plenty of dialogue is overwrought or falls flat, despite the best efforts of the talent.

And that’s really a shame. Because you can tell Page, Dafoe and the rest of the cast really gave it their all. I’ve always said that developers spending money on Hollywood talent is a waste because the average voice actor can do just as good of a job for most games, but Beyond Two Souls proves me wrong. I know this is going to be damning the game with faint praise, but the highest compliment I can give the cast is that they took a laughably bad story and made it at least watchable with their performances. I just wish they would have had better material to work with.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe I expected too much. Maybe the likes of Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead have spoiled me. But it seems to me that a well-made adventure title with a crap story is a bad game, no matter how much you might enjoy the shiny graphics. Yes, there are plenty of games out there that have succeeded in spite of fumbling the story, but there’s usually some other element that helps save the day, such as unique gameplay. In any interactive adventure game, the primary reason you are playing the game is for the story, everything else is secondary. And that’s why I can’t let Beyond Two Souls off the hook. A mess of a script and plot developments that make the player feel passive and “on rails” end up torpedoing what otherwise would have been a great game.

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Story: 4Gameplay: 6Graphics: 9Soundtrack: 8Replay Value: 7