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Beyond: Two Souls (PlayStation 3) artwork

Beyond: Two Souls (PlayStation 3) review


"As a fan of Heavy Rain, I wasn't expecting anything really amazing from the gameplay of Beyond. What I was excited for was another dose of what made that game good: a compelling, if sometimes bizarre story that forces the player to think about his or her choices. In this regard, Beyond fails completely."



Beyond: Two Souls is Quantic Dream's follow up to one of the more interesting games to come out for the PS3, Heavy Rain. Like its predecessor, Beyond is a story driven experience with most gameplay derived from QTEs and decision making. But does the cinematic style and excellent production value equal a worthwhile game?

Beyond's gameplay consists of two modes. The majority of the time you will be playing as Jodie, finely voice acted by Ellen Page. Jodie controls about the same as the characters in Heavy Rain, meaning you navigate in third person and perform most meaningful actions with QTEs of varying complexity. Short actions such as picking up an object or opening a door are done by moving the right analog stick towards the white marker indicating an object can be manipulated. More difficult actions require timed presses of multiple buttons, or even shaking the controller a specific way.

The controls here are a step backward from Heavy Rain. More than once the camera angles shifted on me for dramatic effect and caused me to send Jodie in the wrong direction repeatedly. More seriously, the tiny white dots that serve to notify you that Jodie can interact with something are very easy to miss. Very often I saw white dots that were just weird lighting effects and weren't an actual indication of anything. Worst of all, the main combat QTE now consists of a slow motion moment in which you must press the right stick in the direction Jodie should go. Not only is this too simplistic to make the combat interactivity interesting, it is also horribly broken. Sometimes Jodie heads right into an attackers strike to block it, and you need to move the stick that way. Other times, she ducks or moves to the side. But much of the time Jodie doesn't telegraph which action she's going to attempt blatantly enough for you to know which way to go. I often found myself moving the stick towards my attacker to parry and getting struck because I didn't move a different way to dodge, and vice versa.

The other mode allows you or another player to control a ghost-like entity called Aiden that is attached to Jodie. Invisible to everyone, Aiden can move through solid matter and interact with certain people and objects using a weird control scheme that consists of locking on with L1 and moving the two analog sticks in a few different ways to properly affect your target. There are only a very few ways to move the sticks and accomplish what's necessary, and this mode gets old pretty quickly.

As a fan of Heavy Rain, I wasn't expecting anything really amazing from the gameplay of Beyond. What I was excited for was another dose of what made that game good: a compelling, if sometimes bizarre story that forces the player to think about his or her choices. In this regard, Beyond fails completely.

The basic plot is that Jodie is raised mostly in a lab and then forcibly recruited into the CIA because of her connection to Aiden. The story jumps back and forth through time, covering about fifteen years in Jodie's life. It's a cool idea, but it isn't executed well. Seeing Jodie's life as a little girl is some of the most compelling content in the game. A couple episodes in her adult life unrelated to the rest of the plot are also pretty entertaining. But everything gets overridden by some truly outlandish CIA jobs that are more goofy than thrilling. After only an hour or so of getting to know a new set of characters who offered more plot possibilities than the yawn inducing CIA nonsense ever did I flashed back to a pointless, Black Hawk Down-esque assassination mission in Africa.

The action in that section would have been more at home in an Uncharted than a game like this. The controls here don't work for a cover shooter. The game had me press a button to look out from cover and simply press another to flawlessly run and slide to the next cover wall without being seen. And if I saw a bad guy? An R1 appeared by his head. Press R1 for a perfect headshot. Having fun yet? No? Here come lame Aiden puzzles and broken slow motion QTEs! Is that better?

On the plus side, once the main story thread turns to completely over the top science fiction it gets much better. Ridiculous, sure, but with some great visuals and cool action. Another positive is that it seems that Quantic Dream took to heart the criticisms of the voice acting in their previous effort. The performances from Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and the other voice actors who didn't get above-the-title billing are all quite good.

But the biggest problem with the story is that your choices throughout don't actually matter. You can pretty much pick your ending at the finale regardless of most of your choices. That, for me, was an immense disappointment. Still, if you were a fan of Heavy Rain, Beyond may be worth a rental. Otherwise, avoid this one. It stinks.

Rating: 3/10

Germ's avatar
Community review by Germ (October 21, 2013)

Germ is the unfortunate nickname of Jeremy Davis, a guy who occasionally writes about comics, games and other things on his blog.

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Feedback

If you enjoyed this Beyond: Two Souls review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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pickhut posted October 22, 2013:

I figured since this game seem like it would follow a smaller cast of characters in comparison to Heavy Rain's bigger cast, that it would be more focused in the plot department. From the way you describe it, though, it's a surprising mess.

I like how you just went straight into explaining the game and what issues you had with it without adding any fluff, something I get carried away with sometimes in my own reviews. Nice review.
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jerec posted October 23, 2013:

Such a shame, I was looking forward to this one. Maybe it'll be a bargain bin purchase in a year or two.
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Germ posted October 23, 2013:

I was able to rent it and play through in two days for a grand total of $4. If you find a deal like that, it is worth a playthrough.

I should mention that I played with my wife controlling Aiden in two player mode and she really loved the game. She isn't much of a "hardcore" gamer (whatever that means, everyone has a different definition) so I think it was the first time she had seen a game with production values that high. In the past I had tried to get her into Heavy Rain, but she never really got the hang of post-SNES era controllers and couldn't handle the QTEs. Aiden mode seems specifically made for people like her. It reminds me of when my older brother was Sonic and I was always tails in Sonic 2 on the Genesis. I could feel involved without costing him lives when I messed up.

I felt bad writing this review. I really liked Heavy Rain despite its flaws, and I get angry when I see people criticizing it unfairly online. I didn't want to be THAT guy to someone who enjoyed or would enjoy Beyond. Still, I decided to be honest. Even with everything I've said about Beyond, I will still definitely play the next Quantic Dream game.
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honestgamer posted October 23, 2013:

I've learned to let developers disappoint me sometimes without assuming that they always will. Not every game a developer--particularly an auteur like Cage--makes has to be for me, but I admire what he is trying to do even if sometimes I might think he fell on his face. And I liked Heavy Rain too, and purchased Beyond: Two Souls, so hopefully I'll get something out of it when I find time to play it myself. Thanks for the review!
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zippdementia posted October 24, 2013:

As soon as I saw the trailers for this, I felt it made the mistake of moving away from the close personal connections that were established in Heavy Rain back to the Hollywood action hoo-haw that was Indigo Prophecy. I lost interest, and I was a HUGE fan of Heavy Rain.
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overdrive posted October 24, 2013:

I just am not a fan of the sort of gaming along these lines where the interaction is more limited and things are meant to essentially be a beautiful movie-like experience (or ANY experience where said experience is based more around the visuals or cinema or atmosphere more than the actual gaming itself).

I've read a lot of reviews of that sort of game and NOTHING I've read, no matter how glowing the praise is, remotely makes me interested in picking one up, even for a day.

I think that's probably why I enjoy spending so much time with retro stuff and probably why I'm far more interested in getting a 3DS than I am with getting either the XBOne or PS4. I'd just rather play simpler, less technologically advanced games that focus on the actual game than on having human models look realistic or creating this haunting ambiance that's great for writing eloquent words about, but essentially results in linear paths and QTE's up the wazoo.

I could probably rant for thousands of words about this, but to me, the biggest problem that's developed as the technology has gotten more consistent is that a pastime that's supposedly about having fun has turned into this huge cry for relevance and being taken seriously on a greater level and a lot of fun gets sapped from things in the process. With some developers, it seems like making a fun experience is secondary to creating an artistic monolith so stunning that it (hopefully) masks the fact that there's not necessarily much substance beyond that.

And that sort of mindset just seems to blend through too much into things like gaming journalism to the point where I'm happy just playing games and writing reviews of how I feel about them and have no real desire to delve into anything else whatsoever. Being on Twitter and seeing people go crazy over such pressing issues as how Penny Arcade is full of horrible people who haven't committed mass suicide over their horrid act of making a "raped by dickwolves" joke a couple years ago and other meaningless crap just seems like the sort of meaningless outrage with no purpose other than trying to say "Look at me! I'm not some stupid, childish gamer! I'm a real adult with real social morals who feels real outrage over stupid immaturity!"

Which at times is the vibe I get from developers like this Cage dude. He has a real story to tell and a real way to tell it...that just doesn't really seem to involve giving players a real gaming experience for when they buy their game to put into their real gaming system.

If people get into that, cool. But it just doesn't interest me one bit.
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Germ posted October 24, 2013:

I agree with a lot of that, especially what you said about all of the social justice causes being taken up by journalists recently.

What I will disagree with is your first paragraph in which you lumped "atmosphere" in with "visuals" and "cinema". My favorite game of all time, Symphony of the Night, just oozes atmosphere from every corner. It feels like its own world, much more so than even the Castlevanias that came after. I LOVE atmospheric games.

Also, I do think "cinematic" games can work. I like Uncharted 2 and 3. I thought The Last of Us was a solid 8/10, neither the 10/10 masterpiece journalists hyped or the MOVIE NOT A GAME!!! disaster internet trolls liked to claim it was. Those games, and others like MGS, have a balance of gameplay and cutscene that can really equal a sum greater than their parts. I may skip most cutscenes when I replay Uncharted 2 on high difficulties. But I'm glad they're there, and Drake's scripted quips and banter occasionally still give me a chuckle. That too, goes to atmosphere I suppose.

However, one of the games in my life that left the biggest impression was ICO. That game had incredible atmosphere, and the story, while simple, was well told enough to really stay with me. The connection the player feels for Yorda comes about through hours of protecting her in gameplay. It is a kind of storytelling that only games can do. Incidentally, I believe ICO was an early user of bloom, mimicking what a camera lens does when it's over exposed to light.

And here we get to the problem with games like Heavy Rain and Beyond. In Heavy Rain at least, the interactivity was simple, but at least it was impactful. If I got a bad ending I felt bad about it, like I could have done better. I liked it because it told a (somewhat cliche) story in a way that borrowed from movies (camera angles, actors) but did things movies couldn't do: provide interactivity and a chance to affect the outcome. It isn't really the same thing as when I relax and play an old Genesis or SNES game, but it is still an experience worth having. Basically like a well made visual novel.

What I would like to see is games that embrace the storytelling possibilities of gameplay. I remember reading comic writer Alan Moore complaining about the film of Watchmen, saying there are similarities between comics and movies but certain things are possible in a comic that aren't in film. I just read a preview for The Order: 1886 that describes them trying to imitate camera lenses in the graphics, and I have to ask: Why? I read another article saying 30 FPS is better in games that want to tell a story because it makes them look more like movies. Ridiculous!

One more thing I'd like to say (although it should go without saying): it is also a valid option for games to ignore story completely and just be games. My favorite era in gaming is Genesis/SNES.
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overdrive posted October 25, 2013:

I guess I really didn't explain myself well at all when I said atmosphere. I love good atmosphere in a game and like you mentioned, games like SotN are great at using it to their benefit. And that is a key factor in things like Skyrim or Fallout 3, where they do an awesome job of putting you in an immersive world. Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver for the PS was a decent game where its atmosphere, I thought, made it far better (nonstop block pushing puzzles became less annoying because I was captivated by the world).

I was speaking more of the games where it seems like the atmosphere is more of the be-all end-all of the arrangement. Best recent example I can think of is a game that came out either last year or early this year. A couple people here reviewed it -- might have been a Live Arcade or PS Network title, but I can't remember it. I think, if I remember right, Zipp reviewed it and really loved the experience, but to me personally, it just didn't seem like my cup of tea. It was the one where you cross a desert and/or mountain where you play online and can meet up with other players and work together to get past the monsters and find your way along. I could understand from the reviews why a person could love the game because of that atmosphere, but to me it seemed kind of a situation where I'd only like it if I could get completely into the atmosphere.

On another note, I think the video game journalist/tackling social issues thing is sort of a side effect of how comparatively new that sort of writing is. I'm amongst the oldest people here, turning 40 in under two months. I've gamed since I was in elementary school using such great technology as the Atari 2600 and Atari IIc computer. Other people here might have started in the 8-bit or 16-bit eras, but I'd guess most of us started gaming as kids and moved on to adulthood while still gaming.

But when you get into adulthood with your personal/work-related/etc. adult issues, I think for a lot of people, they look at the juvenile nature of gaming in general as sort of a stigma and go out of their way to show they're not a child anymore even if non-gamer society looks at what they do as child's play. And therefore, out comes the outrage when juvenile stuff gets becomes a focus because they want everyone to know that's not their way because they're a mature adult gamer who has no connection with any of that immaturity.
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Germ posted October 25, 2013:

I think the game you're describing is Journey, a PSN title. I haven't played it yet but I hope to soon and I think it will be an experience I enjoy.

I started with the NES. I think the PS360 gen has been the worst I've experienced. It's probably just because I'm a bit older now (25 soon) and the magic has worn off. Somewhere there's a kid whose first game is Journey, and he loves it. Nothing wrong with that.

To go back to comics, I will always prefer typical superhero fare to heavier stuff. Sure, sometimes I get a lot out of reading about what it was like to grow up under the oppressive influence of post-Revolutionary Iran in Persepolis, but I'll always come back to reading about Superman saving the day. Some folks will only read Persepolis and Maus and other high brow comics and never see the appeal of Supes. And that's fine.

I haven't yet played Gone Home, the recent title that features no enemies or puzzles and only has the player walk through a house reading notes to uncover the story. I'm extremely skeptical of it. It touts its lack of gameplay as a feature. I don't get that. Not only do you have no influence on the plot, but you aren't even rewarded for playing well. Is a game the best medium for that story? Maybe it would be better as a written short story. I think some of its more positive reviews have to do with its bold subject matter, which I won't spoil here. Again, I haven't played it. Perhaps it's brilliant.

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

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