Wednesday 23 October 2013

Beyond: Two Souls

Quantic Dream's first title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, was an incredibly inventive experience. While their games have lost a great deal of interactivity since then, their stories and scripts have gotten closer to what might be considered "film material", which in itself is rather interesting. Their latest title, Beyond: Two Souls, continues this trend and helps create what is less a videogame and more a movie. This is both good and bad.

First things first- lets stop pretending that Heavy Rain was some kind of high art. Back in 2010 critics were bowled over by Heavy Rain, Quantic Dreams' supposedly deeply emotional, moving and nuanced drama thriller. In retrospect it had less interactivity than a game of Monopoly, a script that would be laughed at if it appeared in a sub-par movie, and a twist that M. Night Shyamalan would be proud of. It wasn't awful, but it didn't deserve the respect it got. However, while Beyond: Two Souls is very much like Heavy Rain in terms of gameplay, it corrects the missteps it took to deliver a pretty solid experience.

Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes, a girl that is linked to a mysterious, ghostly entity known as Aiden. The game takes place over 15 years of Jodie's life in an episodic and jumbled order, and focuses on her connection to Aiden, and her struggle to achieve a normal life. The cast is headlined by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, but not only in voice, but also in motion and facial capture. This inclusion of real Hollywood talent is what sets Beyond: Two Souls apart from Heavy Rain. Instead of the drama on-screen being played out by C-grade TV advert actors, the cast in Beyond: Two Souls is impeccable, and their performances are nicely conveyed through each actors digital self.

Much like Heavy Rain, the gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls could be described as more of an interactive movie than a videogame. That said, gone are the tedious combat Quick Time Events of Heavy Rain, which are replaced by something similar, but vastly more fluid and natural. Despite being more of an interactive drama, gameplay is varied at times, which blends simple exploration, detailed dialogue trees and excellent action scenes. However, the best moments are when the player is able to control Aiden, the spectre that protects Jodie. As Aiden, the player can interact with the environment through moving objects, throwing chairs, burning out light-bulbs to even forcing enemies into shooting themselves. Playing as Aiden steals the show and undoubtedly makes for the better moments when playing Beyond: Two Souls.

The crux of Beyond: Two Souls is freedom of choice, and for the player to freely make choices throughout Jodie's life. While most of these choices are meaningless to the story (the choice whether to kiss or not kiss a boy at your birthday comes to mind!), the game does have a few endings that deliver drastically different outcomes for the games characters. Beyond: Two Souls deals with heavy issues, but isn't as much of a slog to get through as Heavy Rain. In fact, from the heavy issues Beyond: Two Souls deals with, it deals with them pretty well, which ultimately leads to a rather pleasing conclusion, despite whatever ending you find yourself with.

Have Quantic Dream achieved their dream to create a truly emotional gaming experience? No really, but that's OK. Beyond: Two Souls may not rock the world like Grand Theft Auto 5 did, but it will probably stay with you. Not as good as it should have been, but very much worth experiencing.

Beyond: Two Souls gets a respectable 7/10

Denis Murphy

Beyond: Two Souls CeX

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