There is a lot to like about Beyond Two Souls, and a lot to praise. The graphics were consistently impressive, and the attention to detail in the environments were even more so. The original score was well above average, and the sound design was flawless. The character design, voices and acting, production design… all of it was terrific. I like my video games rich with story, characters, and emotion, and Beyond Two Souls was a stellar example of each of those, too. Along with that, the writers did an amazing job at presenting something imaginative and compelling. The script appears to be given the same heart-felt attention as would be a film script…
Which leads me to my one and only complaint. Beyond Two Souls should have just been a movie. I can’t see much point in warping this story into a game-play experience other than to try and further the medium. I think if Quantic Dream realized that by writing this for a video game they were biting off more than they could chew, they could have sold the script to Focus Features and audiences might have been better off.
While it wasn’t a terrible idea to try and adapt this story to a game, a lot of control had to be taken out of the player’s hands in order for the story to develop properly. There is a set plot, and things will happen that are suppose to happen. That’s alright, but doesn’t lend itself to gameplay very well, as players expect to be given choices. There is an attempt giving the player an array of choices, but they are limited to small moments, like conversation, and only several options are given, each of which will inevitably progress the story in the same direction. There is a serious lack of freedom in this game. This wouldn’t be so bad, if I didn’t feel that certain moments were begging for it… We are given Aidan, an entity to play around with who has abilities and can float around the environment acting on things. That sounds like a really fun time right? Well, it turns out he can only act on things that have action options, which is especially disheartening when we’ve got an entire world to explore with so many different things in it that we’d like to see affected. I know it would asking way too much for the designers to try to put in that level of freedom especially accounting for all the consequences, so that’s not where the answer lies… Maybe the game-play should have been presented in a way where it doesn’t seem so obvious that the freedom was out-of-reach. While Aidan was a great idea, his unfulfilled potentiall greatly outweighed what his playability was able to bring to the game.
(The above image is concept art showing how Aiden moves through the world)
There are many moments in the game, where not only does the player not have freedom but has no choice whatsoever… The plot calls for a specific thing to happen, so you press the necessary buttons and make it happen. All that does is make the player feel like they are exerting the same effort that the character or spirit is; it still doesn’t give us a feeling of control. Beyond Two Souls is basically a game that is watched, but with the occasional button-mashing and conversation selection. There were a few moments in the game, when I felt like I had some control over the events, like the scene titled, “The Dinner”, where the player must make various decisions and choices to get Jodie ready for dinner. The scene is relatively uninhibited, and the player is given the chance to think for his/herself to decide what is the best thing to do in that situation, or “what would I do?”. The exact opposite of this experience is the CIA’s African Mission scene in which absolutely everything feels set up and contrived – designed for the player to have a specific experience. Just imagine if the player was given the freedom to roam around in this environment and use Aiden’s full potential… I imagine it being similar to the freedom achieved in the Hitman series, or the MGS series. But instead it feels like I’m just jumping through the hoops of a corporate scheme – not at all given a chance to show my individuality in how I play it.
That is Beyond Two Souls’ biggest, glaring fault.
The Mass Effect series is a terrific example of how choices can effect a gaming experience in a positive ways. In Mass Effect, the player is given a abundance of choices, and they usually affect the story either immediately or further down the line, and the conversation is so expansive, it feels as if there would be limitless different combinations of ways to play it. Beyond Two Souls didn’t utilize that in the slightest. If it even had the freedom that the two previous Quantic Dream releases – Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain – had, it would have been much better, but the company took this opportunity to turn a movie into a semi-playable game… That’s their prerogative.
But I can’t crack down too hard on the game, and it’s because the story is so good. With all that being said about the game’s play, there is much, much more story here than gameplay. And it’s a freaking good story. There are a few hints at expected, hastily-developed jabs for emotion, like the saving of people from a burning building, and Jodie delivering a baby on short notice. But the grand-scale plot – concerning Nathan and his family, the two worlds colliding, and Jodie’s relationship with Aidan and herself – is very interesting. Towards the end, especially, it gets super compelling; I was hooked on every change of frame as I thought the plot was hitting moments of technical brilliance, enhanced also, by the facial graphics and they were they conveyed emotion better than I’ve seen in any game before. The last two-or-so hours of gameplay in Beyond Two Souls was a thoroughly good time, and it gave me a feeling similar to watching a very good… movie.
(The above image shows the two leads performing their roles for motion capture)
I thought, during almost every scene, about what this would have been like transposed to a theater experience. But I guess, it had to be done eventually. The company just wanted to see a game with an immense story get accomplished, and now it has. Not to say that games haven’t had good stories in the past, of course they have. But no game felt as professionally written as this (except possibly that other recent game, The Last of Us), and those other games, still had a lot of gameplay to go with the stories.
In the end, I really enjoyed playing through Beyond Two Souls. It doesn’t have the same replay value that Heavy Rain does, but I do enjoy a good story. That’s what this was. A good story.
My rating for 2013’s Beyond Two Souls for PS3 is…
(Despite the flaws, I still had a really good time playing it, and that’s enough for it to earn a decent score)