Revised thoughts on Beyond Two Souls

About a month and a half ago, I got the urge to play Beyond Two Souls again. It had been nearly two years since my first experience with it. After my first time completing the game, I wrote a chunky review where I compared its flaws to its pros and decided that despite it missing the potential in its idea for the use of Aiden, the game was decent because of its gripping story and performances. It’s really a mystery to me why I decided to start playing it again, because there was a point at which I thought I probably never would again. But now I think I was mean to after all this time being finally able to see the game for all it had to offer. Not only did I like Beyond Two Souls more my second time around, I absolutely fell in love with it.

I suppose all that needed to happen for me to realize my affinity for Beyond, is to completely disregard the potential I thought it had with the gameplay. See, the story doesn’t branch very much and doesn’t offer much chance to make a decision that will affect another section of the story. Each chapter is pretty isolated — not connected and interacting with one another based on player choices. There are not many opportunities to change the story drastically. But that is because Quantic Dream is telling this story. This story of Jodie, Nathan, and Aiden has been thought out, written, organized, and presented in a cinematic and powerful way by David Cage in order have a very specific effect. There is plainly little room for alterations to occur on the chance it may ruin the impact of the whole. Quantic Dream’s decision to limit the style of gameplay they’ve become known for (butterfly-effect decision making) would make it seems as thought they’ve limited their progression as game developers as well. But what I noticed this time around is Beyond Two Souls demonstrates great progression in other ways…

The performance capture technology utilized in Beyond has created a more compelling visible and audible character than I’ve come across in games ever before. Firstly, the performances by Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page are remarkable; it’s clear that they both actually cared about the making of this videogame as strongly as they would a film. And it would seem they are given given more of a chance to shine in this project… Ellen Page, in particular, was given many, many lines of dialogue and had to perform in almost every scene of the game. As about a 7-hour game, that’s a lot of screen time, especially considering the numerous alternate versions of scenes, each of which one would hope to be captured with the same level of sincerity. Both Page and Dafoe drive this game’s emotional strength and carry the whole experience. I’m such a fan of the work they put in, as well as the production team to translate their performance to the game. It’s not only in the facial expressions, which are extremely dynamic, but in the characters’, especially Jodie’s, animations. She has different walks for various ages, various stages of her personality, and various mental situations — each one adding to the overall influence of the scene. Small details like that I noticed and consistently got pleasure from during every single scene.

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During my playthrough, I kept saying to myself, “man, this looks so good”. I realized this time, just how great the visual presentation of this game is. Originally released on the PS3, I can think of no other PS3 title that looked this good. The visual description of faces is wonderful in almost every case — in Jodie’s case, it’s immaculate. The face of Jodie is a visual I never tired of. Though that face changes style constantly throughout the game, her eyes, mouth, and subtle expressions remain its core, and I personally find them very easy to connect to. But in such chapters as “Hunted”, “The Mission”, and “Navajo” in which certain details pertaining to the moment like desert dryness, raining wetness, cuts, battle scars, dirt, bruises, and fatigue reflect on her lips, skin, eyes, and hair speaks to how well the design team was able to decorate that face to make consistently compelling visuals.

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I also love the visual of the environment. Particularly in “Hunted”, “Navajo”, “Dragon’s Hideout”, and “Homeless”, I was in awe of the way my surroundings looked, and I arrived at the idea that would never desire anything more from video game graphics. Its not necessarily the most realistic representation I’ve ever seen, but I think the visual quality of this game has such a rich personality — one that we just don’t get in most modern games anymore. No open world game is going to have a forest that looks the way the forest does in “Hunted”. No current-generation shooter is going to have a desert that looks the way the desert does in “Navajo” with its brilliant, warm lighting, and hazy, mesmerizing distant views. These environments were designed as part of a closed-world game, which allowed them to serve more as fresh, lively paintings than interactive environments. And I dig that. Every new environment in Beyond brings a new sensory experience completely for the purpose of aiding the storytelling. I absolutely love the visuals in this game.

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Another wonderful thing about Beyond is the score. I’ve been listening to the soundtrack the past week whenever I drive anywhere. It’s very good music, for one; the composer’s original “Jodie’s Suite” melody, used in multiple spots in the game and found in different variations on the soundtrack, seems to have been felt and performed by its composer and players with the same dedication as the game’s cast of characters had. This is a very well-written score. But also, the moments in-game in which the music shows up occasionally shows brilliant timing, such as in the end of the “Norah” scene and in the beginning of the “Black Sun” scene. I really admire everything the music team added to this game. It’s so pleasing to see a group of smart and talented people coming together in the name of a videogame that aims for emotional appeal and strong storytelling rather than the usual gamer’s game.

Finally, I need to say I love the story itself. The plot is so interesting to me. Not only is it an interesting concept, but there are very interesting turns-of-event along the way. David Cage had a vision, and he ran wild with it. I’m aware David Cage has many critics out there. But judging strictly from Beyond Two Souls, I’m a big fan of the way he writes and directs. Beyond is given surprisingly good direction to go along with this story. The “cinematography”, as it would be if it were a film, appears well thought-out with loaded shots and purposeful pace. Shots and pace here are special beyond the norm of videogames — or even the norm of films — to be noticeable by a film enthusiast and appreciated.

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My second playthrough of Beyond Two Souls made such an impact on me, I decided to play it again, and started my third run soon after. I just finished my third time last night, and all my newfound respect for the game only got better. Right now, I’m such an enthusiast of this that I decided I have to write about it and re-rate it. Beyond Two Souls is a new favorite game of mine. It’s a testament to how games have the potential to reach an emotional level way beyond what’s expected of them. I wish more developers were pursuing this kind of game. I absolutely love it. It gives me the same strong feelings as do some of my favorite movies! And how many games can I say that about? Probably only this one.

My revised rating for 2013’s Beyond Two Souls for PS3 is…

★★★★

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