It has been a while, Critical Indie Gamer, since I last wrote for you; yet it seems so peculiar that I return to write about a game as far away from indie as is possible.
It’s Aiden not Eyeden! – Beyond Two Souls Review
Despite his detractors, David Cage has carved out a bit of a niche for himself and Quantic Dream. For the better part of a decade Quantic have released interesting but, ultimately, flawed interactive drama games. Undoubtedly the pinnacle of the studios success, Heavy Rain proved a hit with both critics and gamers alike, despite the many problems it had. Three and a half years have passed since Heavy Rain’s release, and Quantic Dream have returned with Beyond Two Souls, what have Quantic and Cage learned in that time?
Beyond Two Souls casts the player as Jodie Holmes, a ‘gifted’ individual linked to a supernatural entity called ‘Aiden’. The game follows Jodie and Aiden through a 15 year period, from her childhood through to young adulthood. The player is tasked with taking control of both Jodie and Aiden, in a style similar to Heavy Rain, how the game ends is changed by your actions – theoretically at least.
Throughout the game Jodie will be given a number of choices to make. Will she quietly leave the birthday party she has been bullied at, or will she instead instruct Aiden to exact revenge on those who tormented her? The choice is up to you. A small number of these options are actually intriguing, with most of them having little to no obvious repercussions in the grand scheme of things. In Heavy Rain, if Ethan or Scott, or Madison fucked up, you instantly knew it; the same can’t be said for Beyond Two Souls. Actions are mostly without consequence and have no bearing on how the story will end. Players will most likely pick up on this and lose a small degree of interest they had invested in the games story.
Jodie’s life is played out in a non-linear fashion, with the timeline presented out of order. One minute you will be guiding her through her CIA training, only to be dragged back to her childhood. The problem with this approach is that a lot of Jodie’s life simply isn’t interesting. The first half of the game has few highlights spread thinly over eight or so hours, while the latter parts of the game become more intense and gripping. It may be a slog to begin with, but we promise it gets better the more you play.
The game plays almost identically to Heavy Rain, but with a few twists thrown in. Players will still manipulate the analogue sticks to move around and manipulate objects, and mash buttons to complete actions; however, fighting sequences in Beyond Two Souls differ slightly. Where heavy Rain saw the player swiftly press button combinations, Beyond Two Souls opts for a bullet-time approach. As the action slows down, the player taps the analogue stick in a predetermined direction to dodge or attack an enemy. If the player taps in the correct direction the enemy will be struck, should they tap the wrong direction Jodie will get hurt. The problem with this system is that it can often be very difficult to see what direction to push the analogue stick in. We were often hurt because we misunderstood what the game wanted us to do. This mechanic also pops its head up in sequences where Jodie is running away (there are lots of those). As well as being confusing to ‘read’ they are inconsequential; it doesn’t matter if you win or not, you will always come out on top with either Aiden’s or someone else help.
No blockbuster movie/game would be complete without a script to match, with both Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe on board playing central roles in the game, it would be wise for Quantic to have produced a script capable of taking advantage of their talents. Only, Beyond Two Souls lacks any such script. David Cage once again takes the helm in a David Cage game, by David Cage, with script by David Cage. That is to say, it is atrocious. We could forgive the terrible writing and plot holes of Heavy Rain because the voice acting was truly superb; we actually felt something for the characters in the game. This time, however, even the voice talents of Page and Dafoe cannot mask the fact that Cage is a hack. The cast try their best with the material made available to them, but it is unconvincing, unmoving, and sometimes cringe-worthy. Hopefully, similar judgments from other reviewers will help Cage realise his strengths lie elsewhere, making way for fresh writing talent at Quantic.
Despite the lack of a stellar script, Quantic do manage to impress in other areas, namely, the visuals. The aging PS3 is thoroughly put through its paces from the moment you pop the game disc in. Graphics range from great, to breath-taking. A number of times we found it hard to believe scenes were not pre-rendered. The developers have truly outdone themselves in this respect. From the arrid plains of the Navajo Desert, to the smouldering remains of Dawkings lab, Quantic Dream deliver on their promise to make Beyond Two Souls one of the best looking games on PS3.
Ultimately, Beyond Two Souls is a mixed bag in the truest meaning of the phrase. For as many highlights the game has, there as many issues. Enjoyment is there to be had if you can look past the sub-par script, and irritating controls, but it is hard to become truly immersed in the drama given these problems.The stunning visuals in the game cannot mask the fact that David Cage is bereft of writing talent; if an experience like Beyond Two Souls Demands anything, it is a talented script writer. Fans of Cage’s games will still enjoy Beyond Two Souls, however, the issues that have marred his previous titles are more painfully apparent than ever.