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Official PlayStation Magazine - Beyond: Two Souls review

An essential purchase for interactive-drama fans
by Phil Iwaniuk, published on October 8, 2013 - 04:00 pm

Beyond: Two Souls

You’ll probably think I’m crazy when I tell you I’ve been looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls more than any other game this year. Especially as we’re just a few weeks downstream of the generation-defining GTA 5’s arrival. But here’s the thing: we all knew Rockstar’s game was going to be astounding. It’d be Grand Theft Auto, but better. Beyond, however, is a ticket to the side of the medium where there are no footprints in the snow.

With its superstar billing and supernatural bent, Quantic Dream’s ambitious latest project could either have been a bold and beautiful game-changer or a disastrous 12-hour cutscene punctuated by missed Sixaxis gestures. Thank God someone’s prepared to take that considerable risk. Thank Ellen Page, an endearingly inconsistent 2,000-page script and a Parisian studio suddenly emerging as a technical powerhouse that risk paid off.

You might have noticed that Beyond’s stupendously pretty, on a level that we’d expect from a decent next-gen game. The uncanny facial animation was a given, but the lighting, texture resolution and environmental detail were not. Very occasionally, it even eclipses The Last Of Us’ eye-shredding fidelity. Who knew Quantic Dream would set PS3’s graphical high point?

A subtler incarnation of Heavy Rain’s button-prompt-led control scheme returns to drive Beyond’s 15-year story, which hits its predecessor out of the park in terms of production values, and delves deeper into the kind of sci-fi seen in last year’s Kara demo. There is a trade-off when using QTEs over bespoke mechanics: you lose explicit control, but gain in the range of actions – and therefore situations – that are possible.

Beyond: Two SoulsBoy, does Quantic Dream take that idea to heart. You do a hundred strange new things in Beyond, and those novel experiences are thrown your way at such a rate you begin to feel like you’re playing six or seven games at once. On one hand, it’s silly. On the other, it’s medicine for gaming ADD: you’re horse riding. Now you’re delivering a baby. Fighting off demons. Begging for change. “Still paying attention?” David Cage seems to be asking between every scene. “Good.”

The quality of those scenes inevitably rises and dips like the polygraph of a deceitful boyfriend on a talk show, but through it all, Ellen Page’s performance as Jodie Holmes is astonishing. She’s the lynchpin that holds all the madness together with a painfully human presence. Cast Kristen Stewart in the role and the whole house of cards would fall down, but throw Juno in a room of make-believe car doors covered in ping-pong balls and somehow you end up with a frighteningly convincing avatar capable of setting a scene alight with a meaningful glance.

Ellen Page’s performance is astonishing.
She’s the lynchpin that holds the madness together with a painfully human presence

Her co-star is Aiden, the ethereal entity bound to her from birth. He goes where she goes, sees what she sees, and interacts with our world by moving objects, giving folk chills, possessing people and even straight-up choking a fool when it’s called for. He’s also clearly a big M Night Shyamalan fan, opening cabinets and stacking chairs atop tables to express himself like The Sixth Sense. Horror is just one of Beyond’s many flavours.

Beyond: Two Souls

You can go ahead and put that Best Supporting Actor gong away, because although switching to the blurry, aura-filled ‘Infraplane’ and getting to be the poltergeist from every horror film ever offers another gear in gameplay terms, his interactions grow repetitive quickly (forgivable – they’re about the only thing that is repeated) and highlight missed opportunities. Example: you’re able to pass through walls as Aiden. The first time you control him, there’s a one-way mirror to travel past and lab scientists to eavesdrop on. The second time you switch control in a public bathroom, and there’s… absolutely no one else in there? Huh.

Aiden’s constant presence has a profound effect on Jodie’s life. It alienates her parents and leads to her being raised in a CIA test facility by Drs Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman (tenderly played by Willem Dafoe and Kadeem Hardison). It gives her a gift that puts her at the risk of being weaponised, lied to and abused as higher powers try to channel Aiden’s energy. But in spite of all this tumult Jodie never blames him. She’s too strange for other people to form relationships with, so that meddling smasher-of-windows is the best friend she has.

Beyond: Two SoulsHer life story is fascinating, but it’s hard to say what you gain by playing through it in a discontinuous narrative, flitting from adulthood to infancy and back to teenage years with each chapter. You can’t help but feel like all the expectant eyes on you as a joint’s handed to you at your first party would affect you more if you hadn’t just leapt back from adulthood.

Except that isn’t really the problem. Beyond’s grand, ambitious sci-fi plot is the problem. It’s not badly written or unimaginative, but we have plenty of grand, ambitious sci-fi in games already. Brimming with it. What is in short supply are moments like Beyond’s superlative Homeless chapter, or the fantastic snow day you share with young Jodie, idly exploring her childhood house and having a snowball fight with other kids. Everyday moments you identify with, that blossom into something moving. That deal with loss, grief, alienation and spirituality.

Beyond: Two Souls

So yes, these moments exist in Beyond, as they did in Heavy Rain when you prepared a microwave meal for your distant son or explored a building site with your adolescent buddy. But they’re often pushed aside for scenes that seem to exist only to demonstrate what the Quantic Dream control set is capazble of, not to better the story. Do we need another blood-soaked lab? Not as badly as we need another icy New York street, an empty stomach and a cardboard sign declaring our plight.

Beyond’s a huge technical step forward for interactive drama, but less resolute than Heavy Rain not to stray back into familiar game territory

Beyond’s a huge technical step forward for interactive drama, but seems less resolute than Heavy Rain not to stray back into familiar game territory. Commit to it like its actors do to the eccentric plot, though, and the rewards are gigantic – Holmes is where the heart is. Another essential purchase for interactive-drama disciples featuring a knockout turn by Page, but one that spreads itself thin telling its story through so many genres.

Score: 8 out of 10

Source: www.officialplaystationmagazine.co.uk