With David Cage’s perpetual ramblings about emotions in games, and how he was going to very nearly singlehandedly change the way we feel things in a medium that’s all about “shooting things,” his latest bit of interactive fiction, Beyond: Two Souls was always going to be heavily scrutinised. It would never be able to please everyone. I adored Heavy Rain; it was a fresh, unique and interesting experience in a time populated by little else other than Call of Duty clones, and I’d have been happy for a similar experience with Beyond. That’s what I got – and yet I’m left a little disappointed.

Unlike Heavy Rain, where you switched between the game’s four protagonists, here you’ll just be controlling one; players control Jodie Holmes, magnificently characterised by Ellen Page, who’s a very special girl. Jodie has something rather unique about her; a paranormal link to an ethereal, otherworldly entity that’s tethered to her. In a way, you’re actually controlling two. You can switch to taking control of that disembodied entity; his name is Aiden, and through his link with Jodie, you get the ability to move objects telekinetically, heal wounds or read the memories of dead people and inanimate objects.

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The game charts her life as she tries to piece her memories back together and make sense of the life she’s had so far – and is presented in a scattered, chronologically jumbled, non linear sequence of loosely connected events. In one moment, you’ll be playing as a very young Jodie as undergoing experiments at the behest of the Department of Paranormal Activities, headed by surrogate father, Professor Nathan Dawkins, adequately played by Willem Dafoe – the next, she’ll be a young adult, undergoing CIA training in a delightfully clichéd 80’s movie training montage; later, she’s an angsty teen, tired of the confines of her laboratory prison.

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No matter what age you take control of Jodie, it’s hardly the sort of taxing thing most people would call a game. I suppose the most accurate descriptor would be the one Quantic’s David Cage uses himself: “interactive fiction.” You’ll occasionally press a button while pushing forward on the analogue stick, or hold a few buttons down while watching the story unfold on your screen. If you’ve played Heavy Rain, you know exactly what to expect, as it’s mechanically nearly identical. For those who haven’t, what you’ve got is essentially an interactive movie that you’ll affect through on-screen quick-time event prompts and dialogue choices. Yes, this time around you have slightly more direct control over your character; though a poor camera and sluggish controls often make it a bit of a chore. There are some new action-oriented actions, where, after the action slows down reminiscent of bullet-time, moving the stick away from the direction of an attack moves CIA trained Jodie to safety, and pushing in to the direction unleashes an attack – but as with everything else, it’s all context-sensitive so you’re never really in control of anything.

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The biggest new feature is controlling Aiden. A button press instantly switches control from Jodie to her tethered, ethereal counterpart. Aiden is able to pass through walls and interact with objects and items in the environment. One of the more interesting things Aiden is able to do is remote-kill people, as well as possess them, allowing captured bodies to serve as vehicles, but for some reason, you’re only able to kill or possess certain people, for reasons that are never made clear. Much of what you can do with Aiden doesn’t make a lot of sense, and only serves to drive the narrative. Usually, you can’t stray too far from Jodie when playing as the spirit, but sometimes, when it suits the narrative, you can venture much, much further than you usually would. Conversely, sometimes you can’t pass through walls as Aiden, with no explanation as to why. Bending the game’s mechanics and established physics to the will of the narrative is frustrating, and indicative of poor writing.

Where it differs fundamentally from Heavy Rain, is in player agency, and urgency. Because it starts at the end, thanks to that jumbled narrative, you already know that Jodie is fine, making very nearly everything you do quite pointless; you know things are going to be ok. There are a few instances where what you do actually has some sort of real meaning, affecting your experience, but most of your actions only change the tone and direction of conversation.

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The debate as to whether or not it’s a “game” is moot; because its mechanics, or lack of them, are not where the major criticisms lie. If the game is sold on its story, above everything else then it had better be a damned good one, and unfortunately, for much of Beyond, the story falls flat. There are some incredibly emotional and poignant moments; bits that speak of real human emotion  – especially where Jodie is coming to terms with the supernatural being that perpetually accompanies her, but there’s a strange shift in tone towards the game’s tail-end where the whole thing descends into lunacy, and becomes a strange amalgamated mash of just about every single straight-to-DVD paranormal and Sci-Fi trope you could think of, that had me face-palming all the way through to the game’s obvious revelation.  Whatever emotional investment you may have in the characters is yanked out from under you, and it degenerates in to the very sort of action-oriented nonsense that Cage is always so vociferously critical of.

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While Cage’s writing may be suspect, his keen eye for visuals is appreciable. He certainly has an incredible talent for cinematography, and some of what you’ll see in Beyond is downright mesmerising. He’s equally adept at creating moods, and fuelling tension –  but I really wish he’d reign it in, open up and let somebody else in on his editorial process. His ambitious stories are always always let down by circumstantial irregularities and plot holes you could fit entire solar systems into. Much noise has been made about the game’s extensive motion capture – and for the most part it’s incredible, with the system capturing every nuance of the actors’ performances. At least, when it comes to Jodie and Nathan, that is. Side characters often lack the same fidelity and detail and range of facial expression, creating quite a disconnect. Animation though, is still not quite there, so the game tumbles in and out of the uncanny valley, making the juxtaposition of realistic movement on what looks like puppetry quite jarring. It’s still one of the best looking games on any console right now, though if you stare at it for long enough, the cracks appear, and the need for next-gen becomes all too apparent.

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Like Heavy Rain, Beyond isn’t for everybody. It might not even be for fans of Heavy Rain. With its science-fiction bent and closer similarity to Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy, it may not even be for fans of Quantic’ Dreams last game. It’s not for everybody, but it’s interesting and enjoyable in spite of itself – just not the grand emotional experience that’ll challenge the way we look at games it was sold to be.

Last Updated: October 15, 2013

Beyond: Two Souls
Beyond: Two Souls biggest criticisms don't come from the fact that it's not a "game," but rather from the fact that its very core, the story it hinges itself on, isn't as good as it should be. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.
7.0
Beyond: Two Souls was reviewed on PlayStation 3
70 / 100

83 Comments

  1. Admiral Chief Ninja

    October 15, 2013 at 15:34

    In related Lagz news. Brenda got OWNED on Tuks

    Reply

    • Gavin Mannion

      October 15, 2013 at 15:42

      lol very nicely done…

      Reply

      • Admiral Chief Ninja

        October 15, 2013 at 15:49

        Thank you sir, ’tis my pleasure

        Reply

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      October 15, 2013 at 15:50

      What happened to poor Brenda?

      Reply

      • Admiral Chief Ninja

        October 15, 2013 at 15:53

        Trolled masterfully on live radio (Tuks)

        Reply

        • NecroRince

          October 15, 2013 at 15:53

          How? Give us more dammit!

          Reply

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:05

            Details or it didn’t happen.

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:05

            I’ll do it yet again, next week

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:06

            You called in and gave him a hard time?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:06

            Kinda like you & @rincethis:disqus on the Sexbox?

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:07

            XD

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:08

            You feel left out? I can include you! can make a sandwich!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:08

            I don’t think you vegetarians can handle my meaty filling.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:10

            I wouldn’t do that, I don’t eat junk food!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:11

            You’re right. I’m sorry. I meant to say vagitarians.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:13

            Is that your species? your home planet Vaginastar!

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:14

            Oi!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:15

            Together FOREVER RINCE!! hahaha

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:15

            lulz

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:07

            Nah, sent sms, that they read on air, prior to his pre-recorded interview

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:08

            Which said what? This is like drawing teeth!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:09

            You would know, how many times they caught you now? 8 times, for cheating in the casinos!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:10

            “Please refer to Darryn by his official online persona of Brenda. Admiral Chief”

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:10

            They called him Brenda on air?

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:13

            Indeeeeeeeed

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:14

            Tehehehe. Wait, I’m still angry at you!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:15

            Cuz why?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:14

            Well DONE!! I wont lie you have done something many of us would of dreamt to have done! GIVE THIS MAN A BELLS!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:16

            😉

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            October 15, 2013 at 16:10

            And they did? lulz

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:13

            Tuks are awesome like that

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            October 15, 2013 at 16:05

            Trolling Brenda? I mean that’s just cruel man…. :/

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:15

            I’m more pissed off about the fact that there was no PINK ALERT indicating Brenda was about to air…

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            October 15, 2013 at 16:16

            So is Brenda on air every week?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:17

            Time to call in him they take calls!

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            October 15, 2013 at 16:18

            Really? So I can troll him on air? Oh my… Oh my! My toes are curling at the prospect. Do you think I can use my fake Aussie accent?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:22

            Can use any accent lol

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            October 15, 2013 at 16:23

            SWEETT!!!! Banana Jamaican it is!!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:25

            I really gotta bring my headphones to work then to listen!

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            October 15, 2013 at 16:28

            Russian accent!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:30

            Dude I have more accents, just need to practice them again. been too long! used to do Chinese, Australian, British is still easy, Scottish. My wifes pet hate is my elmo voice! hahhaha

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            October 15, 2013 at 16:32

            get practicing man… need to hear that on GTA Online too 😛

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:38

            you playing like every night these days?

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            October 15, 2013 at 16:52

            almost… I wasn’t on last night cos I went to the movies with my wife.

            BUT… I seem to be on GTAV if I’m not on GTA Online… it’s terrible… I think I need help…

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:19

            I don’t think so. Geoff was on last week.

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:19

            No Brenda was on last week as well

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:20

            Ah, week before then 😛

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:21

            Only started last week….

            😉

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:22

            Geoff was on foolish boy. I listened to him.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            October 15, 2013 at 16:24

            Are you sure it wasn’t Brenda… Both Geoff and Brenda have munchkin voices. cough!

          • NecroRince

            October 15, 2013 at 16:25

            HAHAHAHAH! @OddSockZA:disqus

        • RandomGamer

          October 15, 2013 at 16:16

          Saying “we are having a mass debate” fast on air sounds strangely obscene.

          Reply

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            October 15, 2013 at 16:19

            Indeed, so much lulz

  2. TiMsTeR1033

    October 15, 2013 at 15:45

    Are those pics all from ingame????

    Reply

  3. NecroRince

    October 15, 2013 at 15:47

    Nice review Geoff. Was curious to see what you made of it and it is pretty much what I thought of the game too.

    Reply

  4. Alien Emperor Trevor

    October 15, 2013 at 15:48

    It seems a little jarring that your overall rating says good, but the summary description directly above it says “isn’t very good.”

    Reply

  5. SaintsRowNigri

    October 15, 2013 at 16:02

    OK wait. Gameplay (I dunno, the main reason I buy a game) scores a 3. Yet the game (or title if you will) scores a seven over all. Which is .5 less than Saints Row 4. Pretty graphics maketh the game?

    Reply

    • Devourer of Small Bunnies

      October 15, 2013 at 16:05

      I can see where you coming from, but this is also under the premise that the software is categorised not under “Game” and rather under “Interactive Fiction”

      Reply

      • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

        October 15, 2013 at 16:08

        The reviews for Beyond Two Souls have been very mixed (from praise to absolute and unadulterated hate). It just makes me wonder whether it would have scored better if it was reviewed as “interactive fiction”. Definitely food for thought.

        Anyway, my copy arrived, so I’m keen to see what the fuss is all about – but first I need to do some missions in GTA Online.

        Reply

    • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      October 15, 2013 at 16:06

      the 3 was a mistake, it was meant to be a 5 (it’s…there!). Also, it’s not an average. It’s an overall. and different things; you can;t compare the scores directly that way; they’re scored for their genre, etc. You can;t compare, say, Tetris to Skyrim and say that because tetris scored higher, it’s a better game.

      Reply

      • SaintsRowNigri

        October 15, 2013 at 16:13

        Geoff, if ever I compare Skyrim to tetris and call tetris the better game, I’ll personally drop off all my games and gaming gear on your doorstep.
        With all the love and respect in the world due to you: Go read your review again, but not as the author but as a reader. Even if this is interactive fiction, with all that you said about it, it just does not warrant a score higher than 5, I’d say.

        Reply

        • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          October 15, 2013 at 16:15

          You may be right. I dunno; it was an overall pretty enjoyable experience; just not as amazing as I’d hoped. Certainly not as good as Heavy Rain. for all its convoluted nonsense, I still really enjoyed it.

          Reply

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:15

            Seeing as everyone has ignored my question. Images taken ingame? Are they that good!!??

          • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            October 15, 2013 at 16:17

            Yes,. It looks really, really damned good.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:18

            Pushing that ps3 power hard there! Did you enjoy the “game”? or did it leave you feeling like you wanted more?

          • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            October 15, 2013 at 16:20

            I enjoyed it, I did. Much of it was sci-fi twaddle, but it was a good experience inspite of that.

  6. Pieter Kruger

    October 15, 2013 at 16:05

    Well, it’s technically not a game, should be scored like a movie rather (would still suck though)

    Reply

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      October 15, 2013 at 16:09

      Yeah but then we need to start scoring Call of Duty under recycled goods, and that could get messy.

      Reply

      • Vampyre Squirrel

        October 15, 2013 at 16:12

        Well said!

        Reply

      • NecroRince

        October 15, 2013 at 16:20

        That goes under tetra packs right?

        Reply

  7. Devourer of Small Bunnies

    October 15, 2013 at 16:07

    I was expecting much more hype over this game considering the amount of hype thats been building since 2011 (I think) A big shame the story suffers, if you take the platform into account. At least we still have Heavy Rain right?

    Reply

    • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      October 15, 2013 at 16:08

      Overall, I think Heavy Rain was a better experience.

      Reply

      • Gerald Nchabeleng

        October 15, 2013 at 19:02

        I agree. For me Beyond felt like that book with a glossy cover, that you keep reading hoping to get into it, in the end you have to finish it cos you don’t have a choice.

        Reply

  8. boet

    October 15, 2013 at 16:25

    Reviewed on PC?

    Reply

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      October 15, 2013 at 16:26

      PS3 bubba!

      Reply

      • NecroRince

        October 15, 2013 at 16:26

        Says PC! My one good eyes is telling me so!

        Reply

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          October 15, 2013 at 16:27

          IMPOSSIBRU! PC DOESN”T HAVE GAMES!

          Reply

          • TiMsTeR1033

            October 15, 2013 at 16:28

            exactly!

      • boet

        October 15, 2013 at 16:27

        I know, but its says reviewed on PC. Got my hopes up for a second.

        Reply

    • Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      October 15, 2013 at 16:27

      Our backend system’s gone wacky. It SHOULD be fixed.

      Reply

  9. Juan Peter Auret

    October 16, 2013 at 06:54

    Hey! You guys forgot to review the soundtrack, atleast a 9.5 = masterpiece 😛

    Reply

  10. Abel Tan

    October 17, 2013 at 04:49

    Ellen Page, the reason i need to play this game!

    Reply

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