Sometimes a game isn’t a game, sometimes a game wants to be more than the sum of its parts, it can strive for greatness, head straight toward cinematic glory and tell a story worth telling. Then if a game is not a game, what is it?
This is the question I was left asking myself after playing Beyond: Two Souls.
The story is very confusing but the basic premise is that you play as Jodie (Ellen Paige) and control her over 15 years of her life, dipping in and out of significant parts at her whim. Jodie is no ordinary girl as she has a ghost that is attached to her called Aiden – although for some reason she pronounces it more like iodine – he can be controlled throughout the game lending to the game play by helping Jodie, in saying that he isn’t just there to do her bidding as he is a separate entity, he can get mad, annoyed and be a general poltergeist when he wants to.
When Jodie is young she is handed off to the CIA’s paranormal division run by Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) who try and help her control Aiden and better understand where he comes from, as she grows older she becomes an integral part of the CIA before becoming rouge and…. Well I don’t want to spoil too much lets just say it isn’t clear cut.
David Cage is a crazy storyteller who seems to love sci-fi and paranormal themes as well as real life struggles, we have seen in previous games of his Farenheit and Heavy Rain that he sometimes tells an amazing story but goes off on insane tangents that are sometimes too insane to come back from.
Beyond suffers from this same fate but in doing so becomes more of a cinematic opus, you can’t fault cage for trying the Pulp Fiction style of storytelling and sometimes it works.
He is also one of the leaders when it comes to redefining graphics, you can usually find him at E3 spouting nonsense about polygon counts and processing power, he has tech demos that feature talking androids and funny sorcerer which all look fantastic and Beyond lends to this.
Every freckle on Ellen Paige’s face is realized, the small smile wrinkles and even at points horribly cracked lips. Willem Dafoe’s wrinkles are lovingly crafted, his lips move in perfect sync with his speech and they have his mannerisms down to a T.
The faces and motion capture are so good that sometimes you pay little attention to the rest of the world which may or may not be a good thing.
The voice acting is fairly good with the two leads really miles above the rest. Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe are good actors so no surprise that with full motion capture they can come across on the screen quite well albeit with dead eyes. The rest of the cast aren’t so great with some people worse off than others. It isn’t the mess that Heavy Rain is with disjointed speech patterns and strange accents but sometimes there is little emotion in their voice which can break immersion in the game.
Once you become used to the controls the game seems intuitive, you cannot interact with everything in the world but there are a plethora of things you can interact with, controlling Aiden can be tedious at times as you are constantly looking for the white dot in which to interact with, this could have been aided by bigger white dots and better draw distance when playing as Aiden.
The fighting can take some getting used to with time slowing down and you moving the stick in the direction of Jodie’s momentum. The first few times this happens you can be completely lost as everything else has button prompts but this. Once it becomes clear how it works and you realise how long slow motion lasts it becomes a doddle with the odd mistake made.
There is a section within the game where Jodie is living on the streets which is superb, the environment and actions you can take are really interesting and it’s a style of life we are not used to seeing in a game so kudos to Cage for that.
I don’t know how much the choices you make effect the game but there seem to be a few of them and a fair few endings too. Having played Heavy Rain a few times I know that it tends to be the big decisions that have the most impact. Others have only impact on that moment in time but it does lend to at least some replay ability.
The story is all over the place, I understand that David Cage wanted to tell the biggest story he ever has and we can really see the pent up director in him coming out but there are sections of the game that do not fit within the narrative, there are paths that lead nowhere and other stories not mentioned again.
It can be hard to care for Jodie until around 10 hours in, I really had no clue who she was up until that point, they put the story in front of me but I had no connection straight away, there was nothing binding me to this character so when scenes came up that should have been upsetting I brushed them off.
The other actors, whilst Paige and Dafoe are excellent the others are just banal pointless characters, even later on when you meet people you are meant to care about the voice acting and motion capture really lets it down.
There is a difference from having all voice actors who mocap than having two good actors and a slew of mediocre others. What ends up happening is that the scenes with Paige and Dafoe are brilliant but everything else jumps into the land of forgettable.
The CIA Splinter Cell style missions, a mild spoiler is that Jodie ends up working for the CIA as a field agent. She is sent on mission overseas and just like Sam Fisher you are supposed to stealthily traverse your environment taking down enemies as you go.
The controls are intuitive for exploration and thoughtful action but not for gunplay and stealth. I found myself many times being stuck in one place because of controls, or unable to do what I wanted. Stealth is not the way to go and I feel it would have been exponentially better to skip this section altogether.
The section with the Navajo in the desert is ridiculous; it clocks in at over an hour and is so laborious I almost gave up. The story makes little to no sense, the acting is terrible and it takes too damn long to get to the point. The desert does look lovely though.
The last 30 minutes are just awful. The end of any game should be a payoff for your hard work and even although most of the plot that worked is tied off it just feels so contrived and silly to the point I actually shouted expletives at the TV.
There is so much coming up the end you can pass off as coincidence but the actual ending is rage inducingly stupid.
The end choice also makes little to no sense either.
The game plays like one long cutscene with you controlling a small portion. Now if you have played Quantic Dream games then you know this is the style of narrative, truly interactive cinematic experiences, but during Heavy Rain I felt like I was doing something where as in Beyond I left it was all pre determined with hints of free will. I’m all up for interactive storytelling but this was a step too far.
If it were not for a few brilliant sections and the amazing graphics in the game this would be a much lower score, I appreciate what David Cage has tried to do here and hope he does continue but in the same regard I hope to see him take the criticism on the head and move on making a better game in the future.