Quantic Dream drew much attention three years ago with their critically acclaimed drama/adventure game, Heavy Rain. As such, it should come as no surprise that their latest game, Beyond: Two Souls was greatly anticipated. Does it hold up to the hype? Let’s find out.
Beyond: Two Souls (henceforth, BTS) supports both a single-player and co-op mode, but the two modes are pretty much as identical as they can get. In single-player, during certain story moments the player can switch between the two linked characters Jodie (a girl or young woman, depending on the timeline) and Aiden (a mysterious spirit that is bound to Jodie). In co-op mode, controller one controls Jodie and controller two controls Aiden; however, the exact same effect could basically be replicated with one controller just passed between two people as Aiden and Jodie cannot be active in the game at the same time. It’s a truly asynchronous co-op mode, with Jodie certainly getting at least 80% of the playtime.
This asymmetry between the two players’ playtime was not what bothered me the most about BTS, however. BTS was a difficult game for me to review for a couple reasons. One such reason is because it felt more like an interactive movie than a game to me. Sometimes that fact was a good thing: I got to make some choices and take my time looking around some of the areas. Other times, however, it drove me crazy: the game prompted me to bump an analog stick in a certain direction to progress Jodie’s actions in what was basically a cutscene. I kid you not, at one point in the game, players are prompted to select food from a dining table and tell Jodie to eat it. Another time players will clean up her apartment and cook dinner. This is not something I feel like needed to be done - a cutscene would’ve been much better, and the interaction bit just felt slapped on.
If I were to judge BTS solely as a game, I’d be forced to see it as one long quick-time event with some cutscenes sprinkled throughout. I’m not saying that all games need to have shooting or spell-casting, but BTS doesn’t really have any combat, exploration, progression, or many other attributes I associate with video games. What BTS does do, however, is tell a story - and it tells it in a way that puts it in a whole different class of storytelling from almost every other game I’ve played or seen.
I can’t say too much about the story without spoiling it, but it focuses on Jodie’s life, from a small child to an adult in her 20’s. The story isn’t told in a linear fashion, however, and jumps all around the timeline, much like the movie Memento, if you’ve seen that. With each event, you learn more about Jodie, Aiden, and the other people in their lives. You see how heartbreakingly different Jodie’s life is because she’s burdened with Aiden, but you also see how he protects and guides her. Ultimately, the mystery of the game revolves around who or what Aiden is, and why he’s linked to Jodie.
The story lasts around 9-10 hours, and they’re some pretty tense hours. It’s a wild rollercoaster of emotions. Despite my aforementioned frustrations with the (in my mind) unnecessary controller prompts, I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. The acting of Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and much of the supporting cast is stellar, and the graphics are some of the very best I’ve seen in a game. Facial features and body language is painstakingly captured, to deliver a truly cinematic experience.
But not all is perfect, even from a pure story standpoint. I felt like some of the “action” scenes were a little too drawn out at times. I was also annoyed that some of my choices in the game appeared to have no effect in an important end result. For example, despite the fact that throughout the game I consistently chose dialogue options that made it clear I didn’t like a certain character, towards the end of the game Jodie still responded positively towards him. This almost made me want to crush my controller. I’d rather have no choice at all than just an illusion of a choice. On the co-op side of things, while I didn’t feel the co-op mode was bad, per se, I felt that it was completely unnecessary. My partner and I felt that (for us) it added nothing to the game, and as such makes it pretty undesirable as a “co-op game.”
In the end, I felt like the only way I could review Beyond Two Souls was to take all the good and all the bad and treat it as both a game and an interactive movie. This averaged out to be dead middle, with some extra taken off from a co-op game view. As a “game,” I felt it was pretty bad, but as an interactive movie, it was pretty great. If you’re looking for something that feels like a traditional video game, BTS may not be for you; however, if you’re looking for a game that has a unique way of telling an original story with good acting and amazing graphics (and you can deal with the whole constant controller prompt thing), there’s a good chance you’ll like BTS. As far as the co-op goes, there’s always a chance you’ll like it - but I felt it was completely inconsequential and possibly a missed opportunity. Co-op Score: 2 General Score: 3