Beyond Two Souls review
- Great actors
- Emotional punch
- Unique vision
- Dull set-pieces
- Disjointed plot
- Boring mechanics
Beyond Two Souls is a typical David Cage game and, if you don’t know who David Cage is, it’ll be like no other video game you’ve ever played. Anyone who is familiar with Cage’s previous works will know what they’re in for.
Like Farenheit and Heavy Rain, Beyond Two Souls eschews traditional gaming mechanics and priorities (high scores, leadboards, multiplayer modes) and aims, instead, at making a human connection with the player. While it does this successfully, for the most part, too often this consideration comes at the cost of the player’s enjoyment of gaming engagement.
You seldom have fun in Beyond Two Souls, even if you happen to like the plot it contains or admire it as art that reaches for some lofty heights.
Beyond Two Souls: Plot
Beyond Two Souls tells the story of a young woman named Jodie Holmes (played by Juno's Ellen Page). From as young as she can remember, Jodie has been linked with a spiritual entity called Aiden, who is both a blessing and a curse in her life.
On the one hand, his supernatural abilities make Jodie a formidable opponent. On the other, Aiden’s existence tends to freak out other folk, casting Jodie into the unwanted role of the perennial misfit.
The narrative zings back and forth across the course of Jodie’s life, revealing salient details. Her upbringing was hard; after Aiden’s shenanigans proved too much for her foster parents she was placed in the company of Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) a government scientist who acted as her surrogate father. It’s largely through him that Jodie’s able to better control Aiden’s powers, and once she comes of age, the CIA comes calling.
Beyond Two Souls: Characters
The game benefits immensely from the superb motion captured performances of its cast. Page is something of a revelation here; she is totally convincing as Jodie in every stage of her life, running the gamut from confused, angry teen to intrepid recruit to battle-scarred refugee.
While the plot takes her places that, at times, seem preposterous, Page never comes across as anything less than utterly genuine.
The supporting cast are equally good; Willem Dafoe is solid as Jodie’s father figure, while Kadeem Hardison provides a warm presence as Dafoe’s lab assistant. Ryan Clayton is suitably enigmatic as Jodie’s CIA handler.
The rest of the cast is made up of actors players won’t necessarily recognise, but they do a great job anyway – particularly the four who play the close-knit group of homeless people Jodie finds herself in the company of.
Beyond Two Souls: Gameplay
Beyond looks great and contains some good performances. It also has some moments guaranteed to tug at the player’s heart-strings, provided they aren’t entirely without pathos. The main problem the game has is the fact that it’s not very much fun to play.
For the most part, players are limited in their approach with Jodie. They can pilot her around interacting with certain items in her environment. Occasionally they’ll be called on to pick from an array of responses – sometimes vocal and sometimes not – and while all of this sounds compellingly like Heavy Rain’s splintered narrative mechanic, one gets the sense that Jodie’s path, to a large degree, is set in stone.
The real mis-step occurs when the Beyond tries to become a stealth game with the odd bout of gunplay thrown in; the controls offer neither the agency nor the depth to convince in either case.
There are instances where players can use Aiden, Jodie’s spiritual familiar, but in most of these cases, they simply pilot him to marked items he can tamper with or characters he can possess. The most exciting examples of this occur when Jodie’s on the run and Aiden becomes the edge she needs in a stand-off between her and the authorities.
Too often, however, the gameplay seems to skirt the edges of the narrative, rather than contribute anything meaningful to it. In one scene, for example, players are forced to spend a lengthy amount of time preparing a dinner.
In another, they spend about a half an hour carrying out chores on a ranch. In these parts, the momentum of the plot stalls badly and players would be forgiven for thinking that they weren’t playing a game so much as using their controller to nudge a movie along.
Beyond Two Souls: Verdict
In the end, Beyond Two Souls feels more like an interactive movie than a game – more so even than either Fahrenheit or Heavy Rain did. David Cage deserves some credit for trying to build an emotional connection between his characters and the player, but it’s just a pity the mechanical side of the game keeps them at arm’s length.
The game looks gorgeous and its premise isn’t exactly what you’d call run-of-the-mill, but between the simplistic gameplay and legion of quick-time-events, players may get the impression that they are surplus requirements to David Cage’s admittedly unique vision.
Beyond Two Souls release day: Out now
Beyond Two Souls price: £39.99