This review consists of no spoilers at all and is based on one playthrough on "I usually play video games" option and was finished in roughly 10 hours.
Beyond: Two Souls developed by Quantic Dream has left me with some rather mixed feelings. I am intending for this review to be somewhat less formal than usual as I am mostly typing it in order to get my thoughts through.
The story is the most crucial point when it comes to a game like Beyond. This is the kind of game that lives or dies with its story. So ultimately, it is absolutely essential for the story to be not just well written but also told in a good way.
I would not say the story in Beyond is bad but it is not flawless either. Its biggest flaw is that the beginning is far too slow and it does not truly engage the player until one is more or less halfway into the game. It could be due to the jarring jump in narrative or perhaps the fact that the story is rather unclear for the most part.
The game takes place around 20 years of Jodie Holmes' life. Quantic Dream decided that the game should jump constantly between periods of her life rather than starting at a young age and ending at an older one. While this works in some occasions, some switches are more or less confusing. The idea and concept could work but it is not executed well enough. Despite that: You somewhat understand why the narrative is the way it is by the ending so you do accept it, in the end. Ultimately the story is Jodie. Her life and experiences is what the story is all about even with all the supernatural aspect that takes place. This does not change the fact that some moments are very dull.
While the story does start incredibly slow and while some supporting characters are not quite fleshed out: I cannot deny that by the end of Beyond, I felt rather surprised by the fact that I was very satisfied. I cannot say how much of it was influenced by me and how much of it was linear but it does feel that to some extent: I completely decided how it all ended which was great.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed this story and it probably would not have been as easy to enjoy had it not been for the amazing cast of Ellen Page and William Dafoe. The fact that video games have reached a point where voice acting and motion capture are treated as real acting more or less is astounding. There were moments in Beyond where I actually felt that this was a real movie using real actors. It was a rather odd feeling but still rather unique.
While the story is linear you do get to make some decisions and there is something satisfying about being able to decide what the main character is feeling based on your interpretation and feelings of the situation. There have been a lot of movies where I feel that the character does something out of character. Here: in some key moments, that is not the case.
The graphics are up there with the best looking console games I have ever played. I would however give the nod to The Last of Us and Uncharted 3 mostly due to their attention to detail. Beyond looks stunning but it also lacks a bit of that subtle and small attention to detail. Seeing no to barely any footprints in the desert or snow ends up annoying me. There are also some poor textures here and there that really stand out if you simply look at them. The framerate also dips from time to time and while that in particular is no issue to me: it did stand out somewhat more due to the fact that this game is treated more like a movie. The same thing can be said about the jaggies and aliasing issues which is rather common nowadays and shows that next generation is not a day early. Despite this, the game gives God of War Ascension a run for its money which is an impressive feat. Of top quality is the character models. Jodies character model is arguably better than the likes of Nathan Drake, Kratos and Joel/Ellie. Perhaps if you were to compare the model to the pre-rendered scenes of those other games: They would actually stand a chance. It is not Jodie alone that looks superb I might add. William Dafoe's character also looks spectacular.
Likewise the facial animations and overall animation work is great, as well. Quantic Dream uses motion capture on the faces too which gives some impressive results but can feel a bit "creepy" and odd at times especially on characters that have less of a big role. I personally prefer the way some studios animate the facial expressions by hand but for the most part, Beyond does it very well and it is a huge improvement over Heavy Rain. Having seen the tech demonstration with "The dark sorcerer" on the PS4: I am genuinely looking forward to seeing what Quantic Dream does on that system.
The sound design left me baffled and not in a good way. It is nothing I can quite comment too much about. It felt lacking. This in turn leads me to probably the biggest disappointment with Beyond for me which is that the music is lacking.
While there are some brief scenes where the music hits right, for the most part there is absolutely nothing there. It feels like my ears were filtering out all the music. Is it possible that the music was too low? I looked everywhere for a way to raise it but there was no such option in the game itself. Raising the volume on the TV would not do much since the voice and sound felt too high. Perhaps it was just poorly implemented because going into Beyond, the last thing I expected was for the soundtrack to feel empty.
I seriously feel it impacted some scenes for me. The music adds so much to a situation and one game that truly nailed that and came out this year was The Last of Us. It is a shame that Beyond did not deliver in this sense, in my opinion.
Back is the quick time event system from Heavy Rain although it has been very simplified. I initially liked the thought of using the right stick to just follow after Jodie's motions but there were far too little usage of these and ultimately the quick time events were butchered down by a ton which completely killed some of the interaction I had with the game. For too long did it feel like all I was doing was pushing the stick forward and occasionally pressing a button or two. There was something about the amount of buttons popping up in Heavy Rain that really kept you on your toes. In Beyond, the only scenes I can recall a similar effect is when the game kept asking me to bash the same button over and over again.
However Beyond has one core gameplay aspect that Heavy Rain never did which is Aiden. By pressing the triangle button you can change to Aiden on the fly and navigate the area in first person mode. You can interact with some objects and do anything from choking, throwing, healing, possessing others and more. The biggest issue with this is the fact that you rarely know what you can do to what object or person. It is all scripted so you really cannot play around at all. Ultimately you will be moving around, spamming L1 to get a hold of some object that you can interact with, then experiment with the right and left stick to realize what you can do. This leads to gameplay that becomes tedious after a very short period of time. There is also a sense of safety knowing that Jodie has this entity linked to her. It kills any real fear of death or loss as Jodie. This was one of the many charms with Heavy Rain and it is sad to see that it has no part in this game.
The lasting appeal:
While the game has different endings: this does not feel like the kind of game one will play over again. Heavy Rain created this illusion that each decision you made had an effect. While it did deliver to a small extent: it still fell short in my opinion.
Beyond barely has this illusion and the decisions feel even smaller this time around. There really is not much replay value here. Despite that: I can still see people experimenting to find out just how much you can impact the story of the game. To be completely honest: I have only finished it once so I would not possibly know just how much you can change the outcome.
I got emotional about two or three times in the game. With that I am talking about shivers and some teary eyes here and there. But I never actually cried which surprised me considering I weep rather easily to some games. Using The Last of Us as an example again: That game had me cry my eyes out on more than three occasions.
As mentioned previously: This is a game that lives or dies with its story. And I have to say that I felt that the story was between decent and good with a very satisfying conclusion.
The start of the game was leading me to a verdict of the game being rather mediocre. The game picks up fortunately but it never quite exceeds the verdict of being simply "a good game". I personally feel that the story towards the end along with the "acting" of Ellen Page and some other characters really save this game from being far worse than it would have been otherwise. Had the writing been stronger in terms of supporting characters, had the gameplay felt more engaging and had the narrative had some sense of better focus and a clear goal: Then this game could have been something more. Even with all that, the game would still have its fair share of flaws but at least it would have be closer to Heavy Rain which was an incredible game for its time.
Now, as it stands:
It is just barely a good game and nothing more.
(not a representation of the final score)
Lasting Appeal: 6/10
Overall: 7/10 - "Good"