When I first heard the news that Ellen Page was going to be starring in a video game, I was intrigued. I had been convinced by a great many attempts at motion capture that gaming at the time had collapsed into the uncanny valley, and while the characters on screen certainly looked realistic, it was sometimes hard to completely believe their expressions. I was interested to see what kind of performance you could bring to the table with a few motion capture suits and 2 well renowned actors. Unfortunately, as said previously in my Heavy Rain review, I didn’t have a PS3, which meant let’s plays were my only option. That is, until now, when we’ve been given a brand new HD edition of Beyond: Two Souls on PS4.
What’s new with this version, you ask? Well, there’s a new remixed chronological order story just in case the previous games time jumps had you scratching your head. It’s an interesting new take on the story; While the previous order allowed for a slow reveal of key facts in the story, the remixed mode more or less rushes to the juicy parts. I found that certain sequences make more sense in chronological order such as why Jodie would date a certain character when the chapter played before that painted them as a total d-bag, but other sequences such as Nathan’s backstory had more emotional impact in the original order. Realistically, it’s up to player preferences, but in my eyes there are merits to both. Sadly, if you were hoping for bug patches between the PS3 and PS4 versions there doesn’t seem to be much fixed. I found out in the first chapter that all the actors froze for no reason at random points in the game. Luckily that one was fixable with a quick reset, but buyer beware I guess!
A brief description: Beyond: Two Souls is a game by Quantic Dream, following their Interactive Drama style of design. It focuses on the life of a woman named Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) and the mysterious entity that is tied to her. Her entity, Aiden, can interact with the world through telekinesis, possession and conveniently acts as a free-cam for the player whenever you need to scout ahead or spy on a conversation. We follow Jodie and Aiden through their entire life, from their first experience with the supernatural, to the scientific experiments led by Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), and beyond. I would tell you more, but frankly I’d hate to give spoilers, but needless to say Jodie lives a very interesting life and watching her character interact and evolve through the story is satisfying to say the least. Not only does the motion capture hold up well enough to deliver a moving, emotional story, but the character arc Jodie goes through tugs on the player, evoking a strong sense of sympathy for her plight.
In keeping with Quantic’s style, the choices in the story are entirely up to the player, but interestingly this is the first of their games which doesn’t require multiple characters to impact the story… technically. While Aiden can be counted as a separate character to Jodie, they are tethered together, and both have their parts to play in advancing the plot. If one wanted to, you could have a symbiotic relationship between the two of them, each working towards the well being of the other, or you could have them be polar opposites, desperately trying to be free of each other and growing more angry at their bond. Thie mechanic of switching between these two souls also lends to one of the most interesting co-op experiences I’ve seen in story driven games thus far. In an optional ‘Duo Mode’, players can each take control of one character, either Jodie or Aiden, and instead of swapping between each other, it essentially turns into a turn based mechanic. At first glance, this could mean one player taking a back seat during sequences, but I think the fun of having two different people make their own choices, especially in highly interactive chapters, outweigh the monotony.
In terms of how easy it is to control the story, it seems Quantic learned a few things after the train wreck of a system in Heavy Rain. Beyond‘s control system is much more fluid and reactive than its spiritual predecessor, and leaves much more clarity for the player when it comes to dialogue choices. Switching between Jodie and Aiden is quick and painless, and once you’re used to the free-cam controls for Aiden it becomes easy enough to navigate as both characters. Not only that but interacting with the environment as both Jodie and Aiden feels much more streamlined and easy compared to Heavy Rain, making your gentle motions feel calm and your heavy punches feel powerful.
The only thing I could find to fault is the somewhat confusing quick time events where you have to move Jodie’s body in combat. In what I assume was an attempt to be less intrusive, Beyond does not contain the same visual cues as Heavy Rain during fight sequences, and instead of telling the player to press left, right, up or down you have to read Jodie’s body language and essentially guess which button it wants you to press. In most parts it should be obvious, if Jodie’s body is leaning towards the left, press left, etc. But in other areas it’s much more confusing. The decisions they’re asking you to make are always high octane moments, where you would be expected to act fast, and if it isn’t 100% clear whether Jodie wants to dodge an attack or launch one of her own it can lead to some drastic consequences. Honestly, it would have been a nice idea to put optional visual cues into the options menu.
All in all, I honestly loved this game. It’s emotional, it’s creative, the story is awesome, the characters are well acted, the graphics are beautiful and best of all, the controls don’t make me want to smash the controller into my face until I forget what I’m playing! If, like me, you missed the chance to pick this one up on PS3, I definitely recommend you give it a look on PS4. I’d bet my soul you’d enjoy it!