Beyond Two Souls is a very unique game. Usually when looking at and reviewing a game there is a great deal out there to compare and contrast it with. You have other points of reference to help in your examination of the game and your feelings towards it. You can look at what its competitors have done and how the specific game you are discussing either succeeds or fails against them in shared traits as well as what it does in an attempt to stand out. Beyond Two Souls as a whole stands out; it is basically in a genre of its own. Heavy Rain (and I suppose Indigo Prophecy, but I haven’t played it), which like Beyond was made by Quantic Dream, is the only thing out there that bares any significant resemblance to it. And yet, interestingly enough, even Heavy Rain feels like a wholly different type of experience than what is present in Beyond. It is a game that truly has no equal and I can barely even see it as having a rival. Now, I don’t want that to be misconstrued as me saying that Beyond Two Souls is the best game I have ever played. What I’m trying to get at here is that I’ve never played anything quite like it and that is a really interesting position to be in both when playing the game and when trying to review it.
But enough about that, was is the game about and what is it actually like? Well, Beyond is the story of a young woman named Jodie Holmes who has spent her entire life connected to some sort of mysterious spiritual entity named Aiden. The story is not experienced chronologically as the game hops between different important moments in Jodie’s life from childhood to adulthood. Levels are incredibly varied with scenes taking you from hanging out at your first party and trying to connect with normal people to being a wanted fugitive trying to escape/survive an FBI SWAT team that is after you.
This level of variety is compelling as you never quite know what you will be doing in the next level. The game does a phenomenal job of taking real life moments and allowing you to play through them in order to connect with Jodie. I don’t know if such a full portrayal of a human being has ever been put into a game. She isn’t some sort of action hero, she is a real person who has to find a way to deal with extraordinary circumstances.
With that said Jodie isn’t the only character you connect with and she isn’t the one I found myself identifying as most of the time. Instead I was Aiden, her invisible protector, trying to help and watch over this girl whom I am attached to (both emotionally and physically). Playing as Aiden was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. When you control him you are basically a ball floating around the environment in 1st-person. Movement is a bit clunky and your actions, while cool (like possession and force choke), are rather simple to pull off. None of that bothered me though because you feel awesome when playing as Aiden. Even when I’m knocking papers off a desk I feel like I am totally unstoppable and that is because I am. No one can see you, no one can hurt you, and no one can stop you. You are filled with this great mischievous and sometimes destructive power to do whatever it is that you want. I can’t think of any other experience in a game this year that had me grinning from ear to ear like whenever I decided to cut lose as Aiden.
Unfortunately playing as Jodie isn’t quite as fun as playing as Aiden. As Jodie everything that you do is done with the right stick. Rather than having quick time events that pop X or R2 onto your screen you now push towards something you want to interact with that has a dot over it and in combat you follow through on Jodie’s movements by pushing in a certain direction. This QTE system is definitely less intrusive than Heavy Rain’s and I would say I prefer it for exploring your environment, but it is really hindering in combat. Jodie will start to throw a punch and you won’t know whether to press your stick to the right because she is throwing a hook or forward because the arm still has to go forward to get to the enemy. This lead to me screwing up far more than in Heavy Rain and the feeling that it was more the game’s fault than my own due to the ambiguous directional requests.
The combat isn’t the only aspect of Beyond I had issues with. I really like and cared about Jodie and Aiden, but failed to connect with almost every other character in the game including Nathan Dawkins played by Willem Dafoe. Even though he and a number of other cast members provide good performances I just didn’t connect with them. For instance there is a love interest in the game that I simply couldn’t bring myself to love or to feel that Jodie would love, but then again that may have been the point in this instance (I know that sounds weird, but if you play the game you might understand).
Beyond Two Souls is a really good game, it is also an incredibly cinematic and emotional experience that is unlike anything else I have ever played. Aiden is a blast to control and Ellen Page delivers what is hands-down the best performance in a game this year (yes I think it is better than anything in Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us). Beyond is unafraid to show you things and make you feel things that you haven’t seen or felt in a game before. If you have a PS3 I would definitely recommend Beyond Two Souls.