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Beyond: Two Souls Review

Beyond: Two Souls is a beautifully rendered and emotionally charged narrative that makes you feel like it knows you're there.

Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive-drama and action-adventure video game starring Hollywood actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe.  The game's developers at Quantic Dream describe it as:

The world's largest performance capture and motion capture production ever realized: 65 days of multi-actors full performance capture, along with 120 body motion capture shoot days.

The graphics are indeed excellent, and overall the game is a beautiful cinematic experience.  

It's fitting that the game premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival (only the second video game to have that privilege).  Beyond: Two Souls is an extremely positive example of an 'interactive film' game.

The Story

The game follows the life of Jodie Holmes in a series of nonlinear episodes spanning from her childhood all the way to adulthood.

Jodie has been psychically bonded with an invisible and incorporeal entity called 'Aiden' since birth.  Aiden has various abilities, such as telekinesis, mind control, and even the ability to kill someone with just a thought.  

From an early age, Jodie has been monitored and studied because of this. Everything only gets harder as she grows up.  She is forcibly recruited into the CIA, thrown into a warzone, becomes hunted and goes on the run.  

She also must contend with other entities that are very different from Aiden. These ones are violent, and slaughter any human they come across.

There is a kind of disconnect in tone and atmosphere between some of the episodes in Jodie's life. For instance, some of the game plays like a psychological thriller, some of it makes use of stealth mechanics in a warzone, and some of it plays like a social simulator.

Ellen Page's incredible acting performance and portrayal of Jodie is what pulls it all together and makes it work. You bear witness to every key moment of Jodie's life. You see her at her lowest point, you see her make mistakes, and you see her break.

And seeing everything makes it all the more important when she gets back up.  

The Gameplay

Beyond: Two Souls has the player alternating between playing as Jodie and playing as Aiden.

Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw, a game journalist and reviewer for The Escapist, denounces the game for consisting of mostly quicktime events and no gameplay to speak of. He says about the game (very sarcastically):

The great thing about this is that you can recreate the 'exciting interactive narrative experience' by watching any normal film and pressing the pause button every two seconds.

This is an unfair dismissal of what the game actually has to offer.  

It is true that the mechanics are somewhat limited, and they do not adhere to the standards of a more conventional game.  Instead, Beyond: Two Souls achieves something unique.

Jodie

As Jodie, you are responsible for directing her out of harm's way during quick time events and other situations of peril.

You are also able to influence what Jodie does.

These decisions impact how the game pans out.  There are several different endings to the game, and there are different ways to get there. In this way, the game has given you the power to tailor this 'film' to your own personal tastes.  You are the invested viewer, and also the participant.

This is even more relevant when it comes to Aiden.

Aiden

As Aiden, you shift to the first-person perspective and are free to maneuver through the game's three-dimensional space unimpeded by walls or gravity.  

You always have to stay relatively close to Jodie though, since Aiden is psychically tethered to her. Aiden is able to manipulate certain things in Jodie's surroundings.  He can move around or break objects, heal Jodie's injuries and shield her from harm.

He can also possess certain people, and instantly kill others.

Playing as Aiden was one of my favorite parts of this game, not just because of his abilities, but also because it cast the entire player's experience in a very interesting light.

You (The player)

Just like Aiden, you are a disembodied and invisible presence that follows Jodie everywhere she goes, watching and looking out for her.  

Oftentimes a video game's main character is meant to become the player's proxy for navigating and interacting with the game's world and story. Beyond: Two Souls is different. Jodie is no one's proxy; her story is her own. For the most part, you are watching over her. However, because of how the game's mechanics work, you are not reduced to a mere observer.  

When you play as Jodie, you feel like you are helping her along in her struggles. When you play as Aiden, you can intervene. You can help protect Jodie, and sometimes you can even kill the people who hurt her.

This results in an experience that is not just like "watching any normal film and pressing the pause button every two seconds".  It also is not quite like playing a video game.  It is something unique and unforgettable.

Our Rating
8
Beyond: Two Souls is a beautifully rendered and emotionally charged narrative that makes you feel like it knows you're there.
Reviewed On: PlayStation 3
Published Jun. 27th 2015
  • Juliet_7305
    Any tips on playing this game??
  • Matt Amenda
    Featured Contributor
    Man, I actually hated this game. It could have been amazing if the creator hadn't decided to go all "interactive drama" on us and taken out a lot moments that could have been meaningful gameplay. Half the game I never want to play again!

    How could they start us off with an awesome CIA training tutorial then never let us use that gameplay until the end?

    This was almost a game. Almost. But then the game made me cook and dress and wander around a farm.

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