Genre: Interactive Drama/Adventure
Release Date: October 8th, 2013 (US), October 11th, 2013 (EU)
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Beyond: Two Souls is a series of things that happen. These things may or may not be connected to each other by the narrative in some way or another. They are often not. You play through these things that happen by pressing buttons, usually when context icons appear on screen, and then things happen. Occasionally, things will look nice.
That is as positive as I’m going to get about this game. It’s all I’m giving it. Why?
This game is an absolute train wreck.
Developed by French studio Quantic Dream and written by egomaniacal auteur David Cage, Beyond: Two Souls is an 8-9 hour game that feels like it’s 14 dreadful hours long. Well-known actress Ellen Page plays Jodie Holmes, the Mary Sue protagonist who is linked to a plot armor entity spirit named Aiden, who magically helps her out of any death-defying situation and serves as the vehicle for the game’s actual “gameplay” mechanics. The game also stars a criminally underused Willem Dafoe as Nathan Dawkins, a scientist version of Willem Dafoe who tries his best to hold the script up on his shoulders.
Both actors put in some good performances, given the material that they had to work with, but it’s not enough to save the game, sadly. Most of the characters are yet again just clichéd, one-dimensional, cardboard cutouts, but at least David Cage managed to write a black guy who doesn’t speak jive or play basketball! A miracle, truly.
This review will go over almost every aspect of the game’s hackneyed and scatter-brained plot, so spoilers do lie ahead.
Beyond essentially puts the player in the role of two characters. The primary one is Jodie Holmes, a young woman who struggles to live a normal life despite her paranormal circumstances. These circumstances are thanks to the secondary character Aiden, a paranormal entity linked to her since birth. Aiden can do things like move through walls, possess people, and interact with objects. This could have been an interesting game mechanic, and there are some segments where this shines through, but most of the time it is never used to its fullest potential.
Many of the segments with Aiden are straightforward and leave the player with little variety or choice. You essentially do X number of things in an area to move the game forward. Segments such as one where a young teenage Jodie attends a birthday party and is given the chance to exact revenge after being humiliated and abused by the most laughably and stupidly evil teenagers ever written in fiction, give Aiden and the player lots of room and freedom. You can simply mess with them and leave, or you can torment them further to the point of burning the house down. These segments are few and far between, and as nice as they are, they do not make up for the remainder of the game.
When you’re not controlling Aiden, the game is essentially Heavy Rain. You can sloppily move around with the left analog stick (which had some of the worst movement I’ve ever experienced in a video game), and this time item interactions are made using the right analog stick. Action segments include the familiar floating button contextual quick time events, but now also include another variety.
To complete certain actions, the player must move the analog stick in the direction Jodie’s momentum is carrying her. It’s nice that Quantic Dream tried to make these quick time events not as obvious, but many times Jodie’s actions are hard to discern the direction of, and the game’s very dark brightness setting obscures much of the action. No need to worry though, as more often than not any mistakes you make during these sequences don’t matter anyway. You can put the controller down and fail every fight sequence move; Jodie will still prevail.
Some segments attempt to include actual gameplay mechanics in the form of a childishly simple stealth game. Jodie can perform stealth takedowns and take cover behind chest-high objects to avoid detection. This happens only once or twice and are so simple and linear that they shouldn’t have even bothered to put them in the game.
That basically sums up Beyond’s entire gameplay system. You won’t be doing much else than what is described above for the remainder of the game. Where Beyond utterly fails at, and what earns it such harsh scorn, is its writing. If you can call it writing. It’s awful. God awful. Horrendous. If you thought the genre shifting in Quantic Dream’s notorious earlier title Indigo Prophecy was stupid, you have no idea what Beyond has in store.
Beyond makes Indigo Prophecy look like The Godfather. It makes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull look as grounded and believable as Babel. Nuking the fridge? Jumping the shark? This game transcends all of that.
Auteur visionary, creative genius David Cage has chosen to reveal very little of Beyond’s story in gameplay trailers. From what an average player or consumer can judge from the trailers, Beyond looks like a coming-of-age story with a paranormal framework. The overarching plot of the game must be Jodie’s struggle to accept herself and learn to embrace life despite the lingering presence of Aiden. You would think so, right? Forget it. This game is none of that at all.
Instead, Beyond focuses on Jodie’s amazingly stupid life that jumps from being a drama, to being a Tony Scott action flick, to being a sci-fi horror flick, to being an amazingly mindless rip-off of DOOM. Who cares about having a story that is thematically and narratively constant and grounded, with foreshadowing and character arcs that are well executed and pay off? That doesn’t matter. This is the future of media, as told by the Machiavellian visionary enlightened king of cosmos that is David Cage.
Surely these changes and jumps must make some sort of sense, right? There has to be hints, right? I wish. Beyond’s story is told in a non-linear order. This is me nicely saying that this game makes absolutely no sense and the order of scenes is akin to tearing out all of the pages of a book, throwing them into a hat, filling that hat with Elmer’s glue, and tossing it onto the wall to see what sticks. There is a proper way to do a nonlinear telling of a story, like in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, where this order of scenes is shown in an order that helps tell the story in a more interesting manner for both the viewer and the story’s themes.
Beyond, however, doesn’t care. I don’t even think Greek god of cinematic storytelling David Cage knows how to order a series of scenes, let alone pace them. Stuff just happens. There is no pay off, there is no logical reason. In fact, one of the game’s very first segments within the first hour is a training montage tutorial at the CIA. Why is Jodie in the CIA? Who is this attractive CIA agent guy who is looking fondly at Jodie? You don’t even learn this guy’s name until two-thirds into the game.
The supposedly tension filled and adrenaline pumping chase and SWAT sequence as seen in the demo and all of the trailers happens within the first two hours. We barely know ANY of the characters or their struggles thanks to the nonsensical story telling. There is no reason to care about them, and thus these chase sequences fall flat. A chase sequence is done when you are familiar with a character and creates tension by putting them into this rough situation. The viewer or player needs to care for these characters in order for these types of action sequences to work. I guess our patron saint Lord and Saviour David Cage must’ve glossed over that while flunking out of film school.
The moment the game loses any sense of sanity it has is when Nathan Dawkins casually informs Jodie that they’ve incidentally built a portal to hell, said portal is stuck open and letting horrific demons inside that kill an entire government building’s staff, and that she’s the only one who can close it. This comes completely out of the blue and results in a massive dose of thematic dissonance for the player. Oh, but it gets even better!
After being hunted by the government and branded with treason for jumping out of a helicopter after realizing that a supposed war lord she killed was really a democratically elected president (jumping out of helicopters is grounds for treason, didn’t you know?), Jodie meets a group of Native Americans living on a ranch who are complete noble savage caricatures. They are tormented in the night by a giant dust monster spirit that their ancestors summoned from Hell in an effort to kill the white man. Oh, but it gets even more stupid.
After sealing away said spirit resulting in the death of an elderly grandmother (which calls for her grandson to cheesily shout out her name in agonizing despair), Jodie reluctantly takes another mission from the CIA in order to get her freedom. The mission? Stop the evil Engrish-speaking Chinese soldiers from constructing a portal to hell in a top-secret underwater facility in the arctic. Following an amazing plan for her and her attractive CIA ex-boyfriend (his name is Ryan by the way) to don Chinese uniforms and infiltrate the facility, even though one of the agents on their team is Asian and could easily look the part, they get captured but manage to escape and blow the portal and the base up. Oh, but first we need a fight sequence where the evil general cackles maniacally while swinging a chain at Jodie as a giant demon fish wreaks havoc outside.
The fun doesn’t stop here. The United States build their own megaportal, and in an amazingly stupid character 180, Nathan Dawkins shuts down the containment field in order to attain immortality and become one with his dead family. To top all of this off, the game ends with a cliffhanger depicting Jodie wearing sci-fi battle armor in a post-apocalyptic future where demons have invaded earth and destroyed almost everything.
If none of the above makes any kind of cohesive sense whatsoever, you are a healthy human being. This game has the most childish, most insipidly stupid, most mind-numbingly dumb plot; it’s even worse than a weekend night SyFy Channel original movie. This was written seriously by a man who has the gall to criticize video games as having formulaic and creatively-drained stories, and who thinks that he is the leading force in the effort to make video games the next great storytelling medium.
Beyond is a laughable, trivial, brainless, moronic attempt at inciting human emotion or delivering a thought-provoking or envelope-pushing story. It is a game by the barest minimum standards. It makes no sense, it’s riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies, player choice means nothing, it’s marred with technical issues, and the headlining actors with all of their effort cannot prop up this mess on their backs.
The game does look nice at times, mostly during the sequence where Jodie is homeless and lives with several other homeless characters. However, most of the game suffers from blatantly obvious texture streaming, hitching, and severe loading times. Have fun loading your game during the Native American segment where you’re given a large area to ride around on a horse with: it’ll take up to several minutes at the most.
All in all, Beyond: Two Souls is a game that should be avoided at all costs. There is no enjoyment to be found here. This isn’t a catastrophe that can be marveled at, like The Room. This is an embarrassment for Quantic Dream, an embarrassment for Sony Computer Entertainment, an embarrassment for all actors involved, but a win for David Cage. In that man’s eyes, all of his mistakes are works of art.
Bravo, David. Bravo.