Beyond: Two Souls
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Dates: 18 Jun, 2020 (EU & NA)
Price: 19,90€ (Steam)
Beyond: Two Souls, like Heavy Rain before it, is all about the story, managing to craft a believable science-fiction world in which that story takes place, which is certainly an impressive picture when you look back at the history of Quantic Dream and how messy the story of Fahrenheit was. The campaign takes place over a long period of time, telling the story of Jodie, a girl born with psychic powers, being able to connect with Aiden, a spirit attached to Jodie that can hear, see and change things around her and the physical world, even though he is stuck in the Infraworld, the place where all spirits of those dead end up. Not only is the Infraworld populated with the spirits of the dead, but also monsters that can harm those in the material world, including Jodie once they have the right passage, which makes Jodie the gatekeeper of the passage between the two worlds, constantly trying to explain others how opening up a passage is a bad idea, but since humans will be humans, trying to constantly force that gate open is the catalyst behind this game's incredible story. In my opinion, the thing that puts Beyond: Two Souls on another level from Quantic Dream's previous works is the dedication to crafting a believable science-fiction world, which seems to be pretty rare even in other mediums like books or movies and comparing it to the over-the-top style of Fahrenheit, this story is grounded in its own roots and even though the scope does get bigger by the end, it never breaks the rules that it set for itself earlier in the introduction.
Jodie's story is presented almost entirely by marking the important events in her life, beginning with her birth and following her through her youth, her teenage years, and up to adulthood, making you a witness to every important moment in Jodie's life and automatically emotionally attaching you to her story and the problems she has to deal with. Playing the game in the original mode, the story is told in a nonlinear way, with chapters being presented out of order which may be a little bit confusing at first, but Quantic Dream thought about that too, adding a narrative line to the loading screen, pinpointing each chapter on that line and allowing you to sort out the events in your head as you wait for the next chapter to load. With the remaster for PS4 and the PC version, a Remix mode was added which allows you to play the chapters in chronological order, which is less confusing, but at the same time eliminates some of the original's crafted pacing and makes the neuronal timeline on the loading screens pointless, which would've probably happened anyway since loading screens are much faster now than on PS3. Not only is the script for the game's narrative better than anything David Cage has previously come up with, but it's also sustained by brilliant acting from the game's main protagonists Ellen Page (Jodie) and Willem Dafoe (Nathan), who bring their respective characters to life in a believable way despite some weird facial expressions in certain scenes.
Beyond: Two Souls is a psychological thriller, and a better one than most movies out there, bringing well-known ideas such as the ability to talk to the dead or moving objects around you with the power of your mind alone and explaining them in a logical and believable way, Jodie's abilities being tied to the presence of Aiden who will protect and help her throughout her adventures. At first, Aiden is an annoying presence, that ruined most of Jodie's childhood by doing bad things at a bad time, but as she grows older, their relationship will change, however in what way is up to you to decide since in typical Quantic Dream fashion, the game features multiple choices and endings. There is also a mode to play the game in Co-Op by allowing one player to focus on Aiden, while the other plays as Jodie, but this has always seemed like an afterthought to me since there are no moments when both Jodie and Aiden have to do something at the same time, so if they wanted to include a Co-Op they could've just added a prompt to give the controller to the other player when it's time to do something as Aiden, but instead you have to keep two controllers on at the same time just so each player can do something for 5 minutes every other 10 minutes, which seems like a giant waste of controller battery and nothing else.
The gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls doesn't want to be a distraction from the story-focused experience and to accomplish that they made up a pretty natural movement scheme that's not too complicated, therefore neglecting the casual market that might want to approach this game, nor is it too bland to make you fall asleep from just watching cutscenes all the time, using the left and right sticks to move, dodge attacks or interact with different objects. While all the buttons on your controller are technically used at some point, quick time events aside, you could play the entire game with just the two joysticks, but the way those are used is very intuitive as pointing the right stick upwards will grab an object that you can interact with while pointing it down will put it back into its place, so that being considered, I think a lot of people will be caught off-guard by a random RT/R2 prompt during a QTE. Even with all the quick time events, Beyond: Two Souls doesn't take the freedom of exploration away from you entirely as almost every chapter will have some large open areas in which you take full control of your character and decide which strategy you're gonna go with; sometimes switching to Aiden will be the fastest and most efficient way to reach your objective, while other times you will have to combine Jodie's movements with Aiden's powers in order to succeed, but those moments are also some of the key outcome-changers, so you might end up taking a certain decision just because you didn't know there was another option, but at the end of each chapter there's a prompt that will show you which decisions you took and in which case you could take another part, which gives you many reasons to replay the game multiple times in order to see everything.
Controlling Aiden feels just as natural, switching between him and Jodie using the Y/△ button and controlling pretty much the same, with Aiden having the ability to ascend or descend using the trigger buttons, but most of the times that won't even be needed as the game makes sure to hold your hands towards the objective at all times, which definitely makes this game accessible to everyone, but lacks in term of any form of challenge. Sure, there are moments when you'd wish the game would require more of you, as sometimes entire minutes will pass without you having to press a single button, but that doesn't ruin the intuitive mechanics that are already present during the moments when you have to use the controller and if the story wasn't this captivating that might be a bigger problem, but if you are interested in this type of game, you probably already know the type of experience you're going to have gameplay-wise. Conversation options are handled in the same manner as other games of this type, having up to four options to choose from using the action buttons and even if not all conversations lead up to a decision that will impact the outcome, at first you won't know that, so there's that moment of always contemplating about what outcome might each option bring and pick the one that suits your playthrough. There are no objective markers, health bars or anything of the sort, which clears up the entire screen for you to follow the action closely, and due to the simplistic gameplay and automatic camera adjustments, you will always know where you're headed even in large open areas while you're riding a horse through the desert. One other problem previous Quantic Dream games had was low visibility QTE prompts in some scenes, but here that was never an issue even as they are always logically placed and easy to read, so there's a higher chance a QTE will catch you with the controller down than failing due to not being able to see the prompts.
Beyond: Two Souls is designed to be a striking experience that will remain with you for a long time, obsessing over little elements such as band posters on the walls during Jodie's teenage years and household items used to build realistic scenes even though they are only there for decor, therefore building this universe where the characters live, which is such a giant leap over Fahrenheit, but even when comparing it to the previously released Heavy Rain, Beyond is just so much better as an art piece, as every scene feels like a moment in time carefully painted over the pre-existing landscape. The visual effects are just as impressive and the view from Aiden's perspective gives you a pretty accurate idea of what being a ghost would be like as you can freely move through walls, fly up and down and interact with certain objects in different ways.
Not only have the actors been transposed into the game using motion capture, but their voices were as well with Ellen Page voicing Jodie and Willem Dafoe voicing Nathan Dawkins; of course, those are only the main protagonists, but throughout the game you will encounter many more characters that will contribute to the overall story and make their voices heard as you see them in different situations, ranging from sadness to anger or happiness, and no matter the situation or the character, the lines are always delivered perfectly, even when the script is a little bit cheesy, and making you a part of it by often allowing you to choose how you want to respond to a question, even when it doesn't directly impact the outcome. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing, even though it's not as content-rich as some of the other titles in this genre, but there's always a tune to go hand in hand with important moments in the game and there are a few moments when something will play for long enough that you'll start humming along with the tune.
The game is around 11 hours long, but there are multiple endings, however, the number might differ depending on who you ask and what that implies; according to Quantic Dream there are 11 of them, but that's because there are different combinations of things that can happen when you reach the end, so without spoiling anything, realistically you can see everything in 5 playthroughs or 2 playthroughs with some chapter reloads, but even with that in mind there's a lot to look forward to after you've reached the credits for the first time. Apart from the endings, choices you make throughout the game will trigger different reactions and even though those will not change the long-term outcome, there will always be something new to see, as there are many scenes that can be triggered only by making a certain decision and while those aren't particularly long since the game eventually has to go back to the main plot point for everyone, they are small pockets of freshness that keep your subsequent playthroughs from becoming overly repetitive. Aside from that, you also have collectible orbs that can be found only when you're playing with Aiden that will unlock extras such as behind-the-scenes videos or design packs that showcase how Beyond: Two Souls came to life.
Beyond: Two Souls is a masterclass on how to do those types of games right and as someone who has played every single Quantic Dream game and probably dozens more in this genre from other developers, this remains for me the benchmark by which I compare the rest of them, as QD finally understood what makes games of this type special and accessible and decided to pour all their talent and dedication into the most important aspect, which is the story while simplifying the gameplay and delivering top-notch quality in graphics and sound. Beyond: Two Souls is the game David Cage should've made 10 years earlier, but probably didn't have the technology or the budget to do so, and therefore I'm just thankful he finally managed to do it because this story will undoubtedly remain with you for a long time and even inspire you to ask some questions about the Infraworld yourself.