Beyond: Two Souls is a mixture of a game that’s not fun and a story that’s not interesting
Beyond: Two Souls
There is a single thought that ran through my head while I was trying to get through Beyond: Two Souls. I’ve had a number of fascinating discussions about games and writing with David Cage, the man behind Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy, and Omikron, and I was a fan of each one, for different reasons. I couldn’t wait to get started on Quantic Dream’s latest game, and I made myself a cup of tea, put the kids to bed, and got to work.
But a thought popped up a few hours into the game, and never went away. “Why am I playing this?”
Beyond the problems of narrative
The problem is that I never came up with a good answer, and so I walked away in disgust about halfway through. There was nothing there to hold my interest. At all.
I dislike the argument that some things are games and others aren’t. I had a fine time with Dear Esther, and I don’t mind the interactivity being used as a tool to tell a story without offering mechanical challenges to overcome. It’s just another approach at using the art form of video games to get to the player, to make them think and feel certain things.
Beyond: Two Souls certainly suffers from the fact that it’s a series of quick-time events that pretend to be something more profound. Combat consists of moving the analog stick in the direction of the character’s movements, and it’s hard to fail. You’ll often be asked to mash buttons or hold a combination of controls in order to do even simple tasks, such as ducking under or over broken glass.
There is just enough interaction to keep things annoying, but never enough that you feel as if you have any real control over what’s going on in the game. I often felt like I was tapping the controller in different ways just to prove to the game that I was still there, paying attention.
This wouldn’t matter, or at least it would matter less, if the characters and story were enough to pull the player in and make them care about what was going on. You play as Jodie, a young girl who is haunted by a sort of ghost named Aiden. Aiden is attached to Jodie through a sort of psychic umbilical cord, and the spirit can attack her enemies, interact with the world by knocking things off of tables, or even take over the bodies of other characters in the game.
“He’s a tiger in a cage,” Jodie says, trying to explain their connection. It’s an apt description, but it becomes even scarier when you realize that she’s the cage.
Aiden has made Jodie’s life a living hell. She always feels different, alienated from other people. Her parents fear her, and Aiden allows her to eavesdrop on their conversations about her powers. At points in her life she’s cared for by an organization that studies her and Aiden, and later becomes a CIA agent so she can put her abilities to use. She does this through, and I wish this was a joke, a training montage.
It gets worse. Nearly every cliché from bad movies is on display here, complete with silly action sequences, overwrought dialog, and predictable moments of danger and fear. Everything is played deadly serious, but the situations are so comically overdone that it becomes hard to take anything seriously. Jodie is often a caricature of teenage girls, and her interactions with others just operate as giant neon fingers pointing to the fact that she’s different.
Let me set up damn near everything in this game: She goes somewhere, bad things happen, Aiden helps her, but it’s likely that he crosses the line. Cue the sad music while Jodie looks mournfully at the camera. Each scene happens out of order, and they rarely seem like parts of a cohesive game. Instead I kept expecting to see Jodie hitchhike from place to place, with the same music from the TV version of The Incredible Hulk playing in the background.
There is a scene where you help a character give birth that is so nonsensical I was just glad it didn’t happen in an elevator. Of course moments later you have to save said baby from a fire, because of course you do. This is what happens when someone completely runs out of ideas for how to put characters in danger. Aiden can wrap Jodie in a kind of force field, taking away any risk from the game and removing what little sense of drama was there to begin with.
This is the worst of all worlds: You have a game that’s not fun to play, matched with a story that’s filled mawkish sentimentality and ridiculous moments. All of the characters are cartoons: the scene where Jodie, complete in teenaged goth attire, shreds a bitchin’ guitar solo to show she’s mad at not being let out of her room made me roll my eyes more than feel empathy.
I’m about halfway through the game, and I only got that far because of the fact I’m getting paid to play. I finally gave up about halfway through, and I no longer cared about Jodie, Aiden, or the game that didn’t seem interested in testing the player in any interesting ways. I couldn’t point to a single memorable moment or meaningful choice I was asked to make.
Beyond: Two Souls is a disappointment. Willem Dafoe is in it.