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Beyond: Two Souls Review
It's fair to say that not many people knew what to expect from Quantic Dream and Sony's Beyond: Two Souls. The last time the two paired up, we got one of this generation's most weirdly engaging games in the form of Heavy Rain, a dramatic interactive film that intrigued as much as it thrilled with a serial killer story that bumped pretty hard up against the uncanny valley at times. Although Heavy Rain could be awkward in some of its interactions thanks to the limitations of video games, it was an impressive effort to advance storytelling in the medium in a completely new direction nonehteless.
Beyond marks another solid step forward in that direction, and although it suffers from some of the same issues that many had with its predecessor, it marks another completely singular and ultimately engrossing thrill ride that fans of interactive fiction will absolutely eat up.
Unlike Heavy Rain, which was firmly grounded in reality, Beyond tells a supernatural tale more in the vein of Quantic Dream's first title, Indigo Prophecy. You won't be flying around engaging in crazy DBZ fights, but a decidedly supernatural twist is put on all of the action in the game thanks to the presence of Aiden, protagonist Jodie's "second soul." Aiden is a sort of spirit creature who has been bonded with Jodie's body since birth. The two are separate characters and have separate motivations and personalities, but are bonded to the same physical form. This creates some interesting drama, particularly when the player is put in control of Aiden and given the option of going against Jodie's wishes.
This duality drives the core of the game - Aiden wields great power, but Jodie can't always control it. Still, it's in both of their best interests to keep her alive, and so when the cards are on the table the enemies are in some real danger. It's a theme that's driven home excellently by the gameplay, which often allows players to deviate from what might be seen as the "correct" path in order to mess around with goofy ghost powers even when the situation might call for something else.
An early example, a test in which Jodie's abilities are being monitored in a closed-in room through a two-way mirror, gives a great idea of what to expect. Players are supposed to use Aiden's spectral form to move through a wall and spy on a woman, but instead they can opt to head through the two-way mirror and mess with Jodie's observers. It's a spooky thrill to launch your own hauntings against unsuspecting NPCs.
Aiden isn't the only one to do some heavy lifting, though. Jodie's one tough cookie herself, thanks in large part to some CIA training that she receives during an early-game interactive montage. Fighting in Beyond is a little different than you might be used to, and uses almost nothing but the right analog stick.
Attacking and blocking plays out almost more like a rhythm game than a proper action game. At certain pre-scripted moments, time will slow down and you'll have a limited time to hit a direction on the analog stick corresponding to the direction of Jodie's movement. For example, if Jodie's trying to hit an enemy to her right, you'll have to push to the right on the stick. It can occasionally be tough to tell which direction you're expected to press during these segments, but when they're pulled off properly they can be really thrilling.
The same goes for controlling Aiden. It's awesome to embody this spectral ghostly form, but sometimes Aiden's actions aren't quite as menacing as the game seems to think. Tearing helicopters out of the sky and possessing people is supremely badass, but flipping over tables and knocking over cakes is a little less dramatic than the game sometimes seems to think.
Generally, though, Beyond's dramatic story is really solid and a great way to keep players constantly pushing forward. The game's story is told in brief chapters that are split up and presented out of order. You'll play Jodie as a child for a while, and then jump into her as a trained killer taking on SWAT agents or insurgents. It keeps the pacing solid, dangles several interesting mysteries in front of your nose, and most importantly, it gives you great context for the formative years of a woman who ends up becoming a trained CIA assassin. It's incredibly interesting to see Jodie progress through her early years, especially knowing the badass killer she turns out to be in the end.
As with all of Quantic Dream's games, Beyond tends to take the drama a little too far out of the realm of actual human interaction. It can be jarring to see these transitions, or lack thereof, because they oftentimes just don't feel natural. The developers clearly want to infuse the game with lots of drama, but sometimes it feels like their dramatic intent lies just beyond their reach. Still, the ambition is appreciated.
Beyond: Two Souls continues Quantic Dream's brand of intriguing interactive drama with yet another engrossing story peppered with yet more awkward moments. The game is far from perfect, but it's also vastly more interesting than any 2013 triple-A title this side of BioShock Infinite. Playing as Aiden is a spectral thrill, whether you're freaking out a bunch of entitled teenagers or blowing up a whole city block. Its occasionally awkward dialogue transitions can be jarring, and the combat controls can be unpredictable, but these are prices easily worth paying in the face of what amounts to a great, unpredictable drama.
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