October 13, 2013
Beyond tells the story of a girl named Jodie whose unusual connection with a spirit named Aiden brings her a lot of attention, both good and bad. Aiden is tethered to Jodie, but has a mind of his own. Should Jodie ask Aiden to do something for him, he’ll do so, however, there are times where Aiden will act on his own accord. For example, if Jodie begins dating someone and Aiden doesn’t approve of the pairing, he will do anything in order to scare that person away regardless of what Jodie says or does. This causes a lot of grief for Jodie and helps to develop a love/hate relationship between the two.
With their properties, Quantic Dream is no stranger to strong female leads. With Heavy Rain there was Madison Paige, a daring photojournalist, and Lauren Winter, a brave estranged mother. It's no wonder that Jodie fits the mold quite nicely. Jodie tackles homelessness, gets chased by the CIA and takes on a range of hostile entities. And we’d be lying if we said that was even half of what she has to go through. Ellen Page's performance as Jodie is fantastic and it's almost surreal seeing her as a video game character. Her sincerity brings you closer to Jodie and her relationship with Aiden, who you never actually hear.
Due to Page’s strong performance, the supporting cast does take a bit of a backseat in Beyond. Although Willem Dafoe’s role is appreciated, it feels his character could have featured a lot more. The relationship between Nathan and Jodie is genuine, but there just didn’t feel like enough focus. The same can be said about the other supporting cast members, but it does make sense given the story the game ends up with.
One of the most important aspects about the story is how many messages there are. This ranges from how Jodie is treated by kids her own age, but also how feeling of desperation creeps in. It asks the question, what is the lowest point in a person’s life before they decide enough is enough? These themes mesh quite well with the game’s overarching theme of choice. What consequences are connected to our actions? Do you take revenge on people who have wronged you or do you just walk away?
Despite all this, one of the confusing elements is how the story is structured. It makes sense when you understand why it’s been done, but it does end up feeling a bit disjointed as you play through. One minute you could be playing as an 8 year old and the next you’re 20. This approach does create an interesting puzzle though. As you play, you develop perceptions about people and what you think their motives are, but these perceptions can easily change. Characters who you liked initially, may not be as great as you once thought they were and vice versa.
As with Heavy Rain, Beyond features an unorthodox play style. You're constantly moving and there's this overall sense of urgency to keep you in the moment and keep you feeling alive. Gone are the constant button reminders on the screen – they’re now replaced by the power of assumption. As you go through the training, you’re taught to move with Jodie. If she’s punching to the left, you need to follow her action to make it a success. It makes everything more seamless, but the new system isn’t quite as graceful. As it’s down to interpretation, sometimes which direction you need to press is a little bit ambiguous.
Sometimes interacting with objects can be a bit buggy as well. If you only slightly move the directional buttons when trying to pick up an object, the cutscene will start to work, but then will snap back out really quickly. So if you're attempting to put a bucket of oil on a kitchen counter, you'll see yourself putting it on there, but then the cutscene will suddenly stop and quit out which can be a bit frustrating. This might have something to do with Quantic Dream getting rid of the directional button notifications.
Aiden, unlike Jodie, isn’t controlled by QTEs. Instead, Aiden is manually controlled. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but Aiden effectively acts as an out of body entity. He can be used to fetch items that are out of reach, open doors, heal people, and so on. For the most part, the sections where you need to control Aiden are pretty smooth. It can be a bit tricky to control him at times though and you may find yourself staring at walls and wondering where Jodie wants him to go. It’s great though and there are certain parts in the story where this comes to the fore. You can make Aiden extremely well behaved or you can make Aiden into a ruthless killer.
One of the best things about Quantic Dream is their utilization of the PS3's technology. It's absolutely incredible seeing how much detail they've put into the environment and the characters. You can interact with most objects and there's even times where you can miss interactions because there's just so much you could do. The music meshed really well with what was going on and the overall theme of the game was just beautiful. Normand Corbeil, the original composer and composer for Heavy Rain, had unfortunately died from cancer during production. It would’ve been lovely to have heard his full works again, however, Lorne Balfe, composer for Assassin’s Creed III, stepped in and did a fantastic job.
Beyond: Two Souls has a ton of content and a ton of ways that you can play with all of the different choices that are available. The structure is different to Heavy Rain, but the premise is still the same – your choices will affect the outcome of events. The great thing is that you can share the experience with a friend by playing in duo mode. By opting for this, one person controls Jodie and one controls Aiden.
Beyond: Two Souls is not Heavy Rain, but that’s not anything that gamers should feel upset about. It features a strong story with a fantastic cast of characters and although Jodie overshadows them at times, the quality of the experience is there for all to see. The gameplay has a few bugs that Quantic Dream may have to work out, but it’s nice to see they’re trying to experiment and improve on their style.