Top critical review
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I really wanted to love this game...
on October 21, 2014
... but I merely liked it. This is a very hard to score game. On the one hand, the production values are amazing, and there's a lot of effort put into this. I can't accuse the game for being lazy, perhaps for trying to be too much at once?
Beyond: Two Souls is the story of Jodie, a girl who since birth has been mentally linked to an unstable, intangible and telekinetic entity called Aiden. Suffering from a lonely childhood she is then studied and recruited as a special agent, using her special ability to do missions no one else can. But when she's forced to do something that hurts her very soul, she abandons and becomes a fugitive.
What to say about this game? First, let's go with the positives. The main draw of this game is, of course, the presence of celebrities Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, both of whom do an amazing work of acting their respective roles, magnified by the amazing motion capture and animation work, making these characters seem really alive.
The visual style of this game is superb. Sometimes the realism achieves impressive levels, and you'd swear this was actually filmed instead of animated (I can already picture some creeps kissing their TVs. Don't do that, it's mentally and physically unhealthy). Of course, the cinematic nature of this particular genre helps this feel like a movie, which was surely the intention. The story has an interesting subtext (more than one), and it's very easy to grasp, so it's nothing that feels unnecessarily complicated.
Unfortunately, that's where the good stuff ends. Not to say the rest is bad, but it's mostly mediocre, which frankly, I think it's worse. Let's start with the control system. As a fan of the developer's previous game in the same genre, Heavy Rain, I was really excited for this one. And, at the beginning I thought it'd be a better experience. Heavy Rain's control system was simple, but sometimes required playing Twister with your fingers. The system is even simpler this time, which is a blessing at first, but ends up making the gameplay feel even more than a collection of Quick Time Events, so this largely escapes the category of "game" and enters "interactive movie" territory.
Second, the story. It's not bad or anything like that, it's just unoriginal and extremely convoluted. In fact, instead of one interactive movie, it feels like several, many of them belonging to a different genre. At a point you're in the middle of a slasher flick, then you're in a war movie, then in a fantasy film, then in a romantic one, then in a family drama, then in a sci-fi adventure, etc, etc, back and forth. This is no error of the developing team either, as they have claimed it was intentional, to make it feel more like real life. Problem is, real life has no narrative, that's why films, games and any other entertainment media are divided into genres.
This problem is exacerbated by the curious decision of presenting the story in chapters out of order. So the game asks us to get emotionally involved with characters we don't yet know much about. I guess it's not really that much of a problem since almost all of the characters are incredibly tired stereotypes. You can easily recognize after just a few words of dialogue in which films you've seen this character already. And it's not just that they're tired, they're unrealistic. Villains who do things just "for the evulz", kids who will act like psychopaths rather than normal bullies, a person who lost her voice in an incident and spends the day staring at the nothingness, etc.
The situations and dialogue suffer from the same problem of excessive familiarity. I'd say that too many times throughout the game you'll feel a strong sense of déjà vu, but a déjà vu implies a possibility, while here is patently obvious that you've already experienced most of this.
The only character that's not technically a stereotype is Jodie, and that's because, unfortunately, she's a Mary Sue. Each and every one of the character's problems are caused by someone else, as she seems incapable of making bad decisions or having defects (save for one incident, that feels too shoehorned due to how different the rest of the game is). If someone is against her, that person is either evil or wrong. If there's a place where people have problems, she will show up out of the blue to solve them. Whenever she does something wrong, it's because she was tricked into doing it. This absolutely robs Jodie of the ability to be sympathetic. It's a testament to how likable Ellen Page is that you don't feel so infuriated that you'll throw the game's disc away in disgust.
Then there's the gameplay. While it seems just the same as it was in Heavy Rain (specially as it uses the same control system), they've stripped away a major part of what made it so good: choice. This game is extremely linear, specially compared to Heavy Rain. Here, almost nothing of importance is left to you. Let me present you three situations in the game: a) you have to get ready for a date; b) you have to socialize with other kids in a birthday; c) you have to kill a warlord.
In (a) you can choose what to cook, what to wear, what music to listen to and wheter to clean the place or not. Most of these decisions have no outcome in your date, as it actually depends on previous and/or later decisions. In (b) you are invited to dance by someone, you can accept or refuse, and all it changes is the dialogue, as you'll end up dancing anyway. In (c) you have no choice. You have to kill the man to advance the story.
So, as you see, you either have total control over small, pointless decisions, or you have the illusion of control even though the outcome doesn't change or you have no control at all, specially in the most important decisions. This might not be a problem with another game in the genre, but when a game pretends so hard choices are important, specially when it comes in the heels of another game which fulfilled that promise, it's a severe step down.
It's really a shame, and I have no doubt that people are giving this game a better score than it deserves (many reviewers here admit as much) due to the fantastic presentation or the star power, but I have to be honest here. This game is good, yeah, but it's not fantastic, not great, not even VERY good. Just good.