Previews// Beyond: Two Souls

Posted 10 Sep 2013 16:00 by
Beyond Two Souls is a difficult game to write about. You might (quite reasonably) call foul at my prefacing a preview of the game with such a feeble statement, but it's true nonetheless. Technically, it's very accomplished. The execution of it is difficult to fault. There's just a whole constellation of issues surrounding whether it has any business even being a videogame.

For those coming to Beyond cold, it's a supernatural thriller about a young woman who has been mentally joined to some sort of invisible telekinetic entity since birth. As anyone who's consumed the X-Files/X-Men/Alex Mack/any number of other things knows, you don't get to have weird supernatural abilities without the government getting involved, and so she (Jodie) ends up working for an agency, who she then ends up legging it from. And, of course, there's the nature of the supernatural entity, Aiden, to uncover.

While this could have been the premise for a rip-roaring action game with a sinister colour palette, players of previous Quantic Dream games Fahrenheit or Heavy Rain will know that ain't happening. Instead, the player interacts with the game through a series of what are basically quicktime events.

You'll note the phrase 'interacts with' rather than 'controls', which is appropriate here. The problem with Beyond is the lack of agency you feel while making your way through it. The controls largely consist of a series of prompts that it's difficult to get wrong. Playing it is a very linear process that it's hard to fail at.

Through the several hours of preview code I played through I had to play along with Jodie as she did things such as infiltrate an embassy, escape a moving train, kiss a boy and get scared by a monster. All through the technique of pressing buttons when something on the screen told me to press buttons.

There are moments when you're expected to remember how to interact with something, such as when a dot appears over an object and you're supposed to push your right analog stick towards it to interact with the thing, but that's about the extent to which you're left to your own devices. Most of the time there's an on-screen prompt telling you what to press and your only responsibility is to do it at roughly the right time.

Similarly, there are moments when you can decide how to respond in a conversation, but I didn't get much of a sense that the game would branch very far based on choosing different options. It's just not wired that way. But, of course, it's difficult to know based on one play-through.

Likewise, you can try to wander off, but the game won't just stop you ? it will turn your character round to face the 'right' way.

In Heavy Rain you could at least affect the game's narrative by allowing one of the characters to die. In the several hours of Beyond that I've played I've not seen any sign that you can have a similar impact here. I'm not even sure if you can die. There's no reason that you should, in any case. If you fail at any of the prompts you might be made to retry it, but that was the only penalty I came across. I breezed through the action sequences and frankly I'm average at best at combat-based games, so unless you recently lost both your thumbs you should be fine.

I felt that duty called on me to at least give dying a bash, though, so as I reached the end of the preview build I experimented with doing absolutely nothing in a fight scene and then an escape situation. The result was that I got out fine and intact. It may be that there are in fact points at which you can die, but if you can't even do that, then basically what we have here is a film you interact with at predetermined points by following a series of prompts.

Which, in all fairness, you might be fine with. As I said, you don't seem to have the level of agency that was on offer in Heavy Rain, but it you enjoyed that you might still be OK with Beyond.

As a supernatural thriller it does well enough. For the most part it has a sombre, low-key tone rather than a 'splodey-'splodey action hero vibe. It turns out that things are a bit more science fictional than it first seems and there's potential for the story to get a bit hokey as a result, but we'll have to wait for more of the game to find out.

The characters are fairly believable and the tightly-controlled flow of the game means it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to buy into them (you're unlikely, for example, to spend much time ridiculously probing walls in well-populated rooms looking for hiding places. There's none of that usual stuff to kick you out of the game).

Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe do solid enough jobs of playing their parts as Jodie and her caretaker, Nathan, but after several hours of play I was only a little invested in them.
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Marwin 11 Sep 2013 17:08
Maybe you missed it, but the game has 22 endings. So it will likely allow you the same impact than Heavy Rain did. In HR characters couldn't die until 2/3 of the game as well and all the major decisions came at that point, so I'm sure Beyond is structured the same.
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