Beyond Two Souls’ Problematic Journey
(WARNING: The following editorial contains spoilers from Beyond: Two Souls)
Heavy Rain is one of my favourite PlayStation 3 exclusives. Period. The interactive journey was one of the most memorable experiences I have had in gaming, introducing me to multiple characters, and allowing their stories to intertwine in unique and interesting ways. Though these characters were dealing with the actions of a crazed murderer (known as the Origami Killer), Heavy Rain succeeded at making us care and relate to their emotions.
Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream wasn’t scared at pulling the rug from beneath our feet, if we made a mistake. Significantly, if players were to mess up certain quick time situations, characters that played pivotal roles in the narrative could die. There were no chances to react, or fix these mistakes, as the game would continue with these repercussions effecting the story taking place. One of my personal favourite characters never made it to the end of Heavy Rain, simply because I screwed up. This made Heavy Rain deliver a sense of intense dread throughout each scene.
When Quantic Dream announced Beyond: Two Souls, and stated it would feature the acting talents of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, Beyond quickly jumped to the top of my most anticipated titles. Ellen Page plays Beyond protagonist Jodie Holmes – a woman who has been blessed (or cursed) with an entity known as Aiden, being connected to her person at all times. The ghost-like entity can interact with the world, and even possess those around her.
However, most of the positive aspects that were featured in Heavy Rain have been removed or altered in odd ways. Beyond: Two Souls suffers from these problems, that ultimately hold it back from reaching the heights of their previous PlayStation 3 exclusive.
Lack of Choices
Beyond: Two Souls has a similar format to Heavy Rain when it comes to choices – dialog options will float on screen with corresponding button prompts which allows you to choose how Jodie Holmes acts in certain moments. The problem is that these choices are disregarded, multiple times. When I made a choice in Heavy Rain, it felt like that choice effected the world around me, yet in Beyond, when I make a choice, it usually means nothing. There were multiple occurrences where I was provided with a yes/no choice. Each time I choose to say no to certain events, it was completely ignored, and Beyond made the situation take place.
It was at these moments that it felt like I was just along for the ride, and the so-called interactivity of Beyond: Two Souls was merely an illusion. When controlling Jodie’s entity, Aiden, it doesn’t take long to realise that lack of choice is also present here.
Aiden has the ability to control individuals, move objects in the world, and explore areas Jodie may never reach. Sadly, each option is greatly moderated. Beyond tells us which characters we can control, how far we are allowed to venture away from Jodie, and which objects we can interact with. The illusion of options and choice quickly deteriorates when you realise you can only play within the constraints that Beyond allows.
Heavy Rain was special because, if you made a mistake at the wrong time, your characters could pay the ultimate price which could affect how the narrative played out. Beyond: Two Souls has you playing as Jodie Holmes at different ages, which ranges from a small child to a young woman. Growing up and learning about the character as they age is a great way to form a bond between the protagonist and the player. Beyond doesn’t allow this, because it has you playing as Jodie at the age of 8, then a chapter in her 20’s, and then possibly a chapter in her teenage years. This structure feels muddled and disjointed. It was a struggle to remember which chapter was which, and how they fit in the puzzle of Jodie’s life.
One minute you were a child who is playing with her dolls before dinner, the next you were walking through the desert on the run from the CIA. It not only made following Jodie’s evolution as a young woman hard to interpret, but it made you feel as if you were merely seeing this events take place, rather than having any effect on them at all. We see Jodie as a young adult early in the game, which means these moments have already taken place and we can barely alter the timeline Quantic Dream has created.
Jodie Holmes is an interesting character, and I would love to have formed a greater bond throughout the narrative, but the story-jumps make this a difficult task. We know Jodie is alive and well in her adult years, so even if we make a mistake in quick time instances we already know it doesn’t affect where Jodie ends up. Therefore, Beyond lacks the repercussions and feeling of intensity that Heavy Rain provided, since we are on a journey towards a destination that has already been revealed.
Heavy Rain’s combat was – in essence – a sequence of quick time events, which utilised button presses and certain exact movements of the analog sticks. Which could be quite difficult. Trying to arc your analog stick in the right direction during hectic moments was no easy task, making each movement feel key to your survival. Beyond: Two Souls offers a simplification of that formula – instead of the corresponding analog movements appearing on screen, we see the screen turn yellow, and you must judge which direction to move the stick in order to attack, parry, or avoid an enemy assault.
These sequences are unclear, and I found myself constantly fighting the over simplified method, as I attempted to figure out what direction was needed. It is extremely difficult to understand where your stick needs to move in the frantic heat of battle. When I think Jodie can avoid an attack completely, it turns out I needed to parry it; when I want to parry an incoming attack, it turns out I was meant to attack before their strike made contact. Heavy Rain’s method made it clear what movements must be completed to ‘win’ each segment. However, Beyond struggles to make a clear message during these moments.
These combat sequences also further emphasises the lack of repercussions for your actions. As I encountered an enemy combatant, I avoided inputting commands for a few quick time moments, which ended up leading to Jodie getting a screwdriver stabbed through her hand. Which seemed like a repercussion of my lack of input, yet fast forward to the next scene and it is never referenced. These combat situations are the only time you will see Jodie effected by anything that happens in a fight, meaning whatever you do during these situations, once again has no repercussions going forward. Beyond just continues on its merry way, without referencing anything that just occurred.
Beyond: Two Souls is at its best when we stop and focus on Jodie Holmes and her life struggles, as she deals with having Aiden connected to her throughout her life. The most powerful scenes are actually when we play as a young Jodie Holmes, providing some of the more meaningful and memorable moments. Beyond is at its worst when it decides to forget these meaningful details, and instead introduce a CIA/military plot that feels out of place and forced.
Like most stories involving government/military conspiracies, an evil section of the government are using their resources to weaponise new discoveries… at any cost. This narrative thread is introduced during the last third of Beyond: Two Souls, and it throws out every detail of humanisation they have tried to create to instead focus on a generic and action oriented conclusion.
I had more fun cleaning my house and cooking dinner for Jodie’s romantic date while using Aiden to mess around with her surroundings as he tried to ruin the encounter, than infiltrating a submarine to stop a nation from weaponising discoveries before the United States. These moments felt human and real, which was my main love of Heavy Rain. They provided these realistic characters with human emotions, whereas these military moments felt out of place and seemed to lose the charm Quantic Dream is known for delivering.
Beyond: Two Souls wasn’t a horrible experience. It still delivered the unique aspects that Quantic Dream has provided previously, and is a true testament to the vision of the studio. Beyond is one of those titles that will polarise many of the players who stick around until the end credits – some may love the experience on offer, while others may find the flaws that appear to constricting in comparison to Heavy Rain.
Quantic Dream is one of the most incredibly ambitious developers in gaming, and Beyond was certainly an experiment that didn’t pay off as well as they hoped. It feels like they had an amazing idea, but to tried to remove most of the aspects that made Heavy Rain so special, rather than improve on them to create a truly interactive adventure.
Beyond: Two Souls offers the illusion of choice, and it is up to you to decide if this choice was an improvement, or a determent to Jodie Holmes’ journey.