If the headline of this review didn’t give away the core problems that arrive with Beyond: Two Souls, I’m not really sure how much clearer I can make it. I was a bit bored with this game, though there’s nothing inherently “bad” about it.
Quantic Dream and David Cage are back at making players second guess what video gaming can and should involve. Rather than getting down in the muck and mire of that debate, I approached Beyond: Two Souls as a game heavily focused on narrative and consequence.
I loved Heavy Rain, the title from the same developer that dropped roughly three years ago. It too stirred up drama about what makes a game a game, and I found myself in the camp of players that didn’t really care about defining the narrative in order to enjoy it.
So, here I am wanting Beyond: Two Souls to wow me just as much. The trouble, though? It falls sort of flat.
Little More than an Interactive Cutscene
If you played Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream’s other massive PlayStation 3 effort, then you know exactly what to expect in terms of gameplay with Beyond: Two Souls. It’s nothing but walking through environments and nailing button press indicators. Screw up a button sequence and you “fail” that maneuver, and you’ll be forced to either repeat it or go down a different path of cutscenes.
It’s like a choose your own adventure movie where the scenes play in an order according to how good or bad you are at responding to on-screen prompts. That makes Beyond: Two Souls little more than a series of interactive cutscenes.
Even in the moments when you’re placed in a space where you can walk around and “explore,” you’ll do little more than cover all of the open floor while pressing every button indicator you pass by.
Which, hey, is fine. If you’re okay with a story that wants to tell itself to you without challenging your abilities as a gamer, this one can be enjoyable. If you don’t mind taking a chill approach to a single player campaign that is questionably a game at all, Beyond: Two Souls won’t bother you.
However, if you’d rather be challenged and faced with a variety of mechanics that roll in waves of fun, this game will not be for you. This is a story told through quick time events. Anyone who argues otherwise is just plain wrong. If hearing that Beyond: Two Souls won’t challenge you very much at all isn’t a turn off, go for it. You have been warned.
Toeing the Line Between Boredom and Fun
The biggest crisis going on with Beyond: Two Souls is that the game constantly flips between exciting and dull. There’s hardly a middle ground. Either you’re in an exceptionally tense situation where it feels like your virtual life hinges on how good you are at responding to QTEs, or you’re methodically padding your way through a boring virtual space.
When it’s tense, Beyond can be decent. There were several moments where I was, as cliche as it sounds, on the edge of my seat pushing back opponents and fighting for my life. For every one of these crazy situations, though, comes several of absolute desolation.
I’m all for solid pacing, mind you. I hate games that are nothing but big event after big event. The volume on these moments needs to fluctuate in order for good pacing to develop. With that said, Beyond: Two Souls is rarely provocative enough to make the moments of downtime worth experiencing. Downtime is when you should build and flesh out characters, and who better to connect with than a virtual Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe? Too bad it never really works out that way.
Instead, Beyond: Two Souls is mostly one of two things: boring or exciting.
I’m not suggesting that the slow moments meant to develop Jodie’s character as a growing protagonist are bad. I welcome these with open arms. It’s the way that development occurs with such little or meaningless interaction at every turn.
Heavy Rain worked during these slow moments because the storyline of murder and kidnapping created tension at all times. Beyond: Two Souls is more like a vague mystery/ghost story, and that’s not tense enough to keep slow moments engaging.
When it manages to grab and engage you, Beyond: Two Souls can be almost good. Otherwise? It gets wrapped up in trying to be too much of a story.
Showing Its Age
Another thing Heavy Rain had going for it was pure graphical prowess. When that effort launched from Quantic Dream back in 2010, it was gorgeous. The facial expressions, the environmental effects and the details on textures were in a league of their own for console gamers.
Now? Beyond: Two Souls is still attractive, and the facial animations work well enough; however, bigger and more attractive games are available on nearly every platform. The Last of Us dropped on the PlayStation 3 earlier this year, and it looks better than Beyond.
Textures get exceptionally muddy, the whole color palette of the game is rather drab and environments rarely ever wow the way they should. There are moments, of course, where you’ll love an animation or enjoy the crisp nature of a space, but they aren’t as frequent as they would have been three years ago.
If you’ve been here at TechnoBuffalo long enough, then you likely know that I’m not really one for a game’s graphics being its biggest selling point. With that in mind, graphical prowess was a feather in the cap of Heavy Rain, unfortunately for Beyond: Two Souls, the times have moved on. No one’s going to be stunned by this game’s raw beauty.
A Narrative Held Back By Boredom
With a narrative that plods along rather than moving in pulsing waves, Beyond: Two Souls is simply never compelling enough to be flat out fantastic.
I loved Heavy Rain because, in spite of being built on quick time events, it felt like a dramatic story I could affect. Solving the case, keeping characters alive and saving my son was all possible, if I made good decisions.
Beyond: Two Souls feels entirely too on rails for its own good. Quantic Dream created a slightly interactive movie with this game. I’m okay with the notion that “video games” can be any type of interactive entertainment, but this one hardly feels interactive enough.
With a narrative that plods along rather than moving in pulsing waves, Beyond: Two Souls is simply never compelling enough to be flat out fantastic. It flirts with greatness, and it’s well worth a playthrough if you can land it cheaply, but it isn’t a good display of what this type of gaming can be.
Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are great, and if you’re a big fan of either actor that should give a little surge to your need to play. Otherwise? Wait it out, it’ll be cheap soon enough.
We purchased Beyond: Two Souls for the PlayStation 3 with company funds. We completed the game before starting this review.