Quantic Dream, a French interactive entertainment company, has only developed four video games since the founding of the company sixteen years ago. It goes without saying, 'quality over quantity' and that is exactly the credo that the company embodies. Quantic Dream's first title, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, was a commercial failure despite the average ratings it had received. Following this, the company decided to pursue a different nirvana: interactive dramas. Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit in Europe) was the spearheading product for this new genre, which was a critical success. Following subsequently, Quantic Dream introduced Heavy Rain, which was a groundbreaking experience in the interactive drama genre as well as in video game history, with real-time motion capture and facial scanning to bring live actors to life in the video game world; another commercial success. Now, we have Beyond: Two Souls, the company's fourth product in a line of exclusives in a phenomenal genre.
Beyond: Two Souls is a remarkable experience that tells the fantastic story of Jodie Holmes (portrayed by Academy Award nominee Ellen Page), who has been tied to a supernatural entity since the day she was born. Aiden, Jodie's seemingly malevolent yet loving and protective friend, is an entity from a realm beyond ours; the realm (called Infraworld in the game) is implied to represent the Hereafter, or after-life. Beyond takes us on a journey through fifteen years of Jodie's life as she travels the world, embarking on a mission to discover what Aiden truly is and who she is herself inside.
The story behind Beyond: Two Souls is truly extraordinary. It jumps between different points in Jodie's life and as the story progresses, everything comes together and explains itself more and more. In the beginning, there isn't much explained; we're left to our own imaginations as we take what we see at face value and try to find a rhyme or rhythm to what we've experienced. As players progress, questions are answered, blurred lines become clear and there isn't head nor tail of a plot-hole that I've noticed. The methodology that Quantic Dream implemented of the story bouncing between highlights of Jodie's life is understandable; it keeps things a bit more interesting and their speculation that most gamers would find a chronological experience slightly boring is also understandable, as Jodie's experiences as a child serve more as a plot device and foundation for her experiences as a teenager and a young adult. I personally would have preferred a chronological progression, but the presentation works splendidly and it raises questions earlier on that are answered later, much to high satisfaction. There is not a dull moment within the story and everything has a reason and sense to it, without giving too much away.
Jodie's experiences are educational in a logical and humane manner. Jodie will experience love, disappointment, heartbreak, humility, the power of miracle, affection, hardship and a plethora of other senses of life. Beyond is such an immersive experience that even I felt a few shared emotions with Jodie during a majority of the story. If Jodie was having an emotional breakdown, I felt a twinge of pain in my heart. If she'd gotten physically injured, I wanted to reach through the screen and help her. It's powerful storytelling at its best and definitely Hollywood blockbuster material; I could easily see this being transferred to an film production.
Voice acting in Beyond: Two Souls is incredibly well-scripted and believable at virtually every moment. You'll find familiar talent given by Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe (another Academy Award nominee, who portrayed Nikolai Diavolo, a villain in the James Bond video game, Everything or Nothing), Kadeem Hardison, Eric Winter and even David Gasman (you might remember him as Paco Mendez from Heavy Rain.) With a script of approximately two thousand (2000) pages long, the experience is brought to life with a living, breathing cast of people. Fans of Ellen Page will notice that her personality and mannerisms really come through as Jodie speaks and moves and it is utterly splendid. Sound effects are spot-on and precise and the game's soundtrack is exquisite. Instrumentals and music are phenomenal and suit every moment wonderfully.
Beyond: Two Souls is, to be frank, an interactive film. That's the genre that Quantic Dream created: interactive drama. It's an original and refreshing experience compared to the button-mashing shoot 'em ups we're familiar with. It's focused on storytelling, reaching out and tugging your heartstrings and delivering a memorable experience. It would be unwise to expect a lot when it comes to gameplay. Don't get me wrong, though, you won't find yourself sitting at the screen with your controller on the floor for most of the experience. There's quite a bit of involvement on the player's part, but don't expect full control at all times; that isn't the case here. Similar to Heavy Rain, players will control Jodie's movements with the left thumbstick and her actions with the right thumbstick. You cannot directly control what Jodie says in conversations, but you can influence her dialogue by selecting one of usually between two and four options: Evade, Lie, Truth, Sincere, Yes, No, etc.
I must admit, though, gameplay has taken an interesting turn since Heavy Rain's release three years ago. There's a bit more involvement on the player's part than before, with action sequences being more than just pressing a button at the correct moment; you're prompted to move Jodie (without on-screen indication) with the right thumbstick in the proper direction during a fight in order to block or attack, during intense moments to dodge or evade and there's even a few driving/manoeuvring segments. It's a great step forward and shows that the crew over at Quantic Dream put their creative hats on a little tighter and aimed for a bit more innovation. It works for the genre and for the experience without taking away from the overall point of Beyond.
Controlling Aiden is an interesting feature within the experience. Aiden's mechanics are used for one of two reasons: to either help or hinder Jodie. Aiden's powers range from telekinesis and protective barriers to possession and even choking someone to death. Aiden is also able to give Jodie flashbacks; if Jodie touches an important item, Aiden will connect the aura of the item to Jodie's mind and allow her to see the story behind it. Aiden can also serve as a scout; getting a better view around a corner or overhead to see what lurks out of Jodie's field of vision. You'll often find yourself both liking and disliking Aiden at different parts of the narrative; helping Jodie get revenge on someone who'd wronged her feels wonderful, but controlling Aiden as he messes up a date she was looking forward to is a bit upsetting. However, you will learn through trial and error that sometimes, you don't always have to do what you think you're expected to do.
Beyond: Two Souls, despite the lack of gameplay that some players might be accustomed to is undeniably fun...but it's a different kind of fun. It does not share the same fun factor as say, Grand Theft Auto V or Forza Horizon. However, in it's own respect and playing field, it's a fun and thrilling experience. It's wildly entertaining and then some, but it'll feel like a bit of a heartache during the emotional rollercoaster's high and low points. Overall, I'm just as excited to get home from work and play it as much as I was for Grand Theft Auto V.
If there's one thing that Beyond: Two Souls does wrong, it's also something that was - ironically - done right: the visuals. It's a stunning and beautiful game; characters and set pieces are properly rendered and detailed, the environments are vast and appropriate: forests are colourful and lush, the desert looks as hot and dry as it feels, and towns and cities feel as homey or as gritty as they're intended. The visuals present a large percentage of the immersion, but they're almost too realistic that they struggle. For example, with the proper lighting in a scene, everything looks brilliant. However, in one specific moment that I recall, a young Jodie is walking around her bedroom; the combined ultra-realistic graphics with a bit of overexposure lighting made the texture of the carpet on the floor a bit overwhelming. It almost seemed as if it were popping out at you and I felt that my eyes would cross if I looked at it a moment longer. It's as if someone added a noise filter to the scene and it looked so realistic that it was annoyingly unrealistic at times. However, from what I've noticed, it seems to only be on indoor environments without proper lighting. Outside, everything looks perfect and character models as well as their clothes and garments aren't an ounce out of place. I've noticed a similar issue with The Last of Us and sometimes during Uncharted: Drake's Deception - it seems that the developer had tried too hard to make it look realistic that the overall visual experience was lacking. Consequently, the pushing of the PlayStation 3 to its limits comes at a price: that price is the hiccups and the occasional slow-loading textures. Either way, it's a small hiccup in an overall fantastic experience.
I've also noticed another small instance of a back-step, this time in narrative. There are a few moments in the story where something loud occurs and you'll often find yourself asking, "How did no one else hear that?" For example, a young Jodie often finds herself being tormented in a joking manner by Aiden, who'll intentionally frighten her. Jodie screams in fear, yet someone in the next room (with the door open) who should have heard it, does not come running to investigate. Similarly, when enemies somehow do not hear the gunshot from an AK-47 when they are a stone's throw away; that is of course, unless one considers that they're used to hearing gunshots in the Middle East. Like I said previously, a small hiccup that does not detriment the overall presentation.
Quantic Dream introduced something new with Beyond and while it isn't an online multiplayer feature, it's something just as interesting that works for the experience: co-op. Duo Mode allows a second player to take control of Aiden while the primary player controls Jodie. Nothing is changed thematically, but instead of the primary player controlling both Jodie and her supernatural friend, the second player is put into Aiden's shoes during applicable sequences. In addition to this, Quantic Dream also introduced a mobile app to complement the game. A free second-screen application will allow you to play the game on the PlayStation 3 using an iOS or Android device. This application also works with the co-op Duo Mode, which allows the second player to use their tablet or smartphone instead of the controller.
"Not everybody was born with a DualShock controller in their hands," David Cage said during the Eurogamer Expo. In lieu of this, the developer took the bold decision to allow players to play the entire game using a touch-screen device rather than the conventional controller.
Beyond Touch allows gamers to use touch commands rather than button presses and movements of a thumbstick. This opens up the title to people who aren't traditionally gamers, but will play casual games on their smartphones or tablets.
"It connects to the console via Wi-Fi, and from this point you can play the entire game, in single-player if you want, just using your iPhone... just with one finger. It's a very simplified interface [and] makes the game very passive and simple," Cage said.
Overall, Beyond: Two Souls is a phenomenal experience and a fantastic contribution to the virtual world. It tells the remarkable and heartfelt tale of an unusual girl with an ability that serves to be both a gift and a curse. With incredible storytelling and a complementing soundtrack, stunning visuals, magnificent voice acting and an experience that will stay with you for quite some time, I strongly encourage gamers to take a break from the genres they're used to and experience something new. For both newcomers and fans of Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, Beyond: Two Souls will not disappoint.