Upon finishing Beyond: Two Souls for the first time, or perhaps during various points in its haphazard scatter-shot narrative, you’d be forgiven for thinking Quantic Dream’s Lead Designer David Cage has lost his mind.
Whilst the underlying (and extremely praiseworthy) idea of fully unrestrained artistic vision is something to be cherished, there comes a point where guys like Cage really need to have their work put through some form of editing process. If not for the sake of honing in on whatever particular thematic message Cage is trying to get across, but also for the sanity of the people attempting to uncover them.
Beyond is a mixed bag, and if you’ve played past Cage-titles Heavy Rain or Fahrenheit you’ll at least be mentally prepared for the cacophony of nonsensical faux-philosophical quandaries and exposition, so on the nose, you’ll suffer something of a head fracture trying to understand it. Even though the question around Beyond should be one centered around human’s flirtation and interaction with ‘the other side’, it instead remains if Cage is relishing in Western cinematic tropes and having fun with them, or taking the overblown shtick seriously. It appears to entirely be the latter, and the game is much worse because of it.
Two Souls is the story of one Jodie Holmes, a girl born with a unique literal connection to the spirit world; a floating entity-friend Aiden (pronounced ‘eye-den’). The game attempts to tell a lengthy story comprised of extremely jarring narrative decisions, taking Jodie and Aiden on a journey that is equal parts incredibly moving emotional tale of a girl forever-bound to something no one else can fully understand, and many action set-pieces that would put Michael Bay to shame. ‘That sounds like a recipe for success’ you might be thinking, and it would be if David Cage’s backhanded execution for his own story didn’t suffocate the telling of it.
Heavy Rain was a game only held back by a plethora of bad voice-acting and occasionally questionable scenes involving character deaths or motivations. Beyond, whilst being a genuinely jaw-dropping graphical achievement, and one is the closest a video game has come to literally being a controllable movie, never hits home with its various themes relating to interaction with the other side, or the tale of Jodie herself. As the game enters its middle-third, it appears Cage had a few years worth of different project ideas, to which he decided to throw every single one in one game, regardless of how fleshed out they may have been at the time.
While that does provide one incredible life for Jodie and a huge amount of variety in terms of level design, being that her existence encompasses a globe-spanning trip of self-discovery and real-world placement among her fellow humans, you’ll go from the relatable stress of attending your first house party as a teenager, to battling skyscraper-sized sandstorm demons, to preparing some chicken for a first-date, to stealthily infiltrating yet another war-torn Somalian locale.
As you can tell, this is less Heavy Rain’s serious tale of intertwined character-arcs and multiple threads, and more Fahrenheit’s back-half where main protagonist Lucas Kane suddenly realized he was ‘The One’, and had to battle increasingly crazy antagonistic forces between the more grounded emotional scenes.
Fahrenheit was roundly regarded as a failure, yet with a spectacular premise and weighty first half, it’s exactly the same with Beyond. David Cage seems incapable of finishing a story with any science-fiction element in a way that stays in-keeping with the tone he originally set off with, instead letting his inner 12-year old take over.
That’s not to mention the misleading trailers that showed the much more action-heavy set-pieces in the game, conveying the element of Aiden as a controllable element that would be an integral part of the games levels. Instead, while you are free to switch to Aiden whenever you like, his range of abilities from possession, suffocation, bullet-shields and telekinesis etc. are wholly contextual to the story, therefore it’s only at prescribed moments in the tale that character’s will glow different colors to indicate they’re ready to be taken care of. A hint? You kill the bright red ones.
All-in-all, Beyond is more of the same David Cage-craziness and as much as all his extremely lofty ambitions have created a project that ultimately fails, the fact that a man like Cage exists in the position he does is something to be applauded. Depending on your worldview, you’re either going to love or hate the likes of Cage, Peter Molyneux, Jonathon Blow, Ken Levine etc., or you’ll relish that there are still game developers out there not bound by outside influences, instead content in creating luxuriously elaborate passion projects.
Cage at this stage resembles a high-school drama student, ardently performing his pretentious work to a roomful of people who still believe he can produce great things. Yet after many hours of putting up with the questionable elements and threadbare narrative out of sheer goodwill and hope for a resolution that makes all that time worthwhile, Beyond is a divisive title that is only going to appeal to those who can forgo a total lack of tonal consistency for the sake of some beautiful visuals and a story that is overflowing with scope but utterly lacking in substance.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PlayStation 3 version of Beyond: Two Souls developed by Quantic Dream, published by Sony
- Unbelievable graphics
- Very Emotive Animation
- Jarring Narrative
- Bad Controls