Saturday, February 22, 2014

Beyond: Two Souls review

Before I get on with the main review of Beyond: Two Souls, the latest game by David Cage and his development studio Quantic Dream, I would like to briefly summarise what I thought of their previous two games.  First up was Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy) - a game that had a truly amazing beginning and maintained this for at least the first half.  The game lost me, however, when the plot got weird.  Now, I have no problem with science fiction or fantasy plots, quite the opposite, but I feel that I was led to believe that the game was one thing (a psychological crime drama) and it became something quite different.  That's not to say it's a bad game - it isn't.  It's also certainly a good deal more interesting than most games that came out around that time.  You can read my full review here

Next up was Heavy Rain, which I enjoyed quite a bit more. The story was quite thrilling, with you taking control of a distraught father trying to free his kidnapped son from a serial killer, amongst several other characters.  It was by no means perfect, being quite linear and limited in actual game play despite the illusions of choice presented to the player.  It looked quite stunning, being a new benchmark in what could be achieved in mo cap.  Now, can their latest offering push things even further?  Time to get on with the review!

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Expect to pay: £20

Beyond: Two Souls sees you in control of two main characters.  Firstly we have Jodie, played by Ellen Page.  She has a spirit companion with her at all times that goes by the name of Aiden, the other character that you will be controlling at key points during the game.  The narrative jumps back and forth throughout various key points in Jodie's life, highlighting her connection with Aiden, the "Infraworld" where the spirits hang out, and various attempts by the CIA and the military to interfere with her life.  She doesn't have an easy time of it, that's for sure, as her "gift" makes her a loner and a target for scientific study.  The other big name actor supporting Ellen Page is Willem Dafoe, well known to members of the geek community for playing Norman "Green Goblin" Osborn in the first of Sam Raimi's Spiderman trilogy.  He plays Nathan, a scientist who has long been studying the paranormal, who ends up essentially playing the role of her father, after her adoptive parents freak the hell out and give her up.

The main plot of the game follows a very nonlinear path, jumping backwards and forwards in time to various important events in Jodie's life.  One minute she may be around her mid twenties, then the game may leap all the way back to when she was a small child, or somewhere in her teenage years.  I quite like this structure personally, as it keeps an air of mystery to the whole thing, with you slowly piecing things together until you finally get a clear picture of what has transpired throughout her life by the time everything is over and done with.  In most of the chapters, you're given a choice in which direction to take the story.  I'm going to give an example from fairly early in the game now, so if you don't want to be spoiled at all I suggest you skip the rest of this paragraph.  So, there's a chapter where Jodie goes to the birthday party of a girl she barely knows, with a hideous dress and a musty old book of Edgar Allen Poe poetry as a present - so you just know that things aren't going to go well.  Sure enough, these arsehole teenagers end up pressuring Jodie into demonstrating her powers.  You can either agree, freak them all out, and get stuffed in a cupboard.  Or you can refuse, and get stuffed in a cupboard.  So for most of the game your choices don't actually change the outcome much at all, with the exception of the ending.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
When Heavy Rain came out, the graphics were something of a leap forward for the PlayStation 3 and motion capture.  Things haven't moved on all that much in the interim though, and while the digital representations of Page and Dafoe are impressive, they still have that tell tale waxwork quality that is incredibly hard to overcome.  Also, while the rest of the graphics are by no means poor, for most of the time you are playing what is basically an interactive movie, so the hardware isn't being pushed all that hard.  There is one chapter that stands out from the rest because of the fairly large, open, area in which it's set, and it's here that pop up rears it's head.  It's nothing serious, but it is noticeable.

Sound and Music: 9 out of 10
You would hope that professional actors like Dafoe could turn in a decent voice over performance for a video game, and this is indeed the case.  The rest of the cast also do a good job as well.  However the real stand out in this category is the music, which is a fantastic score composed by Lorne Balfe and produced by Hans Zimmer.  Balfe has previously composed one of my favourite video game soundtracks ever - that of Assassin's Creed Revelations - and his work on Beyond: Two Souls comes close to matching it.  Zimmer is very well known these days having worked on many big movies including Gladiator and Inception.  The main theme that plays on the title screen and his reprised in various configurations throughout the story is incredibly strong, with a female vocalist providing an extremely memorable central melody - an earworm indeed!

Welcome to the Ellen and Will show!
Game Mechanics: 7 out of 10
This is where some may find issue with the game.  Despite giving the illusion of choice, as I indicated earlier your actions really have very little impact on the outcome of the game.  In addition to this, if you have come to hate "Quick Time Events" (pressing a button indicated on screen within a time limit) then you won't get on with Beyond: Two Souls at all, as I would say that's what at least 80% of the game is.  However if you get into the story and just want to go along for the ride, you will probably really enjoy this.  It probably comes down to whether you just like to play action games, or if you're not against sitting back and enjoying a good adventure title once in a while.

Innovation and Cleverness: 5 out of 10
I'm going to give the game some props for the way the story is told in a non linear fashion, though to be honest, most of the things that Beyond: Two Souls is doing were established in Heavy Rain, and they haven't really moved the medium on very far.  Again, if you're coming this game to be told an entertaining story, then that's fine.  Just don't go expecting anything radically different from Quantic Dream's last game.

Overall: 8 out of 10
I went into Beyond: Two Souls without having much knowledge about it at all - just the fact that there were famous actors involved, and that it was the next game from the people who made Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain.  An hour or so in, I still wasn't too sure whether I liked it.   After spending another hour or so getting to know the characters of Jodie and Nathan, I was hooked and really wanted to see how the story resolved itself.  I was quite satisfied with the game as whole, and when all is said and done I would say it's just as good as Heavy Rain, though with quite a different storyline.  As the game has been out for a little while now, you can pick it up for a decent price.  If you haven't played it yet, I would definitely recommend it - after all, you need something to keep you entertained while you're waiting for Xbox One and PS4 titles to start coming out, don't you?

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