Beyond: Two Souls Review — Supernaturally Bad Storytelling
The story, set in a version of our world in which the spiritual plane (called, ridiculously, the “infraworld” in-game) can be accessed and exploited by the living, follows Jodie’s life from early childhood until her late 20s. Raised in a government research facility, her supernatural abilities and her connection to Aiden were studied and, through training, refined. Later conscripted by the Central Intelligence Agency, then trained with particular emphasis on her abilities as a national security asset, she is eventually turned into a high-value black ops resource.
Through a few plot contrivances, she eventually discovers the truth about the government’s research of her supernatural gifts and its link to what can only be called a spiritual cold war, and ultimately learns to come to terms with her traumatic life.
Quantic Dream tells the story anachronistically, jumping around to different points throughout Jodie’s life. The conceit is a clever attempt to mimic associative memory, with plot points occurring in order of relevance to the game’s overall themes (such as they are). Superficially, it even works. Lots of individual moments, like as a sequence that begins with a fight atop a moving train, are riveting when considered separate from the main story. It should also be noted that the core concepts go far to creating one of the more interesting fictional universes we’ve seen in a long time.
But anachronistic order is difficult thing to pull off even for the best storytellers. When used effectively, it’s powerful. Something as commonplace as the reveal of a secret in the past, held back until the last possible moment, can sharply re-contextualize an entire story. But in order to be effective, you still need elements like, say, foreshadowing to make the reveal effective. That’s precisely what Beyond: Two Souls lacks.
Beyond: Two Souls spends the last 20 percent of the game piling on reveal after reveal. Some of them pop up in the story’s past, some of them in the story’s present. But the problem, particularly a very big one that sets the final sequence of the game in motion, is that the setups for each of these reveals happens so shortly before the reveals themselves that they feel unearned. Literally, you’ll find out some all-important tidbit that happened in Jodie’s past, and it will pay off in the very next scene. Further, with one exception, these reveals’ only context is their setups, with no supporting material in the larger narrative.
Imagine if you only heard the name Keyser Soze five minutes before the end of The Usual Suspects and you’re close to what fails here. And beyond the lack of support written into the game for the overload of reveals, the game story falls apart in ways that were perfectly avoidable. More than once, Jodie will express emotions or make decisions that are baffling without any further information that puts them into context — context that is subsequently never provided. Worse, a few major plot points are never adequately placed into context with the rest of the story: when you finish, you’re left frustrated that you spent so much time playing those levels for no payoff.
And the less said about the ultimate trajectory of Dafoe’s character, the better. It’s as though Quantic Dream brainstormed a list of plot elements that had to be in the game, and just threw them in regardless of the studio’s ability to develop them.
While missions can be completed in a variety of ways (often greatly expanding the length of a story section based on how you progress), unlike Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t have vastly divergent outcomes. That’s not a problem, as the game follows Jodie’s story exclusively. But as has been known for months, the game offers a range of possible choices to players at the end, and all of them are virtually identical. Considering that the game also cops out completely by failing to take two moments we won’t spoil here to their natural conclusions, each ending winds up feeling both unearned, and like a waste of time.
Beyond: Two Souls is full of interesting concepts, but it’s trying to do too many things at once. A military thriller/wartime romance/fugitive story/supernatural drama/science fiction/apocalypse tale might have sounded cool in the planning stages, but all those high concepts need time and space to be fleshed out. Thanks to the game’s relatively brisk clip — about 10 hours total — and the fact that so much of it consists of action set pieces, that necessary time and space never materialize. Beyond: Two Soul instead suffers from acute story cancer with terrible plot lesions that disfigure everything including character development
Quantic has proven before that there’s potential in its stubborn insistence of putting story at the forefront of its experiences and its stark avoidance of standard gaming conventions — despite some ridiculous inclusions, Heavy Rain in particular was very effective. Here, I was struck by some fairly wonderful action sequences, the construction of an original and interesting fictional universe, some genuinely gorgeous visuals, and most importantly by the beauty of cast performances, particularly those of Page, who practically holds things together by force of will. But that’s it.
In Beyond: Two Souls, Quantic Dream had the tools necessary to make something great out of its quirky game design philosophy. But having the tools and using them are two different things. A game like this lives and dies by its story, and unfortunately for Beyond: Two Souls, the story was fatal.
- Compelling fictional universe
- Excellent performances
- Aesthetically lovely, particularly during large set pieces
- The Quantic Dream style play mechanics have been improved and refined
- A terrible, terminally convoluted story that tries to do too many things at once and bungles all of them, while mangling both major plot points and character development
- Quirks associated with the control scheme can lead to unnecessary tedium
- The control style doesn’t quite suit combat and action, of which this game has a lot
- Buggy graphics, not fully successful motion capture
Final Score: 55/100
Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.