“Tell them to leave me the fuck alone, because next time, I’ll kill everyone.”
Unlike Heavy Rain, I missed out on developer Quantic Dream’s next game when it originally released back in 2013. The trailers, despite starring two well-known actors, didn’t grab me, and the following mixed response from critics and audiences alike didn’t exactly fill me with hope. But, seeing as it has been remastered for the PC on the Epic Store, I thought I’ll give it a shot. I enjoyed Heavy Rain for its-so-bad-it’s-good narrative and writing, maybe I’d get the same hilarious experience from this…
I did not.
Beyond: Two Souls (a terrible title) follows the story and life of Jodie Holmes. A girl, who since birth, has had a mysterious invisible entity named Aiden linked to her. Jodie ends up in the care of Nathan Dawkins, a paranormal scientist/investigator. Jodie and Nathan are played by Hollywood heavyweights Ellen Page and the Green Goblin, also known as Willem Dafoe. This marks a change from Heavy Rain, as that only starred relatively unknown actors, so having two instantly recognizable faces is a nice change.
The one thing that does not change from Heavy Rain though is the writing and dialogue. It still pretty terrible, it’s just that this time it is talented actors being forced to say them. Which, in a way, actually makes the game less fun. In Heavy Rain, the writing was amplified by the over the top voice actors, but here it’s just a bit bland. Ellen Page tries her hardest, even when some of the lines are laugh out loud bad, and Willem Dafoe swaps between a bored, wooden performance to suddenly bat-shit insane, giving his Speed 2 performance a run for its money.
If the dialogue is bad, but not in a funny way, does the actual narrative make up for it? This is a narrative-focused game, is it not? Well, it does not make up for anything. The plot is a completely incoherent mess. The reason for this is that for some silly reason, the story is told out of chronological order. I’m sure David Cage thought himself a genius when he decided to do this, that Beyond: Two Souls would be the video game equivalent to Memento. But instead, it removes all tension and turns the game into a 7-hour slog. Remember in Heavy Rain, how the characters could actually die if you messed up enough? Well, in Beyond: Two Souls, the first chapter is actually near the end of the story, so from that point on you know that Jodie will be absolutely fine. You now know that your choices mean literally nothing. That you could place the controller down for most of the game and you would still end up in the same place. A good example of this is a scene where Jodie gets into a fight with four thugs. Even if you fail every single QTE and miss every dodge, it’s the same outcome. Aiden will use his ghost powers to rescue her, and the game just carries on.
The worst part is that there was no reason to show the game out of order. It feels like they made the game chronological, and then mixed and cut it up to make it look smarter than it actually is. Due to this some scenes just feel completely out of place and the attempt at having a consistent tone is thrown out the window. We go from Jodie as an adult training to be a CIA agent, to Jodie as child living with an abusive foster father, back to adult Jodie fighting Native American dream demons (really), then back again to teenage Jodie nearly being assaulted because this is a David Cage game and he has some serious issues that need to be worked out. There is an option when you start the game to play it in a remixed order, which I believe is chronological, but I chose not to do that, as I wanted to experience David Cage’s “art” as he originally intended.
Now, the “gameplay”. I said in my Heavy Rain review that the gameplay is “more of an 8-hour cutscene with quick-time-events to make sure you’re actually paying attention”. Well, I was wrong, compared to Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain is basically Dark Souls. The QTE are somehow less responsive, and Jodie’s movement controls are controller smashingly bad. After the tenth time I got stuck trying to go through a door I nearly uninstalled the game. Accompanying this is maybe the worst camera in a game, ever. In Heavy Rain, they went for cinematic, 24-esque multiple camera angle style, which worked pretty well. Here, it’s just one janky camera, getting stuck on every object in the room.
One of the saving graces here is when you switch control to Aiden, Jodie’s ghost buddy. (You can have a second player play as Aiden but that would mean forcing someone else to play this crap.) These segments were my highlights of Beyond: Two Souls, so it’s a shame there were so few moments you could put his ghost powers to good use, especially when there were so many moments where they would come in useful. At some moments I was thinking to myself, “wait, doesn’t Jodie have a ghost friend that can throw people across rooms, choke them to death, heal life-threatening wounds, and also possess living things?”. There is even a moment when Jodie is sparring with a fellow CIA agent and Aiden mistakes her for being in danger and starts to attack him, but later on, when she is nearly being ripped apart by two police dogs, he leaves her to fight them off by herself. Either Aiden is the most inconsistent ghost guardian ever, or he just loves dogs too much.
Overall, the PC port is fine. Nothing to run home about but there are no glaring issues either. Graphically the game looks pretty good, with solid lighting and effects. Strangely though, I’d say Heavy Rain looks better. Maybe it was just the art design, but Heavy Rain had a unique look and feel to it, whereas Beyond: Two Souls is just kinda bland. Also, the facial animations look slightly janky, lifeless almost. I think it’s because I have a good idea of what Ellen Page looks like in real life, it makes it more difficult to believe her as a video game character. The teeth are much, much better though this time around, thank god.
Would I recommend Beyond: Two Souls? No. Probably not. The characters are one-dimensional, and the gameplay is unintuitive, and the narrative is abysmal. Pacing and tone are basically non-existent, and I never felt engaged with anything that was going on in the 7 hours it took me to complete this mess. This doesn’t just feel like a step backwards from Heavy Rain, it feels like a 50K marathon backwards.
If Heavy Rain was The Room, Beyond: Two Souls is something like Transcendence, a boring and completely forgettable sci-fi thriller. Let’s hope Quantic Dream’s next game, Detroit: Become Human, is better…