Beyond: Two Souls is the second of Quantic Dream’s former Sony exclusives to make its way to the Epic Games Store.
Beyond: Two Souls’ PC debut comes almost six years after its release on the PlayStation 3. That’s a long time for a genre that has seen as much innovation as the moral-choice-centric narrative adventure games that Quantic Dream sought to pioneer through Beyond, and its predecessor, Heavy Rain. We saw the rise (and subsequent fall) of Telltale, the release of Supermassive’s cinematic Until Dawn and Dontnod’s moving graphic novel, Life is Strange. More recently, Quantic’s own return to the genre through Detroit: Become Human. For a genre that has grown enormously since 2013, does Beyond: Two Souls still hold up?
On a technical front, the answer’s easily a yes. This port makes Beyond: Two Souls look like a 2019 release, its stunning 4k visuals running at a smooth 60 frames per second while the terrific motion capture still looks impressive six years after release. The environments and characters, while prone to a little awkwardness, definitely make the transition smoothly.
Navigating with the keyboard takes a little time to learn, but it winds up a painless revision also. Many of the infamous quick-time events actually feel more natural using the mouse, even if using the keyboard for actions is a touch fiddly. If you find that the change is too daunting, the game also supports numerous controllers including both Xbox and PlayStation. It’s also got a new page that shows player statistics for in-game choices, all the DLC and an optional remix of the mission order. In short, if you already like Beyond: Two Souls and you want to give it a second whirl, this is easily the best version out there.
However, the more important question is whether Quantic’s ethereal adventure holds up where it matters the most. Pretty visuals and intuitive controls are one thing, but is the interactive story worth revisiting in 2019? If I’m being perfectly honest, the answer’s no.
It’s clear from the moment Beyond: Two Souls begins that it’s simply a game that doesn’t understand what it is. It juggles so many different elements, yet it never takes the time to ensure they smoothly flow together, the ten-hour runtime becoming a car crash of confusing narrative transitions, underused gameplay mechanics and poor character development. It’s a game that gives you a meaty tutorial for stealth and gunplay that you only use twice in the entire campaign; one that throws in an hour and a half sub-plot about a haunted ranch that barely even ties into the main story; then, at the eleventh hour, shoehorns a potentially fantastic antagonist into the last twenty minutes.
Although it’s unfair to entirely burden one man with Beyond’s problems, many of these issues fall at the feet of the game’s writer and director, David Cage (real name, David De Grutolla). Despite having some interesting gameplay ideas, what lets Beyond down frequently is its bad writing – both in dialogue and strange narrative beats. While Cage’s story is one that often takes itself seriously, it can’t help but feel somewhat unintentionally hilarious due to the director’s strange obsession with hunky boys for Jodie to date, sub-plots that lead nowhere, and missions that are incredibly over the top.
For those who aren’t familiar with Beyond, the story takes place over fifteen years of protagonist Jodie’s life. It follows her adventures alongside a mysterious entity known as Aiden: a ghost linked to Jodie that can move through walls, possess people and do other ghostly things. Every mission is a different moment from the two’s life. The catch? These events aren’t chronological – think Pulp Fiction, but about Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and a weird ghost man that pushes coffee cups into people’s laps to distract them. In the right hands, it’s an interesting way to tell this story, however, Cage’s ability to smoothly weave tone is about as subtle as a loud fart in a public library.
Jumping between events simply makes no narrative sense, seeing you kill government agents in a brutal hand to hand fight sequence atop a speeding train before transitioning to a younger Jodie attending a party where she deals with bullies and sips her first beer. Granted, Heavy Rain has these same narrative issues. But what sets the two apart is that Beyond’s predecessor isn’t afraid to let you take the wheel. It gives you choices that are crucial to the story; sees the plot branch off if you make a mistake.
Without the multiple protagonist element that made Cage’s previous tales flexible, Beyond: Two Souls often feels like a passive experience. While I was initially angry that the game’s combat was so infuriating – forcing you to analyse Jodie’s movements in battle and match her direction with the mouse despite her actions being near-impossible to read – I quickly stopped caring after discovering that no matter my ability to fight, Jodie wins regardless. You can put the controller down in a fight sequence and Jodie will still overcome the odds and not suffer the consequences of her actions. It takes all the tension out of fight sequences; all the fun out of the gameplay. It’s mirrored in the use of player choice as well, your decisions affecting minimal aspects of a mission but never extending to how the story progresses as a whole. Before long, the perception that you’re behind the wheel breaks as you slowly realise that you’re merely a passenger along for David Cage’s ten-hour joyride.
The presentation has its moments – mainly due to the fact Ellen Page is such an impeccable actor – but Cage’s bizarre odyssey about strange ghost dimensions, hunky boyfriends and the CIA assassinating Somalian Warlords isn’t well put together enough to work. Back in 2013, Beyond’s basic moral choice system and focus on cinematic story was likely enough to disguise its shortcomings, but six years later, that’s no longer the case. What remains is a messy game riddled with poor pacing, bad writing, and a reluctance to hand players the reins to the story.
Game: Beyond: Two Souls
Platform: PC (reviewed), also PS3, PS4
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Quantic Dream
Release Date: July 22 2019