When you think of Quantic Dream it is likely that you would think about Heavy Rain, by most people’s standards this game is a masterpiece of modern storytelling, and by extension the game that defined Quantic Dream as a developer. Because of Heavy Rain many looked forward to the game that would follow it, and we were given Beyond Two Souls a game that doesn’t aspire to outdo Heavy Rain but instead resides as its own entity of varied storytelling.
Beyond Two Souls is a cinematic adventure starring two big Hollywood actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe who respectively star as Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins. To explain this game can prove quite challenging, in terms of what is shown the game feels all over the place, as it tackles many varying themes and genres all to tell a deep story.
In this game we are led through the life of Jodie Holmes from her time as a young child through to being an adult. Throughout the story we see Jodie in many of the key moments of her life and see her major connection to a spiritual entity named Aiden who acts as her constant companion. Going through her life we experience hardships and see how she changes through the years and work with Aiden to deal with different circumstances.
Early on I have to admit it is hard to really jump into this story, in the Playstation 4 version of the game we are given two different options to how we want to experience this game. We can choose between a chronological mode that tells Jodie’s story in order, or we can play the original mode which is the way the developers at Quantic Dream originally envisioned the game. To fully understand the game and Quantic Dream’s vision I felt going through the story in the way it was originally crafted was important, although it is very confusing and the reason I found it hard to begin with.
As I started playing Beyond Two Souls I really had no idea what was going on, Jodie’s story is told literally all over the place as we experience the story from a moment she questioned by the police as an adult, then to a brief moment of her childhood. This goes on to show her connection to Willem Dafoe’s character Nathan, before we jump to a time where she is jumping to being trained in the C.I.A. All these early scenes are seemingly disconnected and honestly confusing as we jump into moments that take us far backwards then randomly forwards to a different time.
Playing early on in this style I wasn’t a fan, however in moving forward I began to feel engrossed in the story and trying to understand how these moments from Jodie’s life were connected and what led to each event. It is an annoying disorienting story structure but every part in the story is purposely placed in order to look at a particular topic, some notable moments even reflect upon Jodie’s childhood in order to explain something that is relevant to a moment later on. In the chronological story I likely would have forgotten these moments that would have occurred early on that affect the end game and they would have lost their impact.
Additionally, I also really enjoyed the pacing in how this game was handled, the sections in which we play as a young Jodie are typically shorter, while adult sections can take a while. It was always nice to get switched back to a shorter section after one that had taken me a while so I could enjoy a different element of the story. I will admit that I did feel that some of the adult sections were too long in parts but the story elements presented were used quite well.
On the whole I have to admit I did really enjoy the games original presentation, the structure may be really confusing (a factor that did really bother me as I progressed through the game) but upon finishing the story and reflecting I respected the decision more. The constant jumps gave room to explore Jodie in varying lights and understand her more as she grew up, likewise it gave me a greater understanding of the other characters and I fell for the emotional moments that occurred because I understood them.
It helps that in different sections we explore many tough moments that Jodie had to face, these included being bullied, on the run, facing the moral consequences for her decisions and even briefly being homeless. These moments grew my attachment to Jodie and made me care about her as a character as I led her through each moment, we see Jodie go through a lot and we understand how she feels and what she needs to deal with and we help to make every minor decision.
I admit that there is rare moments in the story that still make no sense to me but each is cleverly constructed to play out Jodie’s life and even show her bond with Aiden through many moments. Across her life we experience how Jodie interacts with Aiden and how she copes in each point with this unpredictable entity, whether as an ally or a pest Aiden is the factor that allowed me to enjoy the varying sequences in interesting ways.
Aiden is almost constantly available to you and can be used in multiple ways, in part I liked that you can use him to explore areas through walls, interact with varying items in the environment or overhear additional pieces of information. This never breaks up the linearity of the story but it offers new ways to see each area and explore other elements of the story, of course in most places Aiden is mostly optional but is cool as a varying format of decision making. He also assists in reflecting upon the past, however his usage is very limited to what the game allowed and the linearity here meant I was still restricted to doing things the way the game wanted rather than by my own design.
The main use of Aiden comes about more as Adult Jodie during moments that require stealth or distractions, in certain missions you need to switch between Jodie and Aiden in order to proceed. As Aiden you can scout ahead slightly to see incoming foes to help with Jodie’s progression, he is also used to control foes to remove big groups or occasionally choke a lone enemy. These moments are actually quite enjoyable although short lived and the rest of the characters usage is often more focused on generic mischief.
One thing I really was not a fan of in this game was the big focus on quick time events, much like Heavy Rain the gameplay is heavily built from quick button presses or taps of the joystick in a certain direction. The usage is interesting and does add some power to many sections of the game that focused heavily on doing something specific whether dodging an attack or making a jump, and I honestly can’t condemn the game for such use. This type of idea ties in well with the cinematic storytelling of Beyond Two Souls I am just not overly good at it, and often found myself messing things up even if something looked right.
This factor may be the big dealbreaker for the game for many though as this is a heavy point of the experience and plays into the game quite frequently. If you can’t handle the constant quick actions that the game requests in might dampen your enjoyment, I wasn’t a huge fan but I at least succeeded enough to still enjoy the game.
One of my big problems with all this was the sheer lack of risk and reward that occurred during the quick time event sequences, I messed up a lot over the course of the story in these sequences but yet the game still worked itself out most of the time. It seemed like as long as I got at least two or three of my moves right everything would work out which did throw me out a little bit and I wanted just a little bit more cost for my mistakes.
Beyond Two Souls is very much an experience, the story is very well told and is quite enjoyable as you explore Jodie’s life and her connection to Nathan Dawkin’s, Aiden and other characters. I will admit that I never classified this game as fun, as to be perfectly honest I never did have fun while playing this game. However trying to understand and piece together this story really drew me in and established a game in which I did become emotionally attached to the major characters. Most of this is helped by the excellent acting presented by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe who respectively bring their characters to life in a big way.