Beyond Two Souls [Review]

Okay before I start the review one or two things to note. I never played the original game on the Playstation 3, so I cannot compare the graphical fidelity between the original and the remake or anything they might have improved in between the two releases. So I will be judging it solely on its own merit. The review might be a bit biased, since I am a sucker for these types of narrative “point and click “games, like The Walking Dead, Life is Strange ect. And last but not least I have disagreed in the past with some of the views David Cage has held regarding video games. But that does not mean David Cage is a bad director by any stretch of the imagination.  

I mentioned previously that David Cage is also a good director and if you are wondering why, because of one single chapter in the entire game entitled “Homeless“. Jodie is on the run from the police and the CIA for months now. She’s tired, hungry and freezing cold on the snow-covered streets. After collapsing on the pavement due to hunger and exposure, she wakes up in a shelter under a bridge with a group of people in the same situation. Here, reality sets in for Jody and you as the player: to survive the night, Jodie is going to need to go out onto the streets and somehow find enough money for food. It really made me think about what it would be like to be in that same situation as Jodie and how I would react to those given situations.

So, what can you do (playing as Jodie) to try and earn some money? You can make a sign asking for money or go begging at the local coffee shop. Or borrow a guitar from a busker and earn money that way. But there were three things that stood out here for me, which presented me with a serious moral dilemma. Even though, like a lot of “morality choices”in Beyond Two Souls and most in video games in this genre your progression isn’t massively altered by what you do making these choices. But, and here is the big but. I found myself really thinking about how to play this level, and putting myself in Jodie’s shoes. I couldn’t bring Jodie or myself to give the sexual favor for money.

Similarly, I picked up the coins lying around but refused to take money from an ATM or newspaper dispenser. Even though this is just a game it just goes against my own moral code. I wasn’t playing this level as Jodie, but as myself asking those moral questions and thinking what I would do faced with a similar situation. The number of different choices you can make in this chapter is similar to a lot of games like The Walking Dead and Life is Strange. Although I’ve never been homeless, but it an easier situation to relate to when the in-game world is so expertly crafted and the story and characters are well crafted and filled out.

As you explore the shelter under the bridge you come across a knife stuck into a tire, which Jodie proceeds to hold near her wrist, about to cut herself. Shortly after that, Jodie approaches the edge of the side of a bridge, looking across to the motorway below. Your options are either to walk away or jump. This level absolutely broke my heart thinking about the hardships that Jodie faced in the chapter, not just because the game did an excellent job of putting me in the place of someone reduced to begging for money, but also included a group of fellow homeless people that didn’t feel like a Hollywood cliché we often get to see in movies and TV shows.

The homeless characters Jodie meets under the bridge have little screen-time, but quickly you learn that each of them has a tragic backstory and a reason for being there. And what makes it even more interesting is that homelessness isn’t a subject touched upon in video games very often if not at all, but with the interactivity provided by video games, perhaps it’s the best way to teach people what it is really like to be homeless. And to be honest I see so many public information films in adverts, or posters and pamphlets trying to raise awareness of real issues that perhaps I have become desensitized to the situation homeless people face on a daily basis.

While this is Beyond Two Souls greatest strength, it is also its greatest weakness. When I was fighting cops or sneaking around in a war zone, I felt like I was just playing a cinematic game with poor controls. The action set pieces were definitely not on par with the rest of the game. The parts where you move Jodie around, especially the CIA missions were just way too fiddly and just didn’t work well enough. It would have definitely played better if it was on rails for the all-out action sequences. But when I was sitting by a fire talking to homeless people, I felt like I was there, getting to know them. Doing menial chores on a farm, I felt like I was helping these people with their lives, and I really empathized with them.

I actually think Beyond Two Souls did a better job with its choices as a narrative game than most other games in its genre. The Walking Dead put giant labels on their choices like “Clementine will remember this,” even though they ultimately had no purpose other than a slight change in dialogue. Telltale does the illusion of choice well, but my experience was spoiled after I learned almost none of my choices had any impact beyond minor dialogue changes and a wrap-up at the conclusion. Beyond Two Souls was unafraid of hiding choices, and was extremely effective, many times during the game you did not realize they were making choices.

For example, if teenage Jodie was caught sneaking out, you would miss the entire scene at the bar. But missing the bar scene would allow a certain scene with Ryan occur later in the game. Many players completed the bar scene and thought the scene with Ryan could never happen. People didn’t even realize they were making choices while they were making subtle decisions through gameplay the whole time. It’s the opposite of Telltale’s illusion of choice. The time I spent with those characters made them feel like real people, which made the action sequences involving them that much more intense, I really did not get that feeling while playing the action-centric chapters of the game. That is the polar opposites you find in the game, luckily (for me) the good moments outshine the bad ones by a mile.

The voice acting is superb in Beyond Two Souls is some of the most impressive I have seen in a game. How can it not be, though? Willem Dafoe (Boondock Saints, Spiderman) Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy) Kadeem Hardison (Different Strokes, Vampire in Brooklyn) and Eric Winter (The Mentalist, The Ugly Truth) comprise the main cast and do a magnificent job carrying the story with their voice acting and facial capturing. Regarding the soundtrack of the game all I can say is Hans mother fucken Zimmer, if you have been living under a rock the last couple of years he is responsible for +- 150 movie soundtracks over the course of his career.

The Aiden (the entity) gameplay parts were also the highlight of the game’s gameplay for me, it was both fun and empowering at the same time, as nobody can see you while you interact with the world around you. The graphical quality of the game is absolutely stunning for a game that is as dated as Beyond Two Souls, its already 3 years old now. While it might not match the same visuals as Until Dawn it does come pretty damn close, not that it matters in the long run for me as I prefer gameplay over visuals. But it just goes to show you how far ahead of the curve visually the game was when it was first released on the PS3.

For me, Beyond Two Souls is both a reminder and illustration of the many challenges and the triumphs, the sadness and joys that life has to offer. To me it was life affirming, and I considered it deep, rich and meaningful. There are almost no other games with for maybe the exception of The Walking Dead and Life is Strange for which I can say the same thing. Or maybe I am just being melodramatic about all of this who knows. Roger Ebert once said that video games will never be art. Though that statement can be and has been argued for and against I believe Beyond: Two Souls is if not a work of art is definitely a game interwoven with artistic vision. And that vision was an absolute joy to play.

The comparably minor plot holes and story execution and direction in Beyond Two Souls can be ignored, when viewing the game as a whole and does not detract form the overall experience. If you like a rich deep story line along the same lines as games like The Walking Dead and Life is Strange and don’t care about a lack of “agency” which has always been illusory in video games (There are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play) then you will most definitively enjoy this game as much as I have. So if you missed the game the first time around on the PS3, most definitely give it a go on the PS4 you won’t regret the experience.

About larch

I am a cucumber in a fruit bowl.
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