Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

Is Quantic Dream's latest title nothing more than a fever dream? Or does it grasp reach to infinity and beyond? I torture myself thinking up disastrous puns for an entire week to find out.

Beyond: Two Souls is difficult to describe without spoiling the experience. I can safely say that you'll play mostly as Jodie, the main character, while things happen over time. My description sounds lame, but Beyond: Two Souls is so atypical that revealing too much about it would be a disservice spoiling your experience. Because of that, my review will also be atypical, providing you with something of an insightful look while keeping the best parts of the game in the dark. That means there's going to be less screenshots in this review, but trust me, playing this game without knowing diddly squat about it is the best way to enjoy it, and writing without relying on a bevy of images will keep your virgin eyeballs free of any spoilers.

Speaking of balls, a lot of this game is created from actual actors and actresses lending their voices and bodies by way of motion capture. It's the same technique used in James Cameron's Avatar and The Last Us, where a bunch of dudes are stuck with balls all over their bodies, and through mystic juju, said balls capture the actor's motion data. That data is then used directly in the video game as character motion. It seems like a round-a-bout way to have life-like character models for a video game, but the results speak from themselves.
Where others fall into uncanny valley, Beyond: Two Souls gives you freakishly accurate Ellen Page eyeballs... and other body parts.

Of course, Quantic Dream also baked in some other neat tricks when berthing this game, like phenomenal attention to detail, eerily accurate sound effects and texturing, and interesting spooky-wooky ghost affects. "Ghosts? What's he talking about?" you say. To which I say, "You'll have to play the game to find out!" pretending you do not have internet access. I'm telling you, if you can resist searching Beyond: Two Souls, the experience will be much better. And yes, I am proud of bad puns that I make thank you very much.


As the in-game image above shows, this game's a reeaall looker. It's so beautifully crafted that your brain can easily be fooled into believing that you're looking at real life images when you're playing the game, especially when it comes to close-ups of the in-game characters.

The textures are clean, the light effects are stunning without crossing in JJ Abrams territory, and the soft focusing effects you occasionally see are awesome. Oh, and the water! Holy smokes, it's design is so realistic that it makes real life's water crummy by comparison. I can't show you an image without spoiling parts of the game, so you'll have to trust me when I say that it makes Uncharted's water effects blush.

Obviously, all of these design elements look even better in motion on your TV, coming together in a fashion that makes the dullest of settings interesting. For example, when strolling in a spooky hospital as Jodie, the camera follows at shoulder level as distant light grows soft out of focus.

Have you ever witnessed a similar scene that's look that good before? No? Good because if you have said "Yes", I'd have to call the internet police on you. Anyway, I'll shut up now so that your eyes can gather the glorious graphical goodness in geese.*

*Alliteration win. 


Why with video games this good looking on the PS3, it makes one wonder just how games like Advanced Warfare can look so half-assed. But of course, one does not simply judge a video game on visuals alone. How does Beyond: Two Souls stack up in regards to game play and story?


That perfectly decent subtitle will make more sense if you hear me out. Most of the gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls consists of you walking around detailed environments, interacting with objects in a context sensitive manner. You can open doors, shower Ellen Page, read documents, birth babies, etc. but you won't be able to always do such things. This design choice does incredible wonders for story telling, making the game feel more like a long, melodramatic movie. In that sense, you're the big shot director controlling the shots through the dynamic choices you can make when playing. "Player choice"- centric games have been done before, but never like it's done in Beyond: Two Souls.

In any given situation, you are given multiple choices that may alter your game's story line and ending, ensuring that each gamer's experience is an unique one. It works very well in practice as the smoothly integrated choices appear in real time as tiny white dots, never slowing down or distracting from the game. I can't tell you how many times when talking about this game, gamers refuse to believe me when I say there are multiple events and more than just a few endings. Mind you, this game has been out for an entire year which is like, forty years in internet time. The choices you make are that seamless, it seems.

You'll spend other parts of the game play roaming a variety of environments as the story progresses. There will be a lot barriers that constrain you to certain areas, but that's forgiven because walking around pressing "x" when white dots appear is usually all that you can do when walking around anyway. There are other things you can do when roaming about, but uh....

The uniqueness of the player choices is what makes Beyond: Two Souls worth playing. The Mass Effect series attempts a similar effect with it's multiple endings also depending on player choice, but it's endings vary only by a few characters being absent from a poorly shot cut scene. Then there's one my favorite games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution's attempt. You have choices to make in that game also, but you are still sent on the same missions that lead to the same one of four possible endings. That's little league shit when compared to Beyond: Two Souls. In this game, the entire mother loving plot rests on your decisions and knowing that power is yours is an awesome feeling, empowering and a relief in a sea of console shooting games. There's simply no other console video game that you can say that about.

Now, the rest of your time playing Beyond: Two Souls is spent with, uh... Oh boy this is awkward.


Now before you choke on your wine cooler, writing this game off as complete trash, know that I understand if there's any gaming mechanic that makes many a butt hole steam with rage like a 1930s cartoon by it's mere existence, it's quick time events. Alas, such events are as bountiful here as the roaches living in the hot pocket sleeves strewn about my filthy bathroom floor. The QTEs can and will annoy you, but I don't believe you should inherently hate this game because of them. Only a few times when I played did they detract from how much fun I was having. Besides, the depth of the playing through and controlling a movie swallowed my angry butt's rage whole, you see, like the wine coolers staining your lips as you knock them back like a clown themed Pez dispenser working in reverse. My lips? Our lips? Whatever, the point is this: everyone hates QTEs but you shouldn't hate Beyond: Two Souls.
Logistically speaking, eating a Hot Pocket on the toilet makes a lot sense.

And there lies another accomplishment that no other video game has done:  it allowed me, of all people, to forgive the gratuitous QTEs. I say that, because if you've been reading this blog for more than two minutes, you know that I'm picky as hell when it comes to gaming. If that's not enough to prove how entertaining this game will be when you play it, then I don't know the meaning of the word.

On the other hand, I do have to be fair and point out that this game's writing can be groan inducing. Also, the plot can be extremely bizarre, depending on the choices that you make when playing. On top of that, a friend of mine who has also played this game pointed out that the acting was sub par. Personally, I thought the acting was awesome despite some bad writing pouring from William Defoe's thin, evil lips, but your mileage will vary.

That last sentence sounds like a spoiler,
but I promise that its not. So maybe turn the drama down a bit, Dafoe?

I mean, its easy to imagine any actor shooting multiple takes for hours on end for one scene (There are multiple choices, remember?) would probably fudge it somewhere at 11:00 AM before the almost-time-to-go-home excitement high hits at 4:30 PM. But if you consider the amount of 5 Hour Energy drinks consumed, well, this joke gets awfully worse the more I keep talking about it.

Basically, depending on the scenes that you play through, you might be thinking more cheesy Bollywood than Hollywood.,
Bollywood can be cool, too. This is what we call fast travel.


And only once, at that. I mean it, Quantic Dream's David Cage said so and explains why better than I ever could.

Now to answer the original question proposed in the beginning of this review: Yes, this game can play like a fever dream due to the variety of events and settings you'll encounter in your storyline. Yes again, it goes beyond what you think is possible from a video game. If that sounds vague, then good, that's the point. You need to play this game before someone spoils it for you. Just keep in mind there's no getting around just how bizarre the entire experience can be and you'll enjoy some part of it, even if the acting and writing is spotty at best. Hell, even if you find most things completely sour, you'll at least appreciate it for the lengths everyone involved with the project have gone through just to offer you a different gaming experience.

This scene took multiple takes
to reapply the magic balls to Dafoe's sweaty face
after they kept falling off into Page's mouth. Probably.
I don't know, I made that up.

But ohhh boy, once you do play a couple of hours, you are grabbed by the waist and pelvic thrusted into a topsy-turvey gaming world, shifting your entire paradigm of the very definition of the term "video game". The highly detailed character models and true to life visuals look fantastic enough to be a PS4 title, the quick time events won't always illicit hatred, and the plot draws you in like a toddler being read a bed time story. The most baffling surprise of all? William Dafoe is infinitely less creepy looking in video game form.

While it's difficult to imagine this title in everyone's library, Beyond: Two Souls offers a genuinely unique experience, standing alone in a sea of first-person-shooters and Mario games. A one-of-a-kind experience that other AAA titles claim to be, Beyond: Two Souls dares to be different, touching the souls of those that give it a fair chance.


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