Developer: Quantic Dream / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Director: David Cage / Writer: David Cage / Platform: PlayStation 3 / Release Date: Out Now
If Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one end of the video game storytelling spectrum, Beyond: Two Souls is right at the other. One tells its narrative purely through gameplay, while this title explains events through more traditional film and television storytelling, but with a choice. Between cutscenes, quick time events and well recognised actors, it follows on from the likes of Heavy Rain but takes advantage of new ideas and mechanics.
You play as two characters, Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) and a mysterious entity linked to her known as Aiden; an invisible and immaterial psychic being which she communes with to grant powers. Cutting back and forth between various stages in her life in non-linear fashion, you see how the world responded to Jodie’s actions, and how she became connected to Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) and the military.
As with Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, how the story is told and the level of interactivity is a major draw for the title, along with the acting. While not SquareEnix level cutscene graphics, humans and environments have a very genuine feel and help to give the title an edge over others of its kind. Minor details and the designs of the environments are especially worthy of praise, not just due to the level of work put into them but how they can be interacted with. Hidden details like a small knife embedded in a tire or the headlines of a newspaper can result in unexpected information or actions by the characters. Along with being a very compelling tale the fact the story is told in a professionally structured non-linear manner, explaining how each point comes about in turn, adds an additional drive to see what happens next.
The actual mechanics themselves are far from the most impressive ones to be given to a title, it’s how the world reacts to them and the choices you make which give the game impact. At many points you have the opportunity for Aiden to truly abuse his powers or take events on a very different path, especially during stages when Jodie is homeless and during her childhood. The downside is that these don’t offer as much re-playability as most multiple choice games would have, and the quick-time interactions can easily become tedious for those not fond of them. Furthermore, the slow pacing or lack of answers at times can prove to be a major point of frustration if you’re playing in bursts.
Beyond: Two Souls should be treated as more of an interactive story rather than a video game, but an excellently told, well developed and extremely fascinating one none the less. It’s definitely worth the time of anyone who values story and doesn’t mind a lack of gameplay in places.