Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive adventure game that follows the life of Jodie Holmes, who since birth has been connected to an invisible entity, Aiden. While the bond gives her access to incredible supernatural powers, the relationship also complicates Jodie’s life in countless ways, leading her adoptive parents to give her up at an early age. Growing up in a laboratory, under the watchful (and mostly benevolent, but still somewhat creepy) eyes and cameras of scientists Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman, Jodie is eventually recruited by the CIA, who harness her abilities and train her as a special agent, before sending her on international missions as a trained assassin.
Developed by the French gaming studio Quantic Dream, labelling B:TS an “interactive adventure game” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s really more a fully-featured Hollywood supernatural action-drama movie, with some viewer decision-making and real time action responses thrown in. The game was produced using motion capture, and stars Ellen Page as the protagonist, and Willem Defoe in the role of Nathan Dawkins.
The story is told as a series of episodes, each of which functions as a level in the game, starting at a crisis point in Jodie’s life, and revealing key events from her past through flashbacks. Some episodes are absolutely stunning, ranging from high-tension chase sequences, to paranormal battles with the CIA (you didn’t think they would really have Jodie’s best interests at heart, did you?), to emotional childhood moments where Jodie tries to fit in with other teenagers.
During each episode, the player makes various decisions about which actions to take (the adventure game aspect of B:TS), and at the end of the episode the game informs the player where alternative paths could have been chosen, and how many other players of B:TS chose the same path. While this is presumably intended to encourage re-playing of the scenes, after a couple of exploration attempts it seemed to me that the primary outcomes of each scene remain essentially unchanged, no matter what options are chosen (but having said that, some choices do have subtle effects later on, and can come back to haunt you!). Re-playing is also hampered by the lack of a “skip cut-scene” button — since some episodes are very long, having to re-play the whole thing just to find out what the impact of a different minor choice might be can be daunting.
The gameplay in B:TS is relatively straight-forward, mostly consisting of directional controls to move Jodie around a scene, and interacting with items by pushing the right stick in indicated directions. The interactivity during story moments is sometimes frustrating due to being limited to tightly scripted situations (for example, only a small number of the many objects that are in a room can be examined or used), and a general “run” control would really have helped, as having to watch Jodie walking oh-so-slowly over long distances sometimes became tedious. Other buttons may also be needed to manipulate objects, although this can feel arbitrary and overused (B:TS is probably unique in requiring the player to coordinate the pushing of two controller buttons to successfully cut the umbilical cord of a newborn baby).
On the other hand, the game very effectively adds a lot of excitement to action scenes through quick time events, requiring fast responses to unexpected situations by pushing (or mashing) the appropriate buttons on the controller. A chase sequence where Jodie is trying to avoid capture by police and agency forces, requiring quick responses to avoid opponents on the roof of a train, and to dodge over and under roots and branches in a forest while being pursued, is one of the most memorable episodes for me.
A high point of B:TS is that the player can also control Aiden, the invisible entity linked with Jodie. As Aiden, your perception changes to a more monochrome view of the world, and you float over the scene as a non-corporeal… thing. Aiden is able to pass through objects, including walls, but due to being tethered to Jodie can never travel far from where she is located (except every now and then when it’s convenient for the story and this distance limit is ignored, but never mind). Aiden can also exercise various powers, the main one being telekinesis, useful for knocking around objects or pushing buttons. Sometimes he can also create a shield to protect Jodie, convey psychic visions, heal people, possess people, or even snuff out their life force altogether. While playing as Aiden is a lot of fun, most of the time his powers can only be applied in very specific scripted situations when the game allows (in fact, requires) them to be used. For example, when the story requires that Aiden “haunts” an area by knocking objects around, these are clearly highlighted with a blue dot so as to make them unmissable; in other scenes, he is unable to exercise his powers on objects of the same size and weight. And while it would often be convenient to remotely kill people, the game only allows a very small number of arbitrary targets to be affected. Okay, simply snuffing out any and all enemies while floating around as Aiden would completely alter the tone of the game, but at least some sort of in-story attempt at an explanation of why Aiden at some times has endless capacity for destruction and mayhem, while at others is completely useless, would be nice.
After many hours following the various ups and downs in Jodie’s life, B:TS was overall a very fun and in many ways unique experience. While it certainly has some frustrating aspects, both in terms of story consistency and gameplay, for the most part this game shines. If you enjoy adventure games, and like cinematic stories with supernatural twists, then B:TS is certainly worth a look.
The reviewed version of Beyond: Two Souls was played on a PS4 console. Included screen-shots were made by Games vs Play for the purposes of review. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!