The interactive drama genre falls somewhere between visual novels and FMV games that sprung up on the Sega CD. Heavy Rain borrowed Dragon’s Lair’s quick-time event gameplay, but had a character driven story that players could change to a degree depending on their choices. Beyond: Two Souls ups the ante with Hollywood talent like Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, who is linked to an Entity called Aiden, and William Dafoe, a paranormal researcher that looks after her.
The story chronicles Jodie’s life from a child to adult.
Aiden is a separate character that you can switch to by pressing triangle. With Aiden, you can survey an area and use his energy to blast open doors or strangle enemies. While Aiden is all powerful, there are a limited number of things the Entity can interact with. You can only possess certain characters, for example, and when Jodie is in trouble you can’t simply summon Aiden to solve all of her problems. When I controlled Aiden, I felt like I was playing a hidden object game in no clipping mode looking for a trigger to move the story forward instead of being Jodie’s omnipotent guardian.
If you go off the beaten path you can find objects that Aiden can interact with, that unlock bonus content.
There are times when you protect Jodie from other Entities and Beyond: Two Souls briefly feels like a light gun game without the light gun. Players “shoot” spirits by pulling both analog sticks back to charge energy and then release to send it forward. Usually, adult Jodie isn’t helpless. She becomes a CIA agent and Beyond: Two Souls has QTE combat scenes where you flick the right stick to punch or dodge. The underlying idea of moving the stick in the direction of Jodie’s punch is simple enough, but sometimes the correct action is unclear. The game registers commands in all eight directions, so sometimes you think you may have escaped an attack by pressing down, but the game really wanted down-left.
Beyond: Two Souls also fumbles with awkward cover shooting that uses the same QTE control scheme.
In fact, all of the combat is largely unnecessary. What makes Beyond: Two Souls (or any other interactive story game) interesting isn’t pressing the X button at the right time; it’s making impactful decisions that affect the story. Should Jodie pull a Carrie on teenagers that tormented her during a party or be a bigger person and leave the scene without taking revenge? Is Jodie the type of person that would steal when she’s starving? What happens to Jodie if she does? Beyond: Two Souls sets up choices for players, but these are sporadically spaced between forced action scenes designed to make the game feel like a big-budget Hollywood production.
On the other hand, Beyond tries to distinguish itself by interweaving slice-of-life scenes like Jodie cleaning up her apartment before a date. Early in the game, players get to control a child Jodie who is bored and stuck inside her house on a snowy day. You can bother your parents or draw doodles of Aiden by mashing the X button. Later on, you can help a teenage Jodie can sneak out of the “house” when she’s grounded. Most of the slice-of-life scenes don’t involve Aiden as much, but I think Beyond would have been more interesting if Jodie lived an ordinary life with an Entity instead of toppling regimes and wandering through sacred Navajo land.
However, the story in Beyond isn’t really about Jodie’s life. It’s about the mysteries surrounding her. Who or what is this supernatural Entity following Jodie around? And is Nathan acting like a father figure because he has ulterior motives? To keep players guessing, Beyond skips around Jodie’s life each time a clue is presented. Beyond provides answers, but the conclusion may be unsatisfying, especially if you’re expecting your choices to have a large impact on the plot.
You can replay scenes and see how events play out if you made different choices at any time. However, if you decide to continue from a different story branch, you have to overwrite your save progress. I experimented with making different choices in Beyond and while these alter the story to some degree, players can’t deviate wildly from the path Quantic Dream set. The game acknowledges your choices by haphazardly referring to events that happened in passing no matter how serious they may be.
The feeling I got is I was a spectator that made suggestions on how the game should proceed rather than a player driving the plot. I suppose Quantic Dream had to lay Beyond out this way because the tale is about the lore and not the journey.
Food for thought:
1. Is it a requirement to have at least one superfluous shower scene in a Quantic Dream interactive drama? Beyond: Two Souls continues the tradition with two them.
2. Beyond tries too hard to scare players too with loud noises and Resident Evil-like shocks. Enough games have walking dead, Beyond doesn’t need to tick off the zombie box.
3. Beyond has at least one scene you wouldn’t expect to play in a video game.