Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive drama, action-adventure game that was developed by Quantic Dream studios and written by David Cage (Heavy Rain, Detroit: Become Human). Going into this game, I knew that it was going to be a story-driven ride of intense situations as I’ve played through Cage’s other works. What I wasn’t expecting was the level of emotional investment that I would relinquish to it during my playthrough. Games like Beyond: Two Souls makes me remember why I fell so madly in love with video games to begin with. So many of them have the very best stories that the world has to offer and I’m glad I finally got a chance to experience this one, even though it shredded my heart into pieces.
Beyond: Two Souls follows a young girl named Jodie and an ethereal being that is attached to her named Aiden (pronounced eye · den). The story is told in a nonlinear fashion and takes us through the different phases of Jodie’s life, from her childhood where she was raised by two scientific doctors, through to her teen and young adult years where she gets involved in something sinister while being rebellious, and finally into the different parts of adulthood where she has immense difficulties finding her place in the world.
Like the other games developed by the Cage and Quantic Dream duo, Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive drama title. What that means is that the method of gaming is done solely through a cinematic portrayal of the narrative with button prompts, quick-time events, and making choices that shall impact the direction that said narrative takes. Being able to successfully navigate through these parts is essential in progressing the game with a particular route. Failing can lead to a whole different storyline. Because of that, Beyond: Two Souls has incredible replay value. The plethora of choices that you make as Jodie (or Aiden) branches out to a dynamically diverse exposition of the girl’s existence as someone who is vastly special. Additionally, due to the way that prompts and quick-time events are situated throughout the playthrough, the whole experience feels more like an interactive film than a video game (hence the genre of interactive drama).
There are good parts and bad parts to having gameplay of this calibre, something that I noticed in both Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. However, with Beyond: Two Souls it was a bit more irksome in some places. The controls can be tricky, which combined with the awkward as fuck camera angles at times, on occasion causes the player to accidentally make one choice over another. Moving the stick in a specific direction can feel unresponsive and clunky. When you’re in a tight-knit and stressful situation, this can be mildly frustrating. Also, the combat and action segments are conducted with the right stick and it must be pushed in the same direction that Jodie is moving. When the camera hits a wall and cannot be adjusted, it causes those movements to feel heavy and stilted and stiff. Luckily, these are pretty minor quirks in the overall playthrough experience.
The best parts of Beyond: Two Souls, as I mentioned briefly, is the storytelling, as well as the musical score. It focuses heavily on themes of loss, abandonment, rejection, and also marginalisation, which was the big one that I related to the most. Due to Jodie’s unique abilities, people view her as a freak or a monster. They are afraid of her and get close to her either to use her or to abuse her so they can feel powerful in her presence. In many respects, it’s a typical portrayal of what unpopular teens experience during high school, especially kids who look and sound different than their schoolmates. However, in other respects, especially via the gameplay, Beyond: Two Souls is an allegory for how the government continues to let its citizens down without remorse or concern for the consequences. It creates an impeccably intense atmosphere of rage, heartbreak, and sorrow. Since the player is essentially Jodie, the impact of those emotions strike deep and help formulate an almost personal bond between the player and the narrative.
David Cage is a writer that is known for hard-hitting works that can be quite heavy-handed with the critiques made on the fucked-up superficiality of society, or the callous corruption for which the government has no disregard for, and because of that he is one of my favourite creators in the modern day. The way that the profound motifs of suffering are exhibited in the game are significantly compelling and heart-wrenching; characteristics that would be nil if not for the excellent writing and attention to detail that went into putting this tale together.
If there is anything that truly cements all of the pieces together in a breathtakingly complete and flowing manner it’s the musical score. The music in all of Cage’s games are extraordinary, yet in Beyond: Two Souls, the composer, Lorne Balfe, has completely outdone himself. The score is definitely the final component in making the title feel so marvellously cinematic in scope and execution. It just envelopes the player into its brilliantly engaging world so effortlessly.
Other minor facets to keep in mind is the outstanding motion-captured acting with some big name actors/actresses such as Ellen Page (main) and Willem Dafoe (scientist dude) and the exceptional graphics that make everything remarkable beautiful.
Overall, Beyond: Two Souls is hands-down one of the best games that I have played in 2020 thus far. If you haven’t had a chance to play it yet, I highly recommend that you do so, more so if you have played and enjoyed Cage’s other works. Between the superb story, riveting gameplay, and stunning soundtrack, there is very little to not enjoy about it.
It is available on the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Windows platforms.