Beyond: Two Souls
There are moments in Beyond: Two Souls where I was close to tears. Truly.
David Cage and the guys at Quantic Dream have developed quite a knack for tugging at your heart strings in just the right amount to get you to really engage emotionally with the characters in their games.
Beyond: Two Souls follows the life of Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page), a young girl with a unique talent - she is tethered inextricably to an ethereal entity that has power over the material world. This link brings her to the attention of the CIA where she is drawn into a wider plot with global consequences that is part supernatural thriller, part science-fiction.
David Cage has chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, jumping around Jodie's life in a fashion not unsimilar to Christopher Nolan's Memento where each chapter reveals another part of the puzzle.
As I mentioned before though, unlike Memento where Nolan has pitched the contrasts between scenes almost perfectly, Cage's choices have served to break up the game's narrative flow so that seems to stutter at points rather breaking up the emotional engagement that he cherishes so much.
In a lot of ways Beyond: Two Souls is a mid-point between Quantic Dreams' PS3 masterpiece Heavy Rain and their previous-gen game Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the US). While it achieves plenty of the subtle emotional engagement of the former it harks very much back to absolutely insane plot of the latter creating a very disjointed experience.
At one moment you may be dodging bullets in a fictional African state and the next you'll be a bored little girl stuck in the house on a snowy day. While I am all for creating a strong emotional link with a game's central characters I question the wisdom of any scene where the game feels like it's actively seeking to make the player bored.
The best way to describe the gameplay in Beyond is to hark back to the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure novels in albeit a much more intricate and involving fashion. Like Heavy Rain before it every decision in Beyond affects how the game turns out. There are some clear 'choose what happens now' moments but for the most part the story is influenced in a much moer subtle fashion by failing or winning one of the game's key quick time events.
It plays alright although it sometimes feels a bit sluggish in responding to some button-presses and there are definitely moments where I felt that a button-mashing prompt has gone from tension-building to just annoying.
Visually, it is stunning. At times Beyond: Two Souls makes Uncharted 2 look like a PSOne game it is that gorgeously crafted. There is good reason that David Cage scoffed at the facial animations in LA Noire as Beyond's facial animation is as near to perfect as a game has ever come. It makes me excited to see what they can do with the PS4.
Beyond: Two Souls, while not being a bad game by any stretch of the imagination is still a little disappointing. Quantic Dream set bar for themselves really high with Heavy Rain and it would be hard to find a game that matches it for story-telling. Beyond's slip back towards the runaway plot of Fahrenheit.
When measured against Quantic Dream's previous achievements Beyond: Two Souls is definitely found a bit lacking. It's beautiful and flawed but it's definitely worth experiencing.
Beyond: Two Souls is out now on PlayStation 3.