Home > Gaming Wednesdays > Gaming Wednesday: Beyond Two Souls Impressions

Gaming Wednesday: Beyond Two Souls Impressions

The reviews of Beyond Two Souls have started to come out, and it’s not looking good. The Ellen Page fronted interactive movie from French developer Quantic Dream is proving to be a bit of a mixed bag with critics. I’m hearing a lot about how poor it is as a game, and also how poor it is as a piece of storytelling.

Not one to take the critics’ word as gospel, I decided to download the demo and make up my own impressions.

Now, the thing to remember with Beyond Two Souls is that it’s essentially the spiritual successor to Quantic Dream’s last title, Heavy Rain, a game that proved to be a very divisive experience, one that created two camps: one that felt it was a pretentious QTE-fest by a man who didn’t really want to be a video game developer, and another that felt it was a great experimental masterwork that elevated video game storytelling to a new level.

My opinion of Heavy Rain was that it was clunky, poorly written and the pretentiousness of the whole thing made it feel very silly indeed. It was an interesting experiment, but far from the revolution in either gameplay or storytelling that director David Cage was so keen to make it out to be.

Although it did introduce pressing X to Jason

But I was curious about Beyond Two Souls. I like Ellen Page as an actress, so turning her into a video game character intrigued me somewhat. I was also curious to see what completely ludicrous ideas Mr Cage was trying to throw in this time in an attempt to appear edgy and moody and instead coming across as a bit, well, up his own arse. I was also curious to see if it was any more of a game than its predecessor.

Now I’ve played the demo, I can safely say that it feels significantly less like a game than its predecessor. I honestly did not feel like I was interacting with the action in any meaningful way. We open on a young Jodie Holmes (aka Ellen Page), aged about six or something, and I was immediately struck by how creepy baby Jodie looked.

Now, Ellen Page does look about ten years younger than she actually is. At age 20, she convincingly played a 16 year old in Juno, and two years before that, convincingly played a 14 year old in Hard Candy. At 26 now, she still looks about 16, and this is why she keeps getting parts playing really young girls.

However, this youthful appearance does not mean you can slap her face on a child and expect it to look convincing. And yet, that is what David Cage did. As a result, Baby Jodie is an abomination from beyond the omniverse, and I really did not want to be playing as that thing.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

But it struck me fairly early on that for an “int-her-hacteeve mhoovee”, there isn’t a whole lot of interaction going on here. Sure, there are parts where I can wander around as Baby Jodie, but the game actively scolds me for trying to do anything but walk down the pre-scripted path. When Baby Jodie is asked to participate in a psychic experiment where you need to pick a card being looked at in another room, choosing the wrong card results in the scientists saying “no, get it right, Jodie” until you pick the right one.

Now, Heavy Rain was hardly an open-world sandbox, but you could still make choices. Your decisions had some kind of an impact, albeit a somewhat arbitrary impact, but an impact all the same. In Heavy Rain, selecting the wrong card would likely have led to some confused muttering and furrowed brows about her picking the wrong choice and probably a slightly different conclusion to the scene. But instead, this whole “no, get it right” nonsense felt like persistent railroading.

Which is where the game literally goes next, as the tiny Canadian stumbles through a train evading the police until eventually (spoilers) she blows everyone up using her ghost friend. During this sequence I felt even less in control. The clumsy combat system, consisting entirely of slow-motion QTEs, felt meaningless. Throughout the fights with the police, I kept pressing the right stick in the wrong direction, largely because it was often hard to tell which direction the game wanted me to push, but despite this rather frequent failure to press the right direction, I was never punished.

Cue a really awkwardly programmed motorcycle chase, which felt similarly on-rails and out of the player’s control. There were times where I’d be about to crash into a barrier, but the game would merely push me back onto the road. I was actually getting frustrated with the apparent inability to fail or even break away from the script for a moment. I felt like I didn’t even need to be there to make the events of the “game” happen.

The only thing I did enjoy were the limited sections playing as Jodie’s ghost buddy Aiden (whose name seemed to be consistently mispronounced from how the name Aiden is usually pronounced – as my middle name is its close cousin Haydn, this bothered me SO MUCH). During these sections, you basically float around the world in a first person view and use your ghostly powers to basically dick with people.

These were the only parts where I had fun. I enjoyed floating around a train carriage and messing with people’s stuff for no reason. I enjoyed destroying everything in a tiny experiment room or randomly deciding to possess a scientist for the hell of it. This was fun, and it makes me wish for a game where you play exclusively as a ghost and the whole point is to spook everyone. If this game does exist, and is actually good, please direct me to it immediately.

Sadly, it is not this game. Beyond Two Souls is a poor showing based on this demo. There’s not much of an actual game here, due to how painfully non-interactive the whole experience was. I feel sorry for all the paid critics who had to sit through the whole thing, and I feel sorry for Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe for being roped into this when they could have been making an actual good movie somewhere instead.

Perhaps Mr Cage could do well to learn what the word “interactive” actually means, take a writing class or two, and just generally stop being so goddamn pretentious.

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  1. January 30, 2014 at 5:11 am

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