Beyond: Two Souls review – an essential purchase for interactive-drama fans
You can go ahead and put that Best Supporting Actor gong away, because although switching to the blurry, aura-filled ‘Infraplane’ and getting to be the poltergeist from every horror film ever offers another gear in gameplay terms, his interactions grow repetitive quickly (forgivable – they’re about the only thing that is repeated) and highlight missed opportunities. Example: you’re able to pass through walls as Aiden. The first time you control him, there’s a one-way mirror to travel past and lab scientists to eavesdrop on. The second time you switch control in a public bathroom, and there’s… absolutely no one else in there? Huh.
Aiden’s constant presence has a profound effect on Jodie’s life. It alienates her parents and leads to her being raised in a CIA test facility by Drs Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman (tenderly played by Willem Dafoe and Kadeem Hardison). It gives her a gift that puts her at the risk of being weaponised, lied to and abused as higher powers try to channel Aiden’s energy. But in spite of all this tumult Jodie never blames him. She’s too strange for other people to form relationships with, so that meddling smasher-of-windows is the best friend she has.
Her life story is fascinating, but it’s hard to say what you gain by playing through it in a discontinuous narrative, flitting from adulthood to infancy and back to teenage years with each chapter. You can’t help but feel like all the expectant eyes on you as a joint’s handed to you at your first party would affect you more if you hadn’t just leapt back from adulthood.
Except that isn’t really the problem. Beyond’s grand, ambitious sci-fi plot is the problem. It’s not badly written or unimaginative, but we have plenty of grand, ambitious sci-fi in games already. Brimming with it. What is in short supply are moments like Beyond’s superlative Homeless chapter, or the fantastic snow day you share with young Jodie, idly exploring her childhood house and having a snowball fight with other kids. Everyday moments you identify with, that blossom into something moving. That deal with loss, grief, alienation and spirituality.
So yes, these moments exist in Beyond, as they did in Heavy Rain when you prepared a microwave meal for your distant son or explored a building site with your adolescent buddy. But they’re often pushed aside for scenes that seem to exist only to demonstrate what the Quantic Dream control set is capazble of, not to better the story. Do we need another blood-soaked lab? Not as badly as we need another icy New York street, an empty stomach and a cardboard sign declaring our plight.
Beyond’s a huge technical step forward for interactive drama, but less resolute than Heavy Rain not to stray back into familiar game territory
Beyond’s a huge technical step forward for interactive drama, but seems less resolute than Heavy Rain not to stray back into familiar game territory. Commit to it like its actors do to the eccentric plot, though, and the rewards are gigantic – Holmes is where the heart is. Another essential purchase for interactive-drama disciples featuring a knockout turn by Page, but one that spreads itself thin telling its story through so many genres.