Of Quantic Dream’s small handful of game projects released to date, Beyond: Two Souls is the one that most desires to take raw inspiration from film. The game divided critics and audiences a lot more than the more commonly well-received Heavy Rain back in 2013, when Beyond: Two Souls first graced the PS3, just over a month before the PS4 would reach the market, and that divided reaction was largely due to the pretense that it was somehow a movie trying to pass itself off as a video game. Now, Beyond: Two Souls has gotten the remaster treatment, along with Heavy Rain, and has been re-released for the PS4, with the games even releasing together in the same retail package in European territories, even though they’re only available digitally on the PlayStation Store here in the Americas.
Unlike Heavy Rain however, which was largely left alone in its PS4 remaster, beyond the expected visual and loading touch-ups, Beyond: Two Souls has seen a handful of gameplay alterations on PS4, attempting to address criticisms from the game’s original PS3 release from 2013. While these gameplay tweaks do improve gameplay to a small degree, and do make Beyond: Two Souls ideally experienced on the PS4, they don’t manage to fix the game’s fundamental problems. For better or for worse, most of Beyond: Two Souls’ shortcomings remain intact, including the fact that, for all of its beauty and ambition, the game is unfortunately very dull.
Heavy Rain has definitely dated a bit in its PS4 remaster, but at least it’s still pretty enjoyable. Beyond: Two Souls has dated even more however, being an attractive, but tedious exercise in interactive drama that has been enormously outdone by the Telltale Games library that has since followed it most notably, on top of the PS4’s interactive horror movie darling, Until Dawn. What was once divisive has now become downright difficult to recommend in 2016. It’s a good game for some easy trophies, but unless you’re a huge fan of Ellen Page, there just isn’t enough gameplay or story appeal to make Beyond: Two Souls worth playing at this point, especially when the PS4 alone has so many better options for those that crave a good story-driven gaming experience.
Beyond: Two Souls turned plenty of heads back in 2013, primarily for its lifelike visuals that attempted to capture the feeling of watching actors in an interactive movie, which is what got it showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival, the second video game to achieve that honour, after Rockstar Games’ 2011 mystery-adventure game, L.A. Noire. The game was almost impossibly gorgeous on the PS3, and could very well stand as the PS3’s best-looking game overall, exclusive or otherwise.
It’s a real testament to the PS3 original’s astounding graphics that the visuals still manage to keep pace with the bulk of PS4 games today, and there’s no denying that, had Beyond: Two Souls never come to PS3 in 2013, it would be perfectly believable as a triple-A PS4 offering in 2016. The excellently-captured likenesses of the lead actors remain very impressive, with the animations and environmental design also being incredibly lifelike. Beyond: Two Souls really does feel like an interactive movie. It’s not an Oscar-caliber movie by any means, but it looks the part, since Quantic Dream is so dead set on emulating the style of cinema in what is still its latest release so far.
As you can imagine, the PS4 remaster of Beyond: Two Souls bumps up the visual quality even further, namely by boosting the PS3 original’s 720p resolution to native 1080p resolution on PS4, helping the great graphics stand out a bit more. Other animation touch-ups are also included in the PS4 remaster, including enhanced motion blur and bloom lighting, giving a bit more definition to the game’s effects and environments. It’s nothing game-changing, so to speak, but these small upgrades do smooth out the microscopic visual blemishes from the original PS3 release, and fully bring it up to visual code for the PS4 library.
Beyond: Two Souls may be potentially the best-looking game in the PS3 library, and its PS3 origins won’t be evident to those who don’t know about them, though it’s also not quite as visually novel on PS4, where these graphical levels have been achieved at a far more constant pace. Still, the game remains a masterwork of interactive, cinema-styled visual effects, if nothing else, and it will probably still be a standard-setter for Quantic Dream in its PS4 remaster, at least until the PS4-dedicated Detroit: Become Human arrives to succeed it.
Beyond: Two Souls similarly continues to impress in its soundtrack, which fits the overall idea of the game well, even when the tone starts feeling pretty inconsistent. The haunting, melancholic soundtrack effortlessly gives the game a gripping, cinematic feel, which helps to defy its gameplay and storytelling shortcomings to a degree, lending the experience a Hollywood-quality music suite that the game may not totally deserve, given the rest of its flaws.
Still, the effort is there, and should be commended. The sound effects are also pretty sharp, and have been enhanced a bit further in the PS4 remaster, especially when a couple of them make use of the Dual Shock 4 controller’s mic to slightly boost the immersion behind some audio effects. While there’s some subtle audio cues that play out of the controller when you use Aiden in certain scenes, most of them play when you botch an analog stick movement during a quick-time event. It’s too bad that the same canned, slightly fuzzy knocking sound plays during every failure, even when it doesn’t fit the situation, but it’s appreciated that Quantic Dream tried to make an effort to take advantage of some PS4-specific features in this remaster, beyond the increased graphical prowess.
The voice acting in Beyond: Two Souls is also heavily improved from the somewhat shaky voice acting that has contributed to some of Heavy Rain’s more dated elements several years after its own initial PS3 release. While there’s still a few questionable voiceover jobs here and there, the voiceover direction is leaps and bounds better in Beyond: Two Souls, especially with Hollywood actress, Ellen Page leading proceedings and classing up the presentation, again, probably more than it deserves. Willem Dafoe is also appealing to listen to, though the game does shackle him a bit, since Dafoe’s talent for playing loud, deranged personalities isn’t really used here. Page is put to far better use, actually lending a lot of genuine emotion to lead character, Jodie Holmes, and the way that she plays off of most of the game’s other actors brings up the quality of the voiceovers by itself.
This is why Ellen Page fans will probably be the main audience for Beyond: Two Souls at this point, since Page really is fantastic in this part, and clearly seems to be giving it her all. Dafoe feels oddly cast, and as I said, not every actor perfectly captures their character, but most of the time, the voice acting in Beyond: Two Souls remains pretty sharp, and is a cut above many other games, especially Heavy Rain.
Talking about the gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls feels a bit strange, because the game feels like it takes a lot more inspiration from film than it does gaming. Heavy Rain ultimately served as a far better marriage between gaming and film, even with its cheesy performances and ludicrous plotline, but Beyond: Two Souls feels like it’s almost ashamed to admit that it’s a video game. That’s really odd, and it’s one of the main reasons why the game feels even more dated than Heavy Rain does now.
Like I said, despite its own elements that haven’t held up that well with time, Heavy Rain is still enjoyable to play at least. Beyond: Two Souls however too often feels tedious and dull, and a large part of that is because the game doesn’t create nearly enough involvement and engagement for the player. Most of the gameplay simply involves moving somewhere, flicking an analog stick to interact with something, pressing buttons and moving analog sticks in a quick-time event, or potentially making use of protagonist, Jodie Holmes’ spirit companion, Aiden, who is bound to her through some unknown means.
Aiden represents the key gameplay hook of Beyond: Two Souls, which would have been a complete snore without him, and at least the sections where you make use of Aiden can occasionally have a bit more enjoyment behind them. You can opt for a simpler control scheme that allows you to simply flick an analog stick to move Aiden between pre-determined locations, though anyone with any PS4 gaming experience will simply opt for the control method that lets you float freely, using the shoulder buttons and analog sticks to interact with objects, and help proceed the story for Jodie.
This is a fine idea on paper, but this mechanic is hurt by the fact that Aiden has no clearly defined rules. Everything that Aiden can do is completely arbitrary. Sometimes, he can choke out or possess enemies, but then can’t choke out or possess another enemy that’s right beside the one you just felled. Sometimes, Aiden can float quite far from Jodie, but other times, he can barely move twenty feet before being blocked. Aiden also has the ability to create shields and heal injuries (conveniently allowing him to save Jodie and prevent Beyond: Two Souls from having any Game Over screens or failure states), channel dead peoples’ spirits, lift and throw objects, and basically do whatever the plot demands at any given moment, which is almost always perfectly spelled out for the player, whether with visual cues, or Jodie directly telling Aiden what to do if the player is idle for too long.
Because Aiden has no defined rules, there’s no sense of reward to figuring out how to use him in any scene. You just do whatever arbitrary thing that the game wants you to do with him when it’s called for, and then move on. Beyond: Two Souls requires no thought, no puzzle-solving, and no creativity beyond how and why Aiden is used, with minimal opportunities to improvise for the sake of earning certain trophies, and that’s it. This is a complete waste of an interesting mechanic, since no rules or limitations means that there’s no need to truly master the use of Aiden in the game, since you’re just ultimately proceeding a script, a script that keeps most of the main story beats intact, regardless of which decisions you make over the course of gameplay.
That’s another thing that frequently drags down Beyond: Two Souls; The fact that it doesn’t feel like your decisions truly matter. The story unfolds in mostly the exact same fashion, regardless of how you choose to play out an event, and even when certain characters may live or die depending on what you choose, it never visibly affects gameplay. These light choice-driven elements are all simply performed for the sake of rounding up a bunch of thankless trophies, and unless you love accruing any and all trophies that you can get your hands on for your PlayStation Network profile, that doesn’t present much incentive to really get into Beyond: Two Souls. The PS4 remaster tries to create a bit more incentive to this effect by listing the choices that you’ve made in contrast to other players when you’ve finished a Chapter, Telltale Games-style, but this doesn’t really work that well, since the percentages never change between playthroughs. There’s even a weird bug that seems to prevent the choice percentages from being listed if you’re playing with a second player in Duo Mode, and that feels pretty sloppy.
Yes, the game still features Duo Mode on PS4, and yes, you can still use the pointless Beyond Touch App to control the game with a smartphone or tablet, though as with the original PS3 release, Duo Mode really doesn’t add anything to the experience. As I said in my original review from the game’s PS3 launch in 2013, all Duo Mode will likely mean is that avid trophy hunters will have to awkwardly play through the game with two controllers at one point, to get one of the Gold Trophies that forces you to play through the game from start to finish in Duo Mode. Since Duo Mode simply entails one player controlling Jodie and the other controlling Aiden, you could largely get the same effect by just passing the controller to a second person every time one of you presses the Triangle Button to switch perspectives.
On the note of the controls, they’ve also been touched up a tad in the PS4 remaster, to be a bit smoother and more responsive than they were in the original PS3 release, and fortunately, that also means that the bizarre, overdone control scheme of Heavy Rain remains gone, in favour of more traditional movements and actions in Beyond: Two Souls. You’ll notice the PS4-exclusive control boost most during action scenes, which are a bit faster and more fluid, though for some reason, the game stops providing you indicating arrows of where to move the analog stick to match Jodie’s movements and successfully complete the quick-time event after the first couple of instances. This results in scenes where players will move the analog stick in Jodie’s direction, but still fail the quick-time event, since the game doesn’t always do a great job of illustrating where exactly it wants you to flick the analog stick. Even during the passive scenes where you simply move the right analog stick to interact with white dots as Jodie, which indicate any person or point of interest that you can engage with, the game doesn’t always respond properly, even when you point the analog stick towards what or who you want to interact with, forcing you to just move the analog stick all over the place until the game reacts.
Of course, there’s no use fretting about botched quick-time events or movements in many instances, since there’s not really any failure for screwing these up, beyond losing a few trophies in some instances. Even dying characters have to be deliberately ignored to be successfully killed in most cases, and frankly, too much of Beyond: Two Souls just plays itself. There’s nothing at stake, and nothing truly engaging you. You perform whatever simple movements that the game demands, and then you move on. That’s pretty much it. The only thing at stake for not doing things exactly correctly is trophies, and in most cases, you can just replay a Chapter or reload a checkpoint to get another shot at them. There’s something to be said about a game that is meant to feel like a movie, but in the case of Beyond: Two Souls, it feels too much like a movie, shackling a player to a mostly pre-determined script, then casually asking them to input simple prompts whenever the story stops for a second. It’s pretty boring in most cases, and most avid gamers won’t have the patience for a game that gives them so little involvement.
The most interesting sequences with Jodie tend to be the game’s handful of action scenes, though even these are pretty simplistic as far as video games go. One particularly publicized scene has Jodie undertaking a military operation that involves her sneaking around and stealthily taking out enemies, which is fairly engaging, though even that eventually descends into another onslaught of simplistic quick-time events. This is a problem that comes up from the game wanting to be so cinematic and dramatic in regards to portraying a lengthy stretch of the protagonist’s life. Had Beyond: Two Souls been content to entirely take place from the perspective of Jodie in the military, and using Aiden as a weapon in that regard, it might have been a successful gameplay experiment that would have had actual appeal to gamers beyond those that are mainly coming for Ellen Page, or the trophy roster.
That’s not to say that a game needs to be action-packed to be good or engaging, but it needs to provide something to engage the player with, and Beyond: Two Souls just doesn’t do that nearly often enough. It tries to do things like other video games to some extent, such as stashing collectibles for Aiden to find that unlock bonuses from concept art to behind-the-scenes featurettes (many of which are more interesting than the game itself), and providing trophies as an incentive for completionists, as any PS4 game does, but all of it involves too much thankless busy work. Maybe if the story had been better, this passiveness would have been forgivable, but Beyond: Two Souls feels more like a proof of concept than a truly envelope-pushing gameplay experience, which is strange, since Quantic Dream already came closer to perfectly marrying gaming and film sensibilities in the game that came before this one.
For all of its desire to emulate award-winning drama movies, Beyond: Two Souls just doesn’t have that great of a storyline. The concept is interesting, if rather over-ambitious (again, it would have been better served if it had entirely unfolded within a military career for Jodie), but the actual execution of the concept is pretty faulty.
To be fair, the PS4 remaster of Beyond: Two Souls adds in the option to play a ‘Remixed Mode’ that has the story unfolding in chronological order (beyond a flashback or two), which is immensely helpful in contrast to the jumbled storytelling from the original PS3 release, and will help players better keep track of what’s going on. Unfortunately though, this doesn’t fix the game’s massive tonal confusion across several sequences, with Beyond: Two Souls ranging from being an emotional drama to a scary horror thriller to an awkward comedy to a political commentary with virtually no rhyme or reason between scenes. It makes for a story that feels messy and inconsistent, clearly biting off more than it can chew, and still feeling pretty unfocused in terms of its ultimate narrative ambition, even when played in Remixed Mode.
This is before considering that a good chunk of Beyond: Two Souls is just badly written, to put it bluntly. I’ve already described how Aiden has no rules or parameters, but even beyond that, several entire sections of the game really don’t make sense, even within this concept, with Beyond: Two Souls having the same issues with plot holes and illogical character actions that Heavy Rain does. The game also too often inserts drama for the sake of drama, not really earning the scenes that it tries to make serious and emotional, and that will leave the storytelling feeling hollow, with players shrugging at scenes that they should have their hearts bleeding for. Even the game’s eleven potential endings don’t feel noteworthy or distinct enough to try and go after, if you’re not a big trophy hunter, especially when so many of them repeat several sequences, depending on how your playthrough ends, and what your final choices amount to.
With the gameplay being so disappointingly un-engaging, it’s very frustrating that the storyline similarly fails to engage the player more often than not. Not every scene is a total loss, and there are a few emotional moments that work, but that doesn’t change the fact that most of the game’s attempts at drama and emotion just fall flat. The game’s writing ability clearly doesn’t measure up to its grand concept, leaving Beyond: Two Souls without much of a leg to stand on for anyone, at least beyond Ellen Page, who pretty much carries the entire experience’s appeal on her own shoulders.
Beyond: Two Souls was already a shaky proposition on PS3 back in 2013, but on PS4, the game has lost almost all of its appeal, beyond being trophy fodder, or an Ellen Page showcase. The game offers one of the easier Platinum Trophies to score if that means anything to you, but unless that’s actively what you’re after, or you’re simply aiming to play the other Quantic Dream games in preparation for the upcoming release of Detroit: Become Human, there’s just very little to recommend Beyond: Two Souls with, even with its appreciated efforts to clean up the experience a tad on PS4. Moreover, if you’ve already played through this game on PS3, there’s no real reason to come back and re-experience it on PS4, despite the appreciated gameplay tweaks here and there.
If you happen to crave story-driven games like this, then Beyond: Two Souls is just quite simply outdone by the numerous other, better options in the PS4 library at this point, and that’s not even considering the PS3’s library of great story-driven titles, which you can even stream to your PS4 pretty easily using PlayStation Now. You can get ahold of most of the best Telltale Games offerings on PS4, such as the various The Walking Dead games, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands, all of which are better narrative experiences than Beyond: Two Souls. The same is true of Square Enix’s Life is Strange, which is another great narrative-driven episodic adventure that is available on PS4. Until Dawn also comes a lot more highly recommended if you’re specifically craving a cinema-style presentation for your PS4 experience. Even the newly-released Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will satisfy that fix for you a lot more than Beyond: Two Souls will, and will throw in far more action to boot.
As much as there’s clearly a good degree of heart and ambition thrown behind Beyond: Two Souls, it does ultimately represent a step back for Quantic Dream, after they managed a pretty good marriage between games and movies with Heavy Rain, despite that game certainly not being a perfect experience either, especially six years after it first hit PS3. This game still represents a standout example of the dangers of making a game that tries too hard to be a movie, and represents this danger all the more in its PS4 remaster, to the point where the actual gaming element of it is barely there. At worst, Beyond: Two Souls feels like an unwelcome throwback to those FMV games from the Sega CD and 3DO days, which thought that a sliver of gameplay over a bunch of shoddy ‘scenes’ was enough to sucker gamers in. It’s not, and those games died out for a very good reason.
Hopefully, Detroit: Become Human goes back to better balancing the gaming and film mediums, rather than trying to pass a movie off as a game, and, frankly, in the case of Beyond: Two Souls, this experience wouldn’t even be that great or noteworthy as a movie either. There’s a great game and concept screaming to get out of Beyond: Two Souls, but it’s just buried under way too much pretense and self-congratulating, and the leap to PS4 has only buried that promising concept even deeper.
- Gorgeous production values that have held up well
- Some appreciated gameplay tweaks on PS4
- Ellen Page's great lead performance
- Gameplay is dull and overly passive
- Story is tonally inconsistent and haphazardly written
- Player choices don't ultimately matter that much