Beyond: Two Souls Review – Why I loved my trip into the Beyond

The critics haven’t treated Beyond: Two Souls very kindly and to be honest, I have no idea why. Beyond made me cry more than any other video game ever has and possibly more than most films have too. I’m a pretty emotional person, so it’s not hard for a film or TV show to make me cry. However when it comes to video games, it’s a different story. Very few video games can make me cry. Sure they can shock me, wow me and emotionally move me but for a game to make me (or anyone, really) cry, it’s really got to do something special.

Well Beyond does just that. Right from the start you’re sucked into the story of Jodie Holmes, a girl who was born with a connection to an entity beyond this realm. Jodie is trying to remember what happened to her and therefore the story is told in chronological disorder. One minute you’re Jodie as a child, the next, you’re her as an adult. Aiden, the spirit she’s connected to, is always there. Scenes also differ widely in length, some are only ten or fifteen minutes long, others go on for over an hour so; there’s a nice variety.

It may seem like a strange way to order a game but it works just as well as Pulp Fiction did for Quentin Tarantino. After all, it’s your job to put the pieces together and figure out who you (Jodie) are and who, or what, Aiden is.

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What really makes Beyond such an emotional experience is the great writing, acting and technology involved. The story is an unusual one, as it essentially about the supernatural, things that don’t really exist. Death is an interesting subject though and Beyond explores the many different forms and meanings of death. Somehow, David Cage has managed to write a very believable story about ghosts and another world without making it seem ridiculous or silly. Personally, the only time I found the writing to jar was when a very minor character said “It’s like an evil spirit has been sent here to punish us for our sins!” Yeah, that’s an awful line.

However the main actors all perform brilliantly, Ellen Page is typically great in everything she does but Beyond could arguably be one of her best roles. Right from her first line of speech you feel like you’re with Jodie and there’s no doubt that many female gamers will be able to relate to the many horrible things that Jodie has to go through. She isn’t written as a “tortured” character though, something which is refreshing for the industry. Jodie is about as real as female characters get. Willem Dafoe, the other big star, is equally engaging as the scientist trying to understand Jodie’s ability. The relationship the two build is truly warming and it’s great to see that develop as the game goes on.

Technically wise, it’s amazing. The PS3 is at the end of its life cycle and Beyond shows just how far the PS3 has come over a relatively short period of time. I can only imagine how great Cage’s games look when the PS4 has its swan-song. Of course with something so high-tech, there’s always going to be some niggles. For example the character models are near perfect, but props often look a bit flat and fake. When you think that a sponge or sandwich is motion-captured from just cardboard in real life it’s not really surprising and luckily it isn’t too distracting.

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The controls have changed a lot since Heavy Rain, instead of QTEs, Beyond uses a simplified system. Basically, when you’re engaged in a fight or are running for your life, you need to flick the right stick in the appropriate direction in order to perform the action successfully. The screen doesn’t tell you which direction you should go in, instead the game goes into slo-mo mode and you only have a set amount of time to react. Most of the time missing the odd command won’t make too much of a difference but at other times one miss can completely change the scenes outcome – so you’ll definitely be on your toes.

The controls definitely feel more natural than Heavy Rain’s did and personally I think it’s an improvement. However as you’re left to make your own decisions on which direction you should go it, judging the movement can be tough so it’s not always easy to get it right and you might end up messing up a situation you hadn’t intended to. This can be a little frustrating at times but it adds a challenge to the game which Heavy Rain often lacked, so it’s a positive change.

You can also switch to Aiden (almost) whenever you want by pressing triangle. You can then float through walls and interact with certain people and objects, depending on the situation. You can’t travel too far away from Jodie though because you’re connected. Controlling Aiden can be a bit of a pain, especially if trying to travel up or down, as it’s easy to find yourself a bit lost which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to do something quickly. It’s also quite difficult to heal people or to remember memories using Aiden, because you have to push and hold both sticks on a certain highlighted area for a set period of time. 

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Beyond isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn close. I haven’t felt more connected to any other virtual character as I have Jodie and I genuinely cared about what happened to the other characters. As the reviews have proven, Beyond is a polarising experience, with some gamers just not “getting” it. I feel sorry for those people because they are losing out on an incredible one-of-a-kind experience which is bound to change the way you think about video games forever.

If you have a PS3 and don’t play Beyond – you’re missing out. See you on the other side.

9/10

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Why Quantic Dream’s “Kara” could change the gaming world

If you haven’t already seen it, you should check out this video, showing off Quantic Dream’s brand new engine and what they can do with it. QD are of course the geniuses behind Heavy Rain which changed the way people thought about games forever. Games could be adult, with real emotion and a proper story – very close to your favourite film or TV drama. Well QD are taking that a hundred steps further and boy, it’s exciting.

In the video, Kara is a robot, her purpose is to serve humans whether that be by looking after the house, cooking or having sex with you. She is to be sold away and all the robots (for lack of a better word) all look identical. Kara is different though, after being booted up, she realises she has emotions, she doesn’t want to be sold because she thought she was alive. Naturally, the person watching over her being built freaks out and starts to disassemble her.  Kara is frightened, she doesn’t want to “die”, she cries and begs not be shut down. Just before it’s too late, the machine decides to let her go, on the condition she doesn’t start any more trouble.

An interesting plot is already in the making here – but I digress – what does this short clip show us gamers?

The adult theme still remains. It’s clear that QD is still making games for adults about important adult issues. I would say there’s still a lack of proper adult games on the market. Yes we have plenty of 18 rated games none of them really tackle anything of great importance. When was the last time you played a game that really made you think about your decisions and the consequences of your actions?

It’s highly emotional. If you didn’t feel yourself welling up at Kara begging for her life then what the hell is wrong with you!? It’s clear QD have picked an incredible actress here as she captures Kara’s fear and sadness perfectly. It also helps that QD are now capturing the voice, face and body motion all at once instead of separately, which is what most studios currently do. Even the voice-over of the man building Kara is patronising in an appropriate way. You feel sorry for Kara , even though she’s not a real person, you feel sorry for her, sorry for the fact she’s being used because when you look at her face, you see a woman and not a robot. The way the voice-over calls her “honey” and “baby” helps add to the creepy tone. It reaffirms the notion she is a woman, a human being, being sold off, even though we know she’s not real – the fact she can feel human emotions pulls the audiences heart-strings.

The graphics are stunning. This is running real time on a PlayStation 3! If you look back at Heavy Rain, at the time it was a massive break-through in terms of how humans in games were animated, Kara puts that to shame. Kara looks real, her eyes, her facial movements, even her tears. It’s amazing to think people are considering a PlayStation 4 when this is what we can do with a PS3 and I bet this isn’t even the limit.

A comparison of the actress who plays Kara (Valorie Curry) and her computer generated counter-part. (Image from officialplaystationmagazine.co.uk)

It’s a shame this demo is only to show off their new engine and isn’t a trailer for a game in development. Kara and her story have real potential to become a game much like Heavy Rain. But, I don’t think is the last time we’ll see Kara. Quantic Dream have shown us what the games of the future look like, and they look scarily real.