Developed by Quantic Dream
Available exclusively on PS4
Rated M for Mature
If anything so far defines this console generation, it’s the remaster. It seems that every company with a new product on the horizon and the need for a bit of extra cash will port over the “complete edition” of yesteryear’s titles, bundled with all the DLC, mildly polished visuals, and a feature or two. Hell, there’s an entire PS4 purchase bundle for the Nathan Drake collection, a remastering of the Uncharted series. It’s pretty fucking bold to sell an entire console on the back of a game that was made for your last, $200 cheaper, “still plays all those previous games totally fine” system. It’s the kind of oblivious fanfare that is the express result of an anemic library and consumers who’ve just come to expect this shit.
However, there seems to be an odd bell curve of how bullshit it is to remaster a game. First off, I’m not talking about bringing a game to a completely different platform, such as when God of War: Chains of Olympus was freed from the pit of Tartarus that was the PSP. What I’m talking about are direct generational ports, like the God of War 3 PS4 remaster. At this point, porting the original God of War would make sense. The game is a decade old, a flagship Playstation series, and a classic that was likely missed by many younger gamers. Darksiders 2, on the other hand, is a three year old game in a likely never to be finished series that is generally accepted as “pretty good”.
So old games are okay, more recent games not okay, but it gets okay once again with extremely recent games. Remember, bell curve. We’re in the age where games are still getting released with both a current and last gen edition, so it’s understandable that end of cycle PS3 games would have a PS4 rendition. No one really batted an eye when The Last of Us was released again a year later on the PS4. If a game is good and new enough to feel like it fits on the PS4, then it doesn’t really matter. What people get pissed about are ports of games that clearly belong in the last generation.
Well look at that, Ted is in form again! Four whole paragraphs in, and we finally start talking about the game I’m reviewing. Though long winded, the intro was necessary, since I’m going to break character a bit and not trash Beyond: Two Souls like I do every other remaster. Graphically, it could easily be a PS4 title. The gameplay is hard to classify, so you can’t really say it needed tweaking to bring it to the new generation. It boiled down to me asking myself, “Does this feel like a PS4 game?” I think yes, and coupled with the fact that we don’t yet have a review for it on Dread Central, I’m going to treat this as a PS4 edition and not a remaster.
As it turns out, that might not be such a big deal, since Beyond: Two Souls is easily my least favorite Quantic Dream game. Granted, the auteur studio has only released 4 games thus far, but I feel like this was a less compelling title than 2010’s Heavy Rain. The story was less grounded, and would take confusing wild tangents that made it hard to focus on a singular driving force. That’s a fancy way of saying, “that magic Native American shit was weird.”
If you aren’t familiar with Quantic Dream, their games can best be described as interactive novels. You watch a cutscene, inspect a room for stuff, do a quicktime event, make some choice, and then watch another cutscene. While there are puzzles to solve, baddies to fight off, and narrative branches to take, the game doesn’t require you to master attack patterns like an action game or collect items like an adventure game. While the scripted nature makes it all look really impressive, It can leave you with the general impression that you aren’t really doing anything.
As someone who likes a slower pace but is bored to death by walking simulators, having a spooky ghost pop out every once in awhile and making me press X while holding R2 is a cozy middle ground. Beyond: Two Souls mixes things up a bit, making you swap between two characters with different abilities. Jodie is a person, and does person type stuff like talking and looking at notebooks. Aiden is a ghost, and does ghost type stuff like fly through walls and possess people. It’s pretty straightforward, and leads to some interesting puzzle solving.
The game can also be played by two players, with one player controlling Jodie and one controlling Aiden. Since only one character can be active on screen at a time, it’s up to the player to decide when to kick over control to the partner. If you wanted to know just how much you hate your significant other, try waiting patiently for them to figure out a puzzle that only you can solve, and that you figured out 10 minutes ago.
I’m one of those odd folks that really likes this narrative heavy type of game. Their titles have also always been creative and deep, which goes a long way towards getting me to forget the plot holes and how my choices don’t actually really matter. If you do not like this style of game, you will not like Beyond: Two Souls. Keep this in mind when reading any Quantic Dream game review, and the polarized scores will make more sense.
If you do like this kind of game, the world that Quantic Dream weaves in Beyond: Two Souls is both terrifying and beautiful. Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) is a mysterious youth (or twenty something? Ellen Page will look like she’s 18 well into her 60’s) who has seemingly been gifted/cursed with psychic powers. We find out through a series of nonlinear levels zipping back and forth through her life that her affliction is that she is tethered to a spare soul named Aiden, who has a mind of his own. There is a certain amount of control that she can exert over him, but she mostly serves as his anchor in the physical world and telepathic buddy.
There’s some great interplay between the two characters, as Aiden has grown up with Jodie from birth. When Jodie was a child, so was Aiden, throwing out tantrums like a pouty poltergeist. Aiden doesn’t know why he’s here either, and is just as pissed to be tied to Jodie as she is to be carting around a grumpy ghost all day. As plot would have it, the military’s Department of Paranormal Activity takes her in, dual studying and prepping her to be a ghost assassin.
As I mentioned, it all takes place nonlinearly, so it can be unclear why exactly we go from blowing up helicopters in small town America to assassinating some warlord in Somalia for the CIA. If you want to go ahead and make some kind of prediction that maybe the CIA didn’t exactly tell her the truth and now she’s been branded a traitor by a soulless and faceless shadowy government murder machine, it won’t ruin the plot. Not that your prediction would be wrong, that’s exactly what happens of course. You just wouldn’t be spoiling all the good bits about ghosts and stuff.
The real meat of the story comes from Jodie’s struggles with the spirit world, which for some reason people just cannot stop fucking with. Her personal connection to Aiden evolves and strengthens over time almost like they are, I don’t know, siblings or something. We learn that not only can Aiden ghost punch people in the trachea until they die, but Jodie can also speak to the dead through her connection to the “Infraworld” (Beyond: Two Souls’ word for “the ghost dimension”). How they use their powers changes with time, both as a function of maturity and manipulation. While in the CIA, they were a well oiled killing machine, capable of infiltrating and neutralizing any target. After that, they help a homeless woman deliver a baby. It seems cliché, but how they learn of the good they can achieve together does a lot to bring real life and emotion to the characters.
I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll leave my plot summary at that. Various things happen along the way that serve as pivotal relationship moments between Aiden and Jodie, and the people around them continuously prove incapable of just leaving them the fuck alone. It ends very climactically, and hints at a sequel that we will unfortunately likely never see. It’s a great story of love and struggle, coming to terms with who you are, and realizing the power in yourself. The characters aren’t just cogs in a machine to push the story through to an end goal, but growing people with motivations and failings.
Then, there’s the magical Native Americans. While avoiding the authorities by traveling across the country on your badass motorcycle, you lodge with a family of Native Americans working a rundown moisture farm on the outskirts of Tatooine. As luck would have it, they are being plagued by a storm demon, and their ancient spiritual ancestors are proving insufficient to keep its sandy wrath at bay any longer. You do some investigative work, and learn of a ritual that can banish it back to the Infraworld. After some minor hiccups, you succeed, and the family can go back to their happy lives only a grandfather short.
It comes totally out of nowhere, and feels completely tacked on. It’s like throwing in a Christmas special right in the middle of the main game, where none of the characters or story will ever come into play again. It was a shockingly out of place and poorly paced segment, and felt like a completely different game. It was like someone at the studio too high up to be argued with had the idea early on, and insisted they keep it in despite the glaring incompatibility. This is a story about Jodie’s struggle with her own nature and the people around her trying to exploit her, not some Supernatural spin-off attempt.
It speaks to a larger inconsistent pacing that keeps the game from really reaching greatness. While the story they are telling is vast, it is unfocused. In their attempts to keep things obscure, they often muddle the facts. At one point, Jodie explicitly says that Aiden isn’t a ghost. By the end of the game, it turns out that *SPOILER ALERT* he is a ghost. *END SPOILER ALERT*. Jodie and Aiden’s connection also varies wildly based on level restrictions, as certain walls just for some reason cannot be floated through. Add in some tacked-on romance subplots, and you’ve got yourself a hodgepodge of elements that muddle the game’s delicious core.
As far as what was added in this edition, they made it so that the game could be played in chronological order. It’s the prefered method of play if you are an idiot that can’t fathom a story being told out of order and hate dramatic pacing. They also made it slightly prettier, with better lighting effects. Woot.
I’m glad that they brought Beyond: Two Souls to the PS4. We always need some kind of Quantic Dreams title to show us that slower games can be exciting too. It’s creative and different, and is a worthy addition to any respectable PS4 library. It’s a very well told and memorable story that was unfortunately held back by some questionable creative decisions. Despite the flaws, it will stick with you well beyond the credits. If you missed out on the title previous, it’s $30 well spent. If you already did play it, then remember it fondly and give this one a pass.