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Gaming review: Think twice before buying Beyond Two Souls

October 19, 2013 10:49 IST

Gaming review: Think twice before buying Beyond Two Souls

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Murali Venukumar

Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t offer full-blown action experience

Platforms: PlayStation 3

Price: Rs 3,499

Developer: Quantic Dream

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Distributor: Milestone Interactive Pvt. Ltd.

Genre: Action/Adventure

Age Rating: 16+

Quantic Dream’s David Cage has always been a divisive personality in the videogame world. From Fahrenheit to Heavy Rain, his games have always had a very cinematic quality to them. With Beyond: Two Souls, he takes his celluloid inspiration to new heights, with a barely-there OSD and a letterboxed aspect ratio that’ll probably cause your non-gaming pals to mistake it for a feature on blu-ray. The problem many have with Cage though, isn’t his style of game-craft but his rather lacking scripting and storytelling abilities. The latter half of Fahrenheit was a train wreck of genre tropes while Heavy Rain devolved into an airport bookstore potboiler from the nuanced crime story it started out as.

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Photographs: Quantic Dream/Sony

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The good news is that Beyond: Two Souls marks a significant improvement from the past. The plot, while presented non-linearly, is more thought out in addition to being scripted better as well. The non-linear approach could have been a disaster in the making, so props to Cage and Sony for sticking to it. While some may find the rapid shuttling between events in Jodie Holmes’ life a little off-putting, it succeeds in showing you snippets in the life of a troubled child who has a corporeal entity tethered to her.

Cage (at least through most of the game) doesn’t attempt to offer complex explanations to why Jodie has a link to the spirit world or who exactly Aidan (her companion) is, trying to sell it more as a slice of life story than anything else. So you’ll play major (and minor) events across a 15-year period in Jodie’s life, taking you through a troubled childhood, the government’s attempts to ‘weaponise’ her, and her attempts at making sense of why she is how she is. Unfortunately (and true to Cage) the game goes off the rails in the final sections, but it never hits the catastrophic hilarity of Fahrenheit or Heavy Rain.

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Gaming review: Think twice before buying Beyond Two Souls

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Murali Venukumar

Interestingly, you’re able to control both Jodie and Aiden in the game -- although not at the same time. You can switch to Aiden at appropriate moments, and being what he is, you can float around, pass through walls and fiddle with objects in the real world. He can also fight off enemies, help Jodie relive flashbacks of certain characters, encase her in a bubble-shield and possess (or kill) characters. There’s a limit to how far you can move away from Jodie however, and there are inexplicable moments where you’re railroaded into playing as either Jodie or Aiden and can’t make a switch even if you want to. Jodie’s interactions are mostly relegated to flicks on the right analog stick, except for instances where you need to press either the face or shoulder buttons in combination. Hand to hand melee combat is a stand out thank to the fluid animations and the intuitive stick flicks that you need to make each time the action slows down.

There are also combat sequences in the game, so Jodie also has rudimentary stealth and combat skills, none of which involve any skilled navigation or aiming. You press a single button to move to appropriate cover, execute a stealth takedown or fire your weapon. It’s an adequate mechanic considering the game it’s in, and provided you don’t come into these sections expecting a full-blown action experience.

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Gaming review: Think twice before buying Beyond Two Souls

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Murali Venukumar

Given the minimal interactions required to actually play the game, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there’s a downloadable app for smartphones and tablets that’ll let you play with just your touchscreen device. What really takes the cake though is that you can co-op the game, pairing a DualShock 3 with a touchscreen device and control the character of your choice. It’s surprisingly robust and good fun to play with a friend or significant other.

Beyond is also well produced for the most part, ably acted by Ellen Page alongside a criminally underused/clichéd Willem Dafoe. The quality of the supporting cast wavers, but that’s only because performance capture tech has improved to a significant enough degree for us to make out when an actor isn’t putting enough nuance in his/her performance.  The game is also a decent length, with some variations in how scenes play out depending on the choices you make.  Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit veterans may notice that the number of object interactions has reduced however, which is a shame.

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Murali Venukumar

Unfortunately you’ll occasionally notice models that lack detail, or textures that look a little worse for wear. An old niggle that has been more or less fixed is the tank-like character movement that plagued Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. Jodie moves a lot more naturally, complete with different animations for her age and state of mind. Sadly, the camera does spaz out at times, flipping your controls and obscuring parts of the environment.

Beyond: Two Souls is a surprise not just because the game is as engaging as it is, but also because of David Cage’s personal improvement as a storyteller. As kooky as it gets towards the end, there’s a weird humanity to it that just about carries the experience through. It all makes for a worthwhile purchase as long as you have an open mind and don’t insist on your games being either of the first or third person shooter variety.

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