February 13, 2020 at 4:36 AM #670
Beyond: Two Souls
Rating: 4.0 – Great
This is what learning from mistakes looks like.
With the release of Detroit: Become Human, David Cage’s previous two titles were free for PSN users. I figured I liked Heavy Rain back in the day, so why not. It turns out Heavy Rain was given no improvements whatsoever for a port version, which is just dumb. I’ve written two reviews for that game, so my opinion there is well-known at this point.
The bright side is that David Cage clearly learned his lesson from Heavy Rain. Beyond: Two Souls is a fantastic video game, and the easiest way to describe it is "what Heavy would have been if Heavy Rain was actually good". Beyond: Two Souls is everything Heavy Rain is not: it’s fun, well told, well structured, reasonably well controlled, and handles you affecting the plot in a way that makes sense.
"Tell them to leave me the F alone, because next time, I’ll kill everyone."
Beyond: Two Souls is a character study in which you follow a girl named Jodie for the entire plot, from birth through adulthood, without going in chronological order. Telling a story out of order and having it resonate is a very difficult task, and Quentin Tarantino has done multiple interviews about this. One of the main reasons Tarantino is so respected as a director and storyteller is because his style is so difficult to replicate. It’s possible to play this game in chronological order, but it’s best to play through as Cage originally intended for maximum impact.
Jodie is a girl born with a gift, and that gift is a spirit she calls "Aiden" that’s with her everywhere she goes and gives her psychic powers. Jodie is basically 11 from Stranger Things, and they’re so similar that I’m 100% convinced the Stranger Things writers played this game before immediately writing up the plot for that show. In the very beginning of Two Souls, Jodie is on the run from police. Within seconds, everyone after her is dead. No one around Jodie knows how or why she can do the things she does, but everyone around her knows that something is seriously not right with this chick. That’s how one gets things like the CIA and SWAT teams after them on the regular.
The plot jumps all over the place chronologically to show various parts of Jodie’s life, from trying to fit in as a kid to having night terrors as an adolescent, to trying to survive as an adult and everything in between. It’s a really fun plot to follow along with, and David Cage clearly learned his lesson from how badly written Madison was in Heavy Rain. There aren’t 800 torture porn scenes, just a girl trying to make it despite having a gift she doesn’t really understand.
What makes it even better is we aren’t dealing with total losers and amateurs as actors. Instead of unknown nobodies, Two Souls gives us people like Ellen Page, Williem Dafoe, and Eric Winter. Instead of the monotone nonsense in Heavy Rain, Two Souls gives us voice acting with real emotion in it. Williem Dafoe especially just completely steals the show, but entire cast does a fantastic job. The game is worth playing through for them alone.
"I was born with a strange gift, or what they called a gift. It was really a curse. It’s ruined my life. It made me the person that I am today, a freak, a mistake, someone to hate."
Two Souls’ gameplay has a few issues, but it a massive improvement over Heavy Rain, which is the easiest game to compare it to. While Heavy Rain went completely overboard on forcing QTEs and motion controls, everything about the way Two Souls plays makes sense. That’s the most important thing when designing gameplay.
If you played Heavy Rain, Two Souls will feel very similar to you. It’s basically an interactive movie where you participate with quick time events and motion controls. Most importantly, you only move the character with the left analog stick!!! I can’t even begin to explain how happy that makes me. Another important improvement are that all the QTEs are streamlined. Instead of directional inputs, there’s mostly just dots. Instead of having to hold down 9 buttons while doing a jig standing on your head, most "hold a button down" sequences make perfect sense. You’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
Two Souls does offer new things however, and this is where I had to dock the game a couple points. First and foremost is Aiden, the spirit that you can play as by pressing triangle. Aiden’s whole point is giving you a unique way of solving puzzles or defeating enemies, but the limitations get old very quickly. First off, Aiden is tethered to Jodie. Fly too far away, and this migraine-inducing noise comes from the TV. How that garbage got approved is beyond me; a video game should not seek to cause actual physical harm to players. The other issue with Aiden is that the options presented while playing as Aiden are extremely limited. In one scene you’re able to force choke a bunch of dudes before mind controlling a helicopter pilot in a kamikaze blaze of glory. Not long after you’re forced to fight things hand to hand instead of just hitting triangle and going full psychic-choke on everything around you. I like that this game has a few "evil" options, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough and all these limits are in place that force you to only figure things out one or two ways.
Speaking of hand to hand combat, that’s the other issue. Two Souls puts this system in place where the game will slow down during an action sequences and you’re meant to hit the directional input in the direction of Jodie’s body. It sounds cool in practice, but the functionality is garbage. First off, there are multiple spots where multiple parts of her body are going in opposite directions. Which direction do you pick? Who knows. It’s all trial and error, and not the fun kind. Then you get sequences where the lighting sucks, so you’re just kind of randomly guessing. On top of that are sequences that make no sense. There is one part where Jodie is playing pool, and you get a slowdown right before a shot. My natural instinct there is to shoot the cue ball, but the game wanted me to go backwards for more force. I’ve played a lot of pool. No one hitches during their backswing, and that’s just one example. The game is loaded with them.
The camera issues from Heavy Rain are all still there, but they’re a little better in Two Souls. That said, I’m to the point where if I don’t have 100% camera control at all times like in Metal Gear Solid 4, I’m docking points. If your camera is stuck in water like in Two Souls and you’re not letting me have a full 360 view at all times, I’m definitely docking points. I’ve seen good and I’ve seen great. Two Souls’ camera does not qualify.
Lastly, motion controls need to disappear from gaming entirely. A Playstation 4 controller runs at about 70 dollars. Risking dropping one and breaking it because games are force feeding a gimmick that most people don’t want can really just piss off. And I say that as a rich adult. What if you can’t just go get a new 70 dollar controller? "Hey mom and dad, the game I’m playing has motion controls where I have to make like I’m spiking a football without actually dropping the controller, but I messed up. Can you help me out?"
You know we prevent stuff like this? By not having it in games in the first place. There’s a concept. The short of it is the stuff that was improved on from Heavy Rain was really improved, but the new additions need work.
"I see things at night… terrifying things. I tell myself it’s only nightmares, but… I know it’s not true. The only one who can save the world is a little girl."
Graphically, Two Souls is a masterpiece. I compared Heavy Rain’s animations to Annoying Orange, with Heavy Rain’s being worse. I don’t have the technical background to explain how to improve these things, but the people who do absolutely got in there and fixed whatever the problem was between Heavy Rain and Two Souls. This game is gorgeous to look at, minus the parts that are too dark. When you get to the Navajo chapter, you’ll see what I mean.
The soundtrack is similar to Heavy Rain in that it’s good, but not great. It’s worth a listen though if you have about 45 minutes to kill, which is better than spending 45 minutes listening to whatever audio effluvia is on the radio these days.
"How could I live a normal life again after all I’ve been through?"
Not every 8/10 is the same, and in the case of Two Souls, I was actually sad giving this game that score because I was very happy with my experience. Unfortunately, reviewing games are about accuracy over feelings, and there are some issues here I can’t ignore. That said, this was a very, very enjoyable game to play through. I loved being online and seeing what decisions other players made. I loved figuring out the various ways to solve puzzles and use Aiden. I felt limited in some ways, but hey.
Above all, I had fun. That is the only true measure of how good a video game is.
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