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A retrograde step
on 31 October 2013
Let me start by saying that I was extremely excited about this game. While I am not a great game-lover, the more recent moves to try and make games more character-based and immersive have had a real positive effect on me. Heavy Rain, LA Noir and The Last of Us, while all having their faults, really attempted to take one on an emotional journey and/or tried to make you feel you having a real influence on the progression of the story. Heavy Rain in particular felt like a genuine game-changer, in that there were real consequences of your actions which forced you to think about your choices and the potential they could have. Beyond Two Souls should have represented an opportunity to make advances in that respect. I am afraid to say it has failed. I'll run through why that was in a hopefully coherent order.
PLOT (OR LACK OF)
A huge failing. While it was an interesting idea to present the main character's story as a series of vignettes, the haphazard way in which the story jumps from child- to adulthood does not seem to have any purpose. What it creates, instead of mystery and suspense a la Heavy Rain, is a sense of confusion and detachment. You never really feel the story is continuous, or that each of the chapters serves to explain something relating to the main body of the story. You play through each chapter seemingly just to get to the end of it. While there are certain facets of the story that have the potential to be quite interesting, they're rarely explored in great detail, or you realise their bearing on the end of the game (which seeks to tie the preceding mess up in a neat bow) is relatively insignificant. Some really interesting characters are done away with in a matter of minutes, and then all of a sudden reappear at the end. You'll be HUGELY disappointed by the ending, which is the definition of a damp squib. People will accuse me of being a tad harsh with these criticisms, but with gameplay that is so easy (covered in a proceeding section), a compelling story was a must.
The game was sold similarly to Heavy Rain, in that your choices can affect the story-line, and while you do make 'choices' (usually determining what Jodie says) these tend to be quite trivial (to kiss or not to kiss, or asking about different topics of conversation). They also tend not to have any real affect on the progression of the story (in that you have a list of choices, and each time you select one it disappears, but the game still carries on, so you have to select the next choice, then the next until you run out of options), you basically get the impression that no matter what you say or do, the story will carry on the same regardless. The only opportunity you really get to determine the outcome is at the very end, when you make the final choices for Jodie, which obviously have no affect on the actual `gaming' as you have already completed the game. It reminded me very much of a `choose your own story' book. While Heavy Rain did have its problems, at least you got the sense that the choices you made were going to be important.
The lack of affect of your choices on the story is exacerbated by how easy the producers have made this game. Going back to the desire to be immersed in a video-game, this becomes much harder when you are prompted and given hints at each and every stage. Not just that, but a lot of the game seems to involve walking in straight lines and flicking the right analogue stick to perform the most perfunctory of task (switching on a light, sitting down etc). Again, while Heavy Rain was guilty of this at times, the more the game progressed the less we saw of these mundane tasks. If anything, the more I got into Beyond the more walking in straight lines, opening doors etc I had to do. You expect the game to get slightly more difficult as it progresses, Beyond stays at a similar level of difficulty throughout. Not only this, but the one aspect of the game that is remotely difficult (Jodie's `combat mode') is only properly utilised in one level!
It'll take you no longer than a few hours (10 is being quoted, maybe slightly longer) to complete, as the producers seem so eager to lead you to the end of the story that they actually leave you very little room to explore. And, even if they do provide you with this opportunity, the things you can do or the area you can explore are extremely mundane. If you're anything like me, you'll have next to no desire to replay the game either, rendering the value for money aspect of the game (especially when compared to something like GTA)
As has been said before, graphically this game is stunning. I thought Heavy Rain was exceptional, but Beyond blows it away. The human likenesses of the characters are amazing and some of the scenery is mind-boggling. Personally, I believe the producers may have attempted to show off this capability at the expense of the storyline, but that's just a hunch.
Given the cast, you'd expect the acting to be top-notch, and it is. The only problem is that even if you have the best actors, a poorly constructed script renders their best efforts futile.
A real opportunity squandered. There were snippets of this game when I was genuinely excited, but this was soon quelled by the tediousness that so plagues this game. Given the graphical capabilities and the actors involved, Quantic Dream had the chance to make an era-defining game. Instead, they have produced something that will not just make many wary of their next attempt, but may even turn people away altogether. I for one would love to see them take the criticisms on board and make their next game a real improvement on Heavy Rain. Beyond seems to have taken a slightly backward, sideways step. The tools are all there, it just seems to be a case of thinking about the storyline a bit more, and having a real go at making the gameplay a lot more challenging.