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Beyond: Two Souls Takes the Risks That No One Else is Willing to Take

I’m going to start things off with me being open, honest and transparent; I truly believe that Quantic Dream is one of the best developers around today and that they are one of the few larger game studios willing to take actual risks and tell real stories. Gaming is in a strange transition period right now where we are bogged down with the concept of what a “game” should be, with most of the entries we are seeing into the wild are games about men with guns shooting other men with guns. It’s the strange amalgamation of the male power fantasy with interactive entertainment and it has led to extreme stagnation in the world of gaming.

While I’m not ready to say that Gaming is at a bad point now, it is at a point where most of the top releases of each year will include rehashed shooters that are heralded for their multiplayer. A lot of what makes games into “games” to most players is the ability to hone your skills at said game, which in its ultimate form is online multiplayer. There are absolutely games and developers out there who are looking to tell a story, to provide a deeper, more immersive experience than everything else, but it is the idea of “gameplay” that binds them to create derivative shooters year in and year out. Beyond: Two Souls is the labor of fifteen years of hard work at creating something new, with every game that came before in Quantic Dream’s library being an incremental step to creating Beyond. What I’m saying is; Beyond: Two Souls is by far the best Quantic Dream game, while it is still not perfect, there are so many things that are just done better than they’ve ever done before. This is the game that I’ve been waiting for, and this is the game that most gamers are going to thumb their nose at for not being derivative.

Right now games that are heralded for their storytelling, when removed from the gaming world and analyzed, would sit somewhere on the “Hollywood Summer Blockbuster” side of things. You usually play as a hero who is battling against the odds to save the world, but makes a few friends along the way, loses a few friends along the way and comes out of the whole thing a changed man. Usually, with room for a sequel or two at the end, because everyone loves trilogies and new ideas are tough to sell to the general audience.

This isn’t a bad thing, though. In fact, there will always be room for the “Hollywood Summer Blockbuster” because they are fun. The problem right now is that there is a distinct lack of variety. You are either a summer blockbuster or pandering to children, without there being much in the way of real drama. This is precisely how Quantic Dream is different; they aren’t looking to create another Independence Day or Rambo: First Blood, instead they are looking for a more subtle, human experience. To tell that more subtle, human story, you have to work outside of the confines of big man with big gun, which means going back to the drawing board when it comes to the core gameplay. In a way, Quantic Dream games play more like classic point-and-click adventure games, just done in real time and utilizing QTEs to help push the action along. Beyond: Two Souls could have been developed as a third person shooter-style game with more of a focus on discovery and story, but it would have interfered with the beautiful camera angles and bound the developers to something more like Mass Effect’s branching dialogue. Instead what you get is an incredibly cinematic game that lasts ten hours.

Beyond: Two Souls is the story of Jodie, a girl who is bound to an entity simply known as Aiden. Jodie is very much unlike other girls due to this bond with Aiden, which leads her on an incredible journey that unfolds throughout Beyond: Two Souls. The narrative is presented in broken fashion, where there is a clear timeline that you are shown at the beginning of each chapter, with each chapter taking place during a different part in her life. You get to see precisely where this one is taking place and it helps you to gain perspective. It might seem like a trick in the beginning, but as the story progresses, the chapter placement makes a lot more sense as events from the past will be fresh in your memory as you just played them, sometimes helping you to make tough decisions or to understand better why the characters are the way they are. The first few chapters are a bit rough at times, as you can sometimes feel like the omission of key points in the story are making it a bit more difficult to really care about the characters, but when things start to click they make a strong emotional bond. Some of the earlier missions tend to be a bit “action-heavy” as well, which is something that I was honestly dreading, one of the reasons that made me put off playing the game for a while. A lot of the trailers showed an emphasis on the action and it really took the wind out of my sails; had Quantic Dream given up and decided to make a game like everyone else?

The answer is very clearly a no, as those action sequences do indeed happen, but they have a reason and there is a solid counterbalance between the chapters. Some chapters will be long, tense and really take a lot out of you, while others will have you play as Jodie as a child participating in snowball fights with neighborhood kids. It is that kind of stuff that will turn off some gamers, as probably will playing a game from a female perspective and the story having a lot to do with her struggles with more powerful men in her life, but honestly, tough shit.

David Cage has not always been the best writer in the world, but he has clearly had a grand vision. He reminds me a lot of Ken Levine, as both guys have this very crystal clear vision of what they want a game to be and it seems like they keep creating variations of the same kind of game trying to find that perfect balance. If you played Heavy Rain or Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit) you’ll know what I’m talking about. Both games had great stories that went off and kind of lost the plot, either introducing crazy, impossible to ignore plot holes or introducing ridiculous twists that would leave M. Night Shyamalan shaking his head in disgust.

I was playing Beyond: Two Souls just waiting for that awful twist to happen, for that awful moment where it all fell apart, instead it held together until the very, very end. I have mixed feelings about the last minute or so of the game, but refuse to let that take away from what was an incredibly moving, powerful and rewarding ten hours of storytelling. Beyond: Two Souls never disappointed me and only left me anxious as to what Quantic Dream and David Cage come up with next. This was easily the greatest game to come out this year for me, which says a lot in what was a pretty crowded landscape of games. I know a lot of people will probably point to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, and while it does have its merits, it was just another solid blockbuster story from ND with the same, derivative gameplay. Beyond: Two Souls is just a complete package and a game that you should not miss.

The graphics are nothing short of amazing, with both Beyond: Two Souls and The Last of Us really showing how much other developers have been slacking off over the past few years with the excuses of how limiting the technology is. There are times when the NPC character models will look a bit plain or even blocky, but it’s definitely on par with the very best games of this generation when it comes to graphics.

The sound is nothing to scoff at either, with Hans Zimmer providing the score and of course all of the great performances throughout the game. It’s hard to call them voice actors because you know that they did a lot more than that, that it was actual performances. Ellen Page and Willem DaFoe were just amazing in this and definitely deserve a lot of credit for helping to bring this game to life. Beyond: Two Souls is ultimately a flawed games that tells a great story and sets itself apart from every other big budget title in the gaming world right now. It won’t be for everyone and if you take the time to see what’s going on within the gameplay, breaking the immersion, you’ll find stuff that will irritate you. That being said, it is an incredibly immersive experience that will keep you pushing forward to find out what happens next and you’ll find yourself drawn into Jodie’s world to where the surrounding chaos and game’s lack of difficulty shouldn’t be on your mind.

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