When does a visual novel or such become a full game? This is a common argument in the gaming world, usually used as an insult against someone else’s favorite game. “HURR DURR Your game has a lot of cutscenes and is therefore a movie.” While however obnoxious this may be to suffer through, when it comes to the titles released by Quantic Dream, the argument becomes somewhat harder to decide on. These “Interactive Stories” as they are labeled by the company, may not be as action packed as most titles, and may even not be like the adventure games of yesterday, but they are certainly intriguing in their creativity.
Beyond Two Souls is the follow up in a spiritual sense to 2010’s Heavy Rain; an interesting spin on a murder mystery. In this title, mystery has been switched for supernatural, as the plot follows 15 years in the life of Jodie, a young girl that has a link with a mysterious entity known as Aiden. She is placed in the care of Nathan Dawkins, a kind and caring supernatural researcher, who becomes a father figure to her. The story is told out of chronological order, with each chapter jumping around stages of her life. This works very nicely sometimes, and the rest of the time it can be a little jarring, although you are prompted by the loading screen to remember where this chapter fits in amongst the others in her life.
The main selling point for this title in its marketing is its inclusion of Ellen Page playing Jodie, and Willem Dafoe playing Nathan. Their likenesses are used heavily, and they are also by far the best actors in the game as a whole, so at the very least their star power hasn’t been wasted. Ellen Page plays a very Ellen-Pagey character, and Willem’s character is very Dafoe-ish indeed. The rest of the cast is rounded out well enough, and the revolutionary facial and movement technology from Heavy Rain has continued to be refined enough that it still looks pretty impressive from a technical and visual standpoint.
Now, onto gameplay. The majority of the game features actions taken as QTE’s, which means that you will be watching a scene and then have to react by pressing a button or direction. For combat in these cutscenes, this involves using motions that should be organic to the action, such as sliding the right analog stick to the left when attacking to the left. In theory this works, but in practice is let down by muddled direction and lack of transparency about what is being needed. During what free roam moments there are, you can walk around an area and manipulate chosen objects for various purposes. Interestingly enough, the best chapters in the game for fun are those with the most free roam time, which says something.
The other main gameplay gimmick is the use of Aiden. By pressing a button, control is given to Aiden, who can then float and swoop invisibly around Jodie and manipulate objects or people with his spooky powers. This is actually pretty fun sometimes, giving the player the feel of being the monster in the horror movies, but it is also limited to only several objects.
There are enough plot differences and endings possible that it can feel as though your actions are making the story change, but these are much fewer in comparison to Heavy Rain. Two Souls had a plot that certainly drew me in for the time I was playing it, but I feel that it left too many plot points unattended, or otherwise had them be underwhelming when they were revealed. The point is, if your game is going to be primarily story based, the storyline must then be exceedingly exceptional. I very much enjoyed Heavy Rain, and despite the technology in this title, I sadly feel that ultimately it remains inferior to its older brother.