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Gaming Review

'Beyond: Two Souls' review (PS3): Breathtakingly cinematic

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Released on Tuesday, Oct 8 2013

An older Jodie Holmes in 'Beyond: Two Souls'

© Sony

An older Jodie Holmes in 'Beyond: Two Souls'


Release Date: October 11 (Europe), October 8 (North America)
Platforms available on: PS3
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Interactive Drama / Action-adventure

Roger Ebert once infamously dismissed video gaming as a non-artistic medium, but even the legendary critic would have struggled to put together a convincing argument that Beyond: Two Souls is anything less than a work of great heart and creativity.

Heavy Rain studio Quantic Dream's latest offering spins an engaging narrative about the afterlife and takes the player on a deeply personal journey, tinged with themes of loss, hope and redemption.

Beyond: Two Souls features a unique protagonist named Jodie Holmes - voiced by and modelled on Ellen Page - who was born with a connection to a supernatural entity know only as Aiden.

Beyond: Two Souls - PS3 screenshot

© Sony

A young Jodie Holmes



Although invisible to the naked eye, Aiden can manipulate inanimate objects in poltergeist-esque fashion, possess people and touch Jodie's world in a number of other ways.

Terrified and confused by the bizarre events that occur around their daughter, a young Jodie's parents ship her off to a CIA research facility, where the seemingly good natured Dr Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) takes her under his wing.

Jodie receives full CIA training after coming of age, only to end up on the run after coming to the realisation that the government is moulding her into a weapon for its own ends.
    Beyond: Two Souls feels more like an interactive movie than a video game in its own right, but the story it has to tell is thoroughly gripping, and will take players from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.
The game picks up with Jodie on the run from the authorities, searching for answers to the questions that hang over her past. It's a story that takes place over the course of 15 years, but the action jumps back and forth to different points on the protagonist's timeline.

One moment you will be playing as an adult Jodie fleeing from a government SWAT team, the next you might be controlling her as a small child back in her family home, or a teenage incarnation struggling to fit in with her peers at a party.

Beyond: Two Souls feels more like an interactive movie than a video game in its own right, but the story it has to tell is thoroughly gripping, and will take players from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.

Beyond: Two Souls - PS3 screenshot

© Sony

Willem Dafoe plays Dr Dawkins.



It maintains a shrewd level of intrigue throughout, withholding details about the true nature of the mysterious Aiden, as well as Jodie's backstory, until numerous layers have been stripped away.

Almost every scene is charged with raw emotion, whether it's Jodie sharing a personal moment with father figure Dr Dawkins, or our protagonist frantically fleeing from a convoy of police on a stolen motorcycle.

Horror elements are also used effectively, with the game offering some of the best cheap scares this side of the Resident Evil franchise, as well as your chilling psychological moments.

Players take control of both Jodie and Aiden, and can switch between them using the Triangle button. Our human protagonist is controlled almost entirely through quick time events, but adding Aiden to the mix makes the experience unique.

The otherworldly being floats around undetected, passing through walls and ceilings. He can hurl objects, break things, possess other characters to put them under the player's control, form a protective shield around Jodie, and even heal her injuries.

An older Jodie Holmes in 'Beyond: Two Souls'

© Sony

A SWAT team hunt for a runaway Jodie



Many of the problems the game throws at you must be solved using both characters in harmony. For instance, Aiden can pass through locked doors and take out any security cameras on the other side, allowing Jodie safe passage into the room beyond.

Although there are instances where you will feel more like an observer than the one in control, Quantic Dream deserves plaudits for delivering such a fresh and original experience.

Beyond: Two Souls is more intuitive on the gameplay front than Heavy Rain, which often cluttered the screen with intrusive prompts. It's a streamlined system here, with white and blue dots denoting points of interactivity and subtle button prompts flashing up when needed.

The game strikes a good balance between emotive sequences and all-out action.

An older Jodie Holmes in 'Beyond: Two Souls'

© Sony

Jodie Holmes on a mission for the CIA



A minimalist combat system means that players need only move the analogue stick in the correct direction for Jodie to perform the appropriate evasive or offensive manoeuvre.

There are no button prompts here, but the action reverts to slow motion to give players enough time to choose the best course of action.

This mechanic complements the stripped-down interface, and even though there are times when it isn't 100% clear which direction you are supposed to select, the game rarely punishes you harshly for an isolated error in the sequence.

Stealth also has a part to play, and this is when Beyond: Two Souls feels at its most gamey. These sequences are based around a fairly standard cover mechanic and single-button takedowns, but the option to use Aiden to distract enemies sets the game apart from your standard sneak fests.

Beyond: Two Souls is a linear experience for the most part, yet there are ample opportunities to exercise freedom of choice. Players have a variety of set responses to select during character interaction, and there is often more than one course of action to tackle a puzzle.


Influencing Jodie to behave differently in certain situations can have an impact on the outcome. The big-picture changes are usually subtle, but there are decisions to make that impact on the ending, and the chance to explore every possibility lends the game replay value.

Beyond: Two Souls includes a two-player co-op mode that enables one player to take control of Aiden, and the other Jodie. The campaign's content isn't any different when tackled in this manner, but the option to share the experience is welcome indeed.

Quantic Dream has also given players the option to tackle the game using a touchcreen tablet or smartphone via the free Beyond Touch app.
    Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most poignant and enthralling stories we have encountered in a video game, capable of stirring up the same depth of emotion as great works from the mediums of film and literature.
Although the game's control system is streamlined enough to translate perfectly well to our Samsung Galaxy S4, using the PS3 controller feels like more of a natural fit, particularly during combat sequences where quick reflexes are called for.

Dazzling production values do their bit to make Beyond: Two Souls a cinematic work of art, with visuals that would not look out of place on a next-generation console.

A staggering amount of detail has gone into the lead characters' facial features, with subtle blemishes and imperfections making them all the more human, and the sheer volume of animations helping to convey the emotion that carries the story.

'Beyond: Two Souls' E3 screenshot

© Sony

Jodie after taking on a SWAT team.



Quantic Dream got their money's worth out of Page and Dafoe, not that we were expecting any less from a pair of Oscar nominees, as both are exceptional in their roles.

Their vocals are distinct and delivered with fervour throughout, giving the impression that neither treated the project as a quick and easy payday.

Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most poignant and enthralling stories we have encountered in a video game, capable of stirring up the same depth of emotion as great works from the mediums of film and literature.

Plot and cinematics are its greatest strengths, but when you factor in some of the finest graphics ever seen on the PS3 and the level of originality on offer, Quantic Dream's masterpiece is worthy of superlatives.

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