My soul wasn’t in it

Hey kids! Do you know what time it is?

That’s right! It’s time for Ryan to complain about a game that he played for free!

May’s big (“big”) free game with PS+ was Beyond: Two Souls, by developer Quantic Dream. Perhaps you know them from the more well-known Heavy Rain. I don’t. I didn’t ever play that one. I just looked up the parts with nudity on YouTube. In retrospect, it’s weird the things one will sometimes do in the pursuit of seeing boobs.

Beyond: Two Souls is very much a story-centric kind of game. In fact, it’s really more like an interactive movie. Not unlike in that one episode of Futurama where the audience gets to choose how the next scene plays out. Also there are cubic buttloads of QTEs. Because obviously there are. And I think that these choices are really what bring B:TS down in the long run. The other thing that works against it is that it’s incredibly long for a game like this. Or at least it felt that way. I couldn’t find an in-game timer to verify how long I played it.

The plot of the game is as such: Jodie is a girl with some kind of spooky ghost named Aiden tethered to her. Throughout her youth, she lives in a research lab with Willem Dafoe, and as a grown-up she goes on a number of wacky adventures. Over time, she learns all about life, love, and the land of ghosts and monsters called the Infraworld. Gameplay usually allows you to shift between Jodie and Aiden at will, as they use their different abilities to move the story forward or maybe on occasion just to mess with people.

The game is divided into a billion chapters, which are played out of chronological sequence. However, there is an option to play a “remixed” mode where you do actually play the whole thing chronologically. I think this is probably the best way to go, as the nonlinear path doesn’t add anything material to the experience, aside from making it more artsy-fartsy. There are very few big reveals, and most of them you can typically infer pretty easily from what you’re shown in earlier chapters. Also, man, the length of the chapters is so very inconsistent. Some are like five minutes long, and others drag on forever. Not that they all need to be the same, but there are clear break points in the longer ones where they could have been split in two. It’s not like it would have ruined the pacing of the story, because thanks to its interactive nature, there isn’t any pacing. It’s all over the place. Sometimes you barely have anything to do and it forges on at full speed. Sometimes you’ll be trying to find the thing you need to interact with next, only to click on something else and Jodie sits down and watches TV for a minute.

As far as gameplay, there are basically three types. The least interesting is the “adventure” portions, where you’re wandering around and interacting with points of interest. But usually not the most interesting points of interest. The next one is “chase” where you are being pushed ahead at high speed while constantly needing to respond to waves of QTE commands. I don’t know how much screwing these up will alter the story, if at all. I never did so bad that it seemed to have any negative impact.

In much the same vein as the chase sequences -but much more fun- are combat scenes that have Jodie fighting any number of aggressors. Basically they’re just cooler, and the QTEs are different. Instead of mashing buttons according to screen prompts, you need to push the stick in the direction that Jodie (or her fist) is moving. These are pretty fun and thrilling, but oftentimes I felt like it’s not totally clear which direction you’re supposed to be pushing, and ended up getting unfairly dunked a few times. Not to the point where I ever got Jodie killed, but enough that she ended up with a few more broken ribs than was strictly necessary.

Lastly, there are the stealth sequences. Any other game would be built like 90% on these, but Beyond: Two Souls maybe has like three chapters where you do the stealth thing. They aren’t overly complicated, either. How it rolls out is you hold X to have Jodie run up the the closest cover, and then either knock out a guy on the other side or use Aiden to choke someone out. And then you repeat this about seventeen times until the chapter is over. It’s not quite as fun as the combat sequences, but at least you feel like you’re actually doing something. Personally, I wish that the stealth gameplay had been a little more complex, but hey, it’s easy enough to just close B:TS and start playing Metal Gear Solid V instead, should the itch become too much to bear.

I don’t think that the story of Beyond: Two Souls is bad, but it’s really wasn’t as engaging for me as David Cage wanted it to be. Some of the chapters that had separate sub-plots, like “Homeless” and “Navajo,” were actually really cool and kept me entertained throughout. Probably because they each had a cast of great sub-characters and told stories that were actually interesting. But I really couldn’t be bothered to care about Jodie’s internal conflicts or any of the whole CIA plot (which is roughly half the game). Jodie as a main character was kind of meh, waffling between likable rouge and whiny brat, though Ellen Page’s acting was always on point. Aiden didn’t have any dialogue or personality outside of anything expressed through Jodie, which reduced him to a gameplay feature and took away most of his significance to the story. I think the real standout characters were Willem Dafoe and his lab assistant Cole. They were both very likable, sympathetic characters, although there are massive stretches of the game where you don’t see a lick of them.

And… I’ve already gone way longer than I expected to, so let’s wrap this up. Beyond: Two Souls isn’t a bad game, but it wasn’t terribly engaging, and I didn’t feel like my choices made many meaningful differences. Maybe they did, and I’d need to do a second playthrough to really see them, but there’s no way I’m doing that. This is an interactive movie that runs at least 10 hours (according to HLTB), and that’s just way too much of a time commitment for the sake of seeing how things could have played out. I was also upset that while I kept trying to get Jodie laid, it never happened. One time she almost got raped, but that was… yuck. Anyway, it’s another experience under my belt, but not one that I was particularly fond of. But maybe I am being a little bit too critical, considering that I didn’t pay a cent to play it.

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