Stranger Things is undoubtedly one of the hottest TV series from last year. Stranger Things deals with a girl who is raised by a father like figure who wants to use her psychic powers to open a portal to the other side. They train her at a secret military base from the age of a young girl, where she does various experiments to harness and gain control over her abilities. The government then uses her for secret military operations such as spying on other nations’ leaders. She runs away from the government; they pursue her relentlessly throughout the series. By her opening the portal to the other side, unseen spirits begin crossing over, some too powerful to stop. She is the only one who can stop them.
Beyond Two Souls is a game from 2013 in which you play as a young girl raised by a father like figure who wants to use your psychic powers to open a portal to the other side. You are trained at a secret military base to learn to better control your powers. The government forces you to use your powers to spy on other nations or perform military tasks. You run away, and the government pursues you throughout the game. Once again, the portal causes unseen spirits to cross over, and only you can stop them. The similarities do not stop there either. The fate of both girls’ mothers is also eerily similar. There are numerous other scenes that also run parallel to each other.
Why then, for sharing such a similar plot, was Stranger Things such a huge success, while Beyond Two Souls has been reviewed by other gaming sites as being “lackluster”? I believe the answer to that question lies in what people expect a video game to be, versus what one expects when watching a movie or TV show. We “play” games, and we “watch” movies and TV shows (or that’s what most people believe).
Beyond Two Souls is made by Quantic Dream, makers of similar games such as Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy and the upcoming Detroit: Become Human. The style of these games is more like Telltale’s series of games, games which present themselves as “Interactive Movies”. They are strong on narrative and full of interesting characters, but require little interaction from the person holding the controller.
Most of the action in Beyond Two Souls comes in the form of Quick Time Events (QTE). These events require you to press a button or series of buttons at certain times while watching the movie. The game also asks you to make certain dialog choices throughout the game.
The choices you make determine which scenes of the movie you will get to see, and which one of the 24 different endings you will reach in the game. Your choices not only affect your life, but the lives or deaths of many other characters. There are basically 8 totally unique endings, and from there, the remaining 16 are variations of those 8 depending on who has lived or died as a result of your decisions.
So Beyond Two Souls is basically like playing an interactive movie… In this case, almost exactly like playing an interactive version of the hit TV series “Stranger Things”.
Sony described Beyond Two Souls as an “Emotionally Moving” game… and that it is… If you don’t cry, or at least feel your eyes water up at least once in this game, you have no heart. All of the characters are extremely likable and complex. You can also expect a few scares along the way too since, like Stranger Things, it deals deeply with the paranormal.
Writing has improved dramatically from Heavy Rain. I liked Heavy Rain, but it was short and full of plot holes. Like why was he having those black outs, and where was he going or what was he doing when he had them?! It spent 3/4ths of the game building on that plot device, just to completely cast it off and never explain it to the audience at the end. That is not the case with Beyond Two Souls. It left me with very few to no questions in the end. The plot made sense. It was also much longer and the characters therefore had more time to develop and let the audience become attached.
There were some endings that were weaker than others. It seems like the most satisfying endings to me were Ryan’s, Alone, or Zoey’s. The Navajo endings run much shorter and feel more as if tacked on as an after thought. Note: I have not yet completed all of the endings. I think I’m around 6 out of the 8 “unique” ones so far.
A single playthrough took me about 3 days of playing 5-8 hours a day, for a total somewhere between 15 to 24 hours for one play through. My main gripe was that you could not save your own game. It only saves at the end of a chapter, and always in the same slot, overwriting any previous saves. After the epilogue you can then jump into the game again from any one of these chapters. You can choose to play them without saving at all (which I don’t think will help you get new endings probably, but may be useful in getting bonus content or trophies). Or you can choose to save the game and then must continue the grind from the chapter you have selected. There’s no way to skip or fast forward dialog you’ve already watched, at least none that I noticed.
Anyways, the basic concept in Beyond Two Souls is that ever since you were a child you’ve been “connected” to someone on the other side. You can switch in and out of his conscious. He can use his powers to help you sneak around, unlock doors, distract NPCs. His powers even allow you to possess, control, or kill NPCs as well.
Under settings you can set up the game in two player mode. Player 1 controls the girl, and Player 2 controls the connected spirit. I didn’t have anyone to play with to test this feature. I just played the game on single player. You can also adjust difficulty settings. Since cared more for the story, I “lied” and told the game that I had never played a video game before, or play them rarely. That’s the weirdest wording I’ve seen for “Easy or Normal difficulty” lol. If you tell it that you play video games often, you’ll be playing on a much higher difficulty giving you less time to complete the QTE (Quick Time Events) and less time to respond to dialog prompts.
The story of the game jumps around quite a bit. One moment you may be an elementary school aged little girl, and the next a grown woman, and then a teen, and back to a little girl again.
Despite the “Pieces and Parts” feeling of the story, the writing and character development are so strong and emotionally moving just as Sony themselves claim. I was overcome with joy and moved to tears in a scene where I helped another woman deliver her baby. I was torn with anger and love towards the main “Canon” romance route. It brought closer to him through tragic events that we both shared leading me towards compassion and forgiveness. (My choice. You can also choose not to forgive him too). Although I chose to love him, it filled with sadness and regret for another man who I had once loved and had promised to return to in a younger flashback. My choice made me sad for his loneliness and isolation. I was even led to feel sympathy for my enemy, and pity for those who sought to use the portals and spirits for their own gain. At every step of the way, my emotions experienced one extreme to the next.
Like a movie, it also relies on visuals to help tell the story. The graphics were quite good for the PS3. My favorite thing about the graphics were the characters’ range of facial expressions. 3D games often struggle with this, leaving characters feeling stiff or unnatural. In Beyond Two Souls, the characters faces are capable of showing very human like emotion, you can see their eyes become “moist” as they fight back tears, you can see their brows furrow with worry, you can see how tired and exhausted they are, lonely, scared, etc. Things that are important for endearing the characters to us, and making us experience their joys and pains.
The voice acting is also of excellent caliber. This is not an “anime” game. (Nothing wrong with anime games, I’m a huge fan of them.) The acting here is much more like that in a big budget Hollywood movie. It is more “natural” “raw” and “real”. These characters feel like real people. Their emotions feel so real. This too is important in a game that’s only strength is its story telling power. The soundtrack also mimics that of a Hollywood film using a large scale orchestra adding to the suspense and drama.
Sony by and large has always been the console home for games with a strong narrative. Beyond Two Souls excels at this. It creates an experience that pulls the viewer into the strange, suspenseful, and at times gut wrenching story. However, that is about all that it is, an interactive story. If you are put off by these types of interactive fiction “games”, such as Heavy Rain, Telltale’s Games, Life is Strange, D4, or countless “anime” visual novels, then you will not enjoy this game. I think this is perhaps the reason for some negative reviews out there… If however, you are the type who actually enjoys these types of games (which I happen to fall into that category myself), then you will absolutely love this game.
It’s a game that is not for everyone; but if you go into it knowing what to expect, and don’t mind minimal gameplay or lack of a challenge, then you will be rewarded with a truly beautiful story and delightful cast of characters.