BEYOND - Two Souls
In 1970, japanese robotics professor Masahiro Mori introduced the term “uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is an hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which states that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. Beyond: Two Souls unfortunately goes into that “uncanny valley” several times during the game which will cause players to have a hard time relating to certain emotions expressed in the game. Despite great performances of renowned actors such as Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, and an excellent performance of Quantic Dream’s studio in going beyond what was expected to be the visual limitations of the hardware in Sony’s aging machine, the game may leave players with mixed feelings about the whole experience, mostly due to the way in which they interact with the game.
David Cage, CEO, Writer and Creative Director of Quantic Dream, has a very specific vision when it comes to storytelling in videogames. We’ve seen a lot of his work in games as Omikron, Fahrenheit and, most recently, in the 2010 game Heavy Rain. So when Two Souls was announced, I knew I could expect a great plot with charismatic characters and a cinematic adventure. The game certainly delivered in all of those expectations, the problem arrived when the very thing that made characters realistic also was the very same thing that made them look like puppets. Despite some incredible similarities between the characters and their real-life counterparts, there are visual elements, as the facial expressions, that will pull us away from the immersion that the game is trying to achieve. Sometimes, in certain conditions, it works in an acceptable way, but most of the times it fails. And for a game that tries this hard to be real in every way it can, this is a problem.
On the other hand, there is much more to this game than just visuals. The plot is great to keep up with even if at times it seems disjointed as a result of the story being told in non-sequential sections that will constantly lead us back and forth in time. The story follows 15 years in the life of Jodie, the lead character, where we will watch her grow from her childhood to her adolescence, stolen by the government, and into a young woman, who has to make hard choices and live with their consequences. What’s special about Jodie is that she is linked to a spirit called Aiden which allows her to have contact with the dead, and grants her protection and special abilities.
Although there is a very interesting story to follow, and that by the end of it you will have developed an emotional bond with the protagonist, there are a lot of fake choices that will make this a very linear game with not enough realtime gameplay to suit most players. Actions will mostly rely on pushing the right button at the right time leaving no choice to the player on how to approach the situations. You will however get to do plenty of boring actions that could have been left in a cutscene, because the choices that matter cannot be made anyway, until the end. There is a profoundly dramatic story in the plot of this game but the player may end up feeling that he’s only there to connect the dots. Of course there is a great deal of difficulty into making a cinematic experience in video games, when it comes to the players interaction with the virtual environments. For this to happen, things have to happen in a certain way at a certain time, so compromises have to be made.
At the end of the day, this is not a problem if you accept the limitations in exchange for other things the game has to offer. Most of all, we have to understand that these limitations are probably the only way a game like this can exist in its current shape and form. Its not easy to judge a game like this because it comes down to how decided you are to have a certain type of experience. The 2 player mode in which one player controls Jodie and the other controls Aiden, doesn’t bring enough to the table to become relevant, and will soon seem be no more than a means to share repetitive and dull actions with someone else. If you can overlook the rough edges of the game you will find that all the hard work that Quantic Dream invested in the game can pay off with an engaging story. Just be aware that outstanding graphics may lead you into the game at first, but suspension of disbelief only goes as far as the technology that supports it, and if you are not a fan of adventure games you may end up disappointed.