It's difficult to classify the experience I had with Beyond: Two Souls. The gameplay was nothing more than a fleeting glimpse of prompts and dots as I watched a very long movie. And yet, days later, the story and characters are still with me. Could I even qualify what I had experienced as a game?

Not really.

Beyond is similar to a choose-your-own-adventure book without the choice. What choices there are feel inconsequential and unimportant as the game shoves you violently down the path it wants you to take. Here, gameplay is secondary to the massive amount of cutscenes.

The story follows the life of Jodie Holmes, a woman that is psychically connected to a ghost-like entity named Aiden. The narrative is non-linear and jumps back and forth in time; you'll play as Jodie as an adult one minute and a creepy child the next. The gist of the storyline is what you'd expect from a story featuring a kid with psychic powers out of a Stephen King novel. Jodie and Aiden live happily, for the most part, with her adoptive parents. Except for the incident where Aiden almost choked a neighborhood kid. And the hostile entities that terrorize the young Jodie. Obviously, the nice foster family would prefer a normal life.

Jodie is handed over to the Department of Paranormal Activity, under the supervision of Nathan Dawkins, a researcher. Jodie has the singular misfortune of growing up and facing adolescence with her mischievous ghost companion, the ability to see dead people, and growing up in a lab.

As a young woman, Jodie seems more at ease with her connection with Aiden and the powers that come along with him. It's here that the plot starts to pick up. The DPA developed a device known as a Condenser to link the real world and spirit world, also known as the Infraworld, together. But, of course, something goes wrong and the device releases more of the entities that hurt Jodie as a child. The researchers perish and Nathan begs Jodie to help. She succeeds and earns the attention of the CIA.

It's there, a third into the game, that the gameplay becomes more than flicking the right analog stick and tapping a button for a dialog option. The CIA level acts as a tutorial of sorts for the rest of the game, and it is fun, mostly because you'll be able to use the controller for a change. The "combat" is interesting and fluid and it has some of the best animations in the game. Unfortunately, the controls become more and more dodgy as the game progresses.

Simple actions, such as walking, were difficult. Weather it was due to the animations or the model was getting stuck on the environment, I'm not sure. There was a time when I couldn't even get through a doorway. While hilarious, that isn't something I'd like to deal with in a game that's supposed to be a finished product. There were even instances where my desired dialog choice wouldn't register and I had to tap the button three times before the game would recognize my choice. The button prompts also seem to have little rhyme or reason. At times if feels like it's trying to mimic a puppeteer control system, while other times it seems to want you to use a button because it hasn't been pressed in a while and is feeling a bit lonely.

 

Meanwhile, Aiden controls like a drunk mermaid swimming through jello. As an incorporeal being, he's able to pass through physical objects. Unless the game doesn't want you to, that is. Aiden is also bound to Jodie by a metaphysical tether. This lets the ghost wander pretty freely but he has a limited range. Again, the game isn't consistent with the distance and often it's shorter depending on Jodie's  emotional state. Going out of range results in a high pitched whine and resets you back in Jodie's bounds. Unfortunately, this is also disorientating and frustrating, especially when it keeps resetting you no matter which way to go.

Sadly, the Aiden segments are the only points where you feel like you have some iota of input. He has a few interesting abilities, such as healing and a type of psychometry. He can also possess and kill certain characters. However, the vast majority of characters in the game are immune to this ability.

While the game touts choice as a driving factor, it's rare to feel like you're having an impact at all. Your choices seem meaningless, especially when you just have to fiddle with the analog sticks for a little during a three minute level. Even during longer segments or when you have dialogue options, nothing you seem to do matters.

The most fun I had was during the "Navajo" and "The Mission" segments. These two are somewhat of an anomaly in that you have a lot more freedom of movement and bigger areas to investigate, Navajo especially. During The Mission if I strayed off of the prescribed path, the game would forcibly take control and set me where it wanted me to be. Beyond isn't sure whether it's a game or a movie and it painfully shows.

There are segments that add nothing to the story, that didn't need to be seen, and are an absolute waste of time and resources. I don't need to play a segment where Jodie gets ready for a date in excruciating detail or when she threw a temper tantrum in her teen gothic phase. And I definitely don't need creepy shower scenes, thank you very much.

The amount of effort invested in the animation is very impressive and the game looks great for the most part. There are instances where the textures load after the fact but it quickly rights itself. However, the facial capture tends to veer off and hit every crevice as it plummets into the uncanny valley.

Is Beyond: Two Souls an interesting premise? Certainly. But it's heavily flawed and doesn't thrive in its chosen medium. The quick time events are a semblance of gameplay at best and at worst it manhandles the player should they dare to stray from the narrative. If you're curious, it may be worth a rental. As for me, I'm going to play a game.

 

Final Score - 4/10

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