Community Review: Beyond: Two Souls

Community Review: Beyond: Two Souls

Nothing warms my heart more than a video game that attracts legitimate mixed reactions. There are people who are really enjoying Beyond: Two Souls, but there are people who absolutely hate it. We’re talking actual hate here. People who think this game should not exist.

I wish to state for the record that I liked Heavy Rain. I think I enjoyed talking about Heavy Rain more than I enjoyed playing it, but as far as I’m concerned that’s part of the ‘experience’ of media in general: sharing it with others. If anything David Cage’s games start a conversation because they demand to be talked about. Good or bad.

And this is why I’m talking about Beyond: Two Souls right now — conversation.

What did you think of the game? My brother in-law/Kotaku cohort Ben White has been playing it in tandem with his (largely) non-gaming wife. She controls Aiden, he controls Jodie Holmes. I find that quite interesting. Quite cool actually.

Anyone else doing that? And what do you think about the game in general?


  • The anachronic way the story is told saps it of much of the emotional impact it otherwise would have had. There were many times throughout the story that would have felt extremely tense, were it not for the fact that I already knew the general outcome. Eventually, towards the end of the game, things fall into more of a chronological order, and things start getting much more tense during this time. It’s actually a bit disappointing, because you get to see the game really shining, and you get the sense that the entire game could have been like that if not for that one poor choice in how the narrative would be told.

    Gameplay wise it’s stripped down to a bare minimum. Not only does it feel like it has less interaction than Heavy Rain (I’m not sure if it actually does) but the interaction you do have just doesn’t feel as intense as Heavy Rain, or even other adventure games/interactive movie games like The Walking Dead. In a fight scene in Heavy Rain you’d be madly mashing away at buttons, knowing that if you stuff up it could spell the end. In Beyond, you’re sort of just lazily nudging the thumbstick, and there’s very little sense of danger (which in part comes from how to story is structured). Playing as Aiden can be fun, if only because it allows you to move around and explore the world at more than a slow walk, but can also be incredibly frustrating in that the way you can interact with the world changes from one instance to the next. If Jodie’s being attacked by armed men, why can’t I murder stangle them, or possess them? Why do I only get access to those sorts of abilities at set moments in the story? I get that it’s a very cinematic game, but a little more freedom to approach certain situations and have them play out differently would have been very welcome.

    It’s a good game, but you get the sense while playing it that, but for a few scattered moments, it never lives up to its full potential. It could have been great, but it just doesn’t quite get there.

    • Well written! So far it echoes some of my thoughts. However I haven’t finished it yet so I’ll reserve my final judgement for later.

      I must say though, I think the anachronic structure was almost required, in so much that if it wasn’t implemented, the whole thing would have seemed far too linear. At least this way it has an element of Pulp Fiction like intrigue.

    • I haven’t played it, but I just wanted to agree how much anachronic structures so often rob stories of tension. It can be a great plot device when the power of the story is in HOW they reached point B from point A, where it’s about the journey or where the critical plot point is actually in between and you want that to be the climax, not the actual end of the journey. It’s too often done really badly, though, more for the sake of doing something out of the box than anything else.

  • im sick of these developers with their heads up their asses
    make a cg movie, if all youre taking all immersive interaction out of a game

    • So because you don’t like ‘interactive fiction’ style games, nobody should make that kind of game? What a childish attitude.

  • I enjoyed it. Finished it in two nights of playing. But the story was pants on head retarded and the dialogue was cringe inducing. But it looks fantastic and “shot” really well.

    Think Man of Steel. Great fun as long as you don’t think to hard about any of it.

        • But, but, but… WHY?!

          I’m digging it so far. Taking my time with it though as I see no point in rushing it. I feel like I missed a few bits though so it’ll require a replay of some chapters.

        • Fuck’s sake, @joeb666 – DC loved the game and posted about it solidly for weeks, and was disappointed by lack of enthusiasm from Kotaku’ers, which is the reason for not posting.

          Way to assign negativity to absolutely innocuous comments and develop a victim complex.

        • tee hee hee, this game all over the net has generated the funniest reviews i’ve ever read and have enjoyed their readings more than i have falling asleep on the couch with a controller in my hand. I could have slugged my way through it if it was a good movie but its not, its not a good movie, it’s not an average movie, it’s … it’s … ya know what?
          “I plan to never speak of this game again” – @dc

  • I think I unfortunately fall into the “hate” bracket. I’m not having the worst time playing it because the pacing and structure ensures that it move along at a hectic clip but if we’re being objectively honest; it’s garbage. You rarely see this kind of ignorance towards story but I’m glad this example stands here before us as a sobering reminder of the follies of believing your own hype. I think David Cage has proven time and time again that he has a vapid and fleeting understanding of story. He constantly builds scenarios that almost or completely destroy the story and commits some of the worst writing offences imaginable.

    I mean EVERYTHING is a trope or a cliche that has been lifted entirely from other stories and inserted into this one. It’s like he never asked the question of “why” do his characters do, say and think the things they do? If you ask that question while you’re playing the game, it immediately breaks. Why do all the characters fit neatly into good guy/bad guy stereotypes? Your dad displays an almost psychopathic level of hatred and US government officials even use words like “conquer” in their megalomaniacal speeches (to which, the rest of the government applauds). The dialogue is so damn awful and it’s clear Cage hasn’t learnt a thing since the incredible pet bird death scene from Heavy Rain. Each emotional or dramatic encounter is handled with the same level of idiocy, almost as if there’s some kind of preventative barrier that keeps David Cage well above the surface in his writing. Characters even take dramatic turns that are justified with lines like; “he’s gone crazy”.

    I really don’t know if there’s enough time in the day to actually list all of the idiotic problems associated with the story but in the end, I can just say that I feel as if it was one of the most incompetently written stories I have ever encountered. Gameplay is barely there and obviously struggles alongside something like The Walking Dead which is a far superior adventure experience. If anything, it truly proves how well-crafted and written TWD really is. Drama in TWD comes from a difficult decision that will change how someone thinks of you. Drama in TWD is the choice between honesty and a lie, between the individual and the greater good. Drama in Beyond is a baby being born, is death and hatred. An overly simplistic view of what “story” and most importantly “people” really are. When you want someone to be engaged for 10 or so hours and barely play anything, this is the stuff you need to get right but as it stands; it’s just insulting to the intelligence.

    • I’ve said it before, Cage is a fantastic director and cinematographer but someone needs to take the pen out of his hand.

  • ****Spoilers****

    I gave this game a chance but in the end I really didn’t like it, but not for the reasons most people dislike it. The world of beyond two souls is ugly everyone you come into contact with is abusive in one form or another. I understand the game is trying to give you choices between taking the high ground or fighting back, but when you are being burned with cigarettes by someone you literally just met for no reason, I find myself asking where is the murky moral middle ground that features in so many of todays titles? Was I really facing a moral challenge? Can you take the high road with psychotic behaviour? This scene was later repeated during a snowball fight where another child decides to rub snow in your face for participating in a snowball fight.
    I knew by default that I would end up being attacked for playing with the other children because that’s how predictable and emotive the story is. So after throwing a snowball or two around I’m immediately set upon by one of the children. He holds snow over Jodie’s nose and mouth but not just briefly, he holds it there long enough to kill her. Once again I’m left saying where’s the moral test here? Only a pacifist of the extreme kind is not going to respond to this kind of psychotic behaviour. Walk down the street with groceries, get attacked, Fend off attackers, attackers burn a building down, people flee burning building with newborn baby in arms, attackers confront the group with guns and bats.
    Once again psychotic behaviour becomes commonplace making me wonder how a person could live in the world of Beyond Two Souls without being raped, mugged or murdered every 10 seconds.
    I was willing to overlook crappy movement and camera mechanics but only if the story could hold the weight. Unfortunately BTS character interactions are downright weird.

    1/10 from me (1 point for Willem Dafoe being in the game)

  • Like Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, I really enjoyed this game. I knew when I started playing that reviews had been varied, and if you take a look at Metacritic or Game Rankings it’s clear that this game has had a more varied reaction than any other game in recent memory. Usually when you look at review arrogate websites, you can see a general consensus. Beyond Two Souls has no such consensus; love, hatred and everything in between is represented in the scores and reviews. It’s evident that the game is going to divide people more so than most. While I knew how the game was scoring amongst reviewers before I played it, I deliberately avoided reading any review in detail. You never want someone else’s opinion of a work tainting your experience of it. I’ve found that if someone mentions to me that a particular film I’m about to see has say a plot hole, I spend a good chuck of the film looking for that plot hole, and that kind of prejudice only works to diminish your experience. So having read a lot (and I mean a lot) of reviews after finishing the game, I wanted to figure out why Beyond was evoking such a varied response, and I think I’ve worked it out.

    Within a game there are certain individual elements you look to grade. Ease of control, variety of gameplay, graphics, soundtrack, replayability,etc. These are the mechanics of the game; technical aspects which in most cases people can reach a consensus about. It’s an easy consensus that Arkham City has a great intuitive control scheme, The Witcher 2 has stunning graphics, Journey has a magnificent soundtrack. What’s harder to grade are things like narrative, character arcs, the ability of a game to get the player emotionally invested in the characters and their individual circumstances. I don’t think it’s something that all game reviews are generally taking into account. Some are though, and that brings me back to my original question; why has Beyond generated such varied reactions?

    Imagine a spectrum. On one end people prioritise the technical achievements of a game, and on the other they prioritise the narrative, characters and emotional investment in the game. Beyond Two Souls has flawed gameplay and control schemes; I don’t think anyone can really defend the contrary. As much as I enjoyed the game, I did yell at the screen once “There are possessed dead people… Walk FASTER!”, among other things. However, you’re overall opinion of the game is going to come down to whether or not you can overcome those shortcomings, become invested in the story and allow yourself to just go with it. Most if not all the positive reviews I’ve read mention the flawed aspects of Beyond, and they score it highly in-spite of those flaws. It’s not that those flaws don’t matter, but at least for those reviewers (and me) those flaws don’t significantly detract from what is a great narrative with great characters.

    Right before I played Beyond Two Souls, I had finished GTA V; two more different games you really couldn’t pick. GTA V is an amazing game without doubt, however when the end credits rolled I found that I felt unsatisfied. I had enjoyed the game, the chases, heists, having Trevor snipe FIB agents while wearing women’s underwear (!!!), but at the end of the game I didn’t feel as if I had achieved much with the three main characters. Other than having truckloads of cash, they really hadn’t changed; there were no real convincing character arcs. When the credits rolled on Beyond Two Souls, I did feel satisfied. I felt as if this character I had followed had grown, developed and matured. There was a clear character arc laid out before me and I got that feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction that I had missed in GTA V. That’s not to say Beyond is a better game than GTA (put down your torches), but in terms of that emotional investment and sense of satisfaction that I want to get from a game, it did provide it for me when GTA didn’t.

    If you can accept the fact that Beyond Two Souls isn’t like Call of Duty, God of War, Final Fantasy or any other kind of traditional genre of game, if you can leave your expectations and prejudices at the door and approach it just as something to be experienced, good or bad, you’re going to have a better time. Where you sit on that spectrum of technical mastery vs emotional experience decides whether you love or can’t stand this game. It’s not for everybody and games like this really do run the risk of being abject failures because they are so contrary to our expectations. That being said, having your expectations challenged is often one of the most rewarding and satisfying experiences you can have, at least in my view.

  • I think this article is *way* off-base: “There are people who are really enjoying Beyond: Two Souls, but there are people who absolutely hate it. We’re talking actual hate here. People who think this game should not exist.”

    On meta critic, the ratings are 4:1 positive. The haters are in the minority. And, of the written reviews, about 3/5 give it 10/10. So 3/4 of people love it or like it a lot. 1/4 of people hate it. To speak frankly (and a little insultingly), I think that people who do not appreciate this game are missing something essential to their humanity. It seems to me that, based on the writing style of the haters (and I do believe they have some commonalities), they are more hateful people, in general.

    Your mileage may vary, but for me, the game is transcendent.

    It transcends both video games and movies to become something greater than either medium would ever be by themselves. I’m an avid gamer (I have 400+ Steam games, 400+ iOS games, and 100+ console games). Yet–to speak for myself–*I* found this game far more moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, and entertaining than many other games (including Super Mario Galaxy 1-2, Grand Theft Auto 4-5, The Last of Us, and others).

    I can only compare it to Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or the Metal Gear Solid series: deep rich stories that have themes and messages that convey something of lasting meaning; something beyond the mindless (but fun) shooting and platforming of other titles.

    I will remember this game for years to come. There are few works of fiction of any medium for which I can say the same.

    If you like a rich deep story line and don’t care about a lack of “agency” (it’s always illusory in video games, anyway–there are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play), then this is *the* game of the seventh generation. The comparably minor errors in execution and direction can be ignored, when viewed in light of the whole.

    Indeed, the question of whether this qualifies as a game is, like Dear Ester, a largely irrelevant and pedantic: It entertains. It provokes thought. It is emotionally moving. And it illustrates that games–like cinema or literature–can be taken seriously as a medium to both entertain and enlighten.

    It seems to me that most reviewers of this game have profoundly and tragically missed the point.

    I’ve tentatively come to the conclusion that most people who dislike Beyond do so because they cannot (or will not) accept the game on its own terms: They have certain expectations of video games, and deviation from well-established norms vexes them. So, for instance, they demand interactivity, even when accepting passivity allows a far more compelling and moving narrative.

    In contrast, other people are more flexible (with regards to their expectations of the medium). For instance, the “passivity” of playing Beyond did not bother me in the slightest. I knew what I was getting into, and I knew it was worth the tradeoff: there has been only one other title in forty years of gaming history that provides an experience comparable to Beyond: Two Souls, and it was released three years ago (Heavy Rain). You don’t go into a first person shooter expecting an intelligent story (generally). The story provides nothing more than a rationale for the gameplay. Likewise, here, the gameplay is a supportive structure for the narrative.

    I believe that many reviewers, given their larger than average exposure to the medium are even less tolerant that other players of certain deviations from gameplay norms. This, I think, explains the large divergence of opinions on metacritic, and the (to me) inconceivably low average the game currently has (a mere 73 for the professionals, and 78 for gamers).

    Like the criticism that the game strips the player of freedom/agency, I do not think the others have merit:

    I consider the script to be impeccable. I have noticed no plot holes, and very few problems with the dialogue. It is telling that David Cage took a year of 12-14-hour days to write it and that it is 2000 pages in length.

    I consider Page’s acting to be truly and deeply awe-inspiring. I cannot praise her highly enough. She memorized 30-40 pages of dialogue each day. She had very little time to prepare and rehearse. She often had to juggle different emotional responses to the situations (e.g., playing the part one way in a scene and playing it another way in the same scene). Yet, despite these challenges, her acting is consistently of the highest professional quality. I have noticed no flaws in her performance; it is (along with William Dafoe’s performance) very much in keeping with her Academy Award for Best Actress. I consider her to be the most talented actress I’ve seen.

    I also think that the myriad ad hominem attacks against David Cage seem entirely unwarranted. He does not try to impose his views on others. Rather, he is merely passionate, has a vision he believes in, and is outspoken in his beliefs. He believes that gaming can, like cinema or literature, change the world (or try to). This is not arrogant; it is noble.

    Moreover, the game has other strengths that seem to be overlooked by many:

    – The social commentary is entirely warranted, and appropriately biting.
    – The graphical quality of the game is the best of any on a console.
    – The story is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. The narrative was very easy for me to follow, despite the non-chronological presentation.
    – There is a wide range of different locales and gameplay dynamics employed.

    To put it succinctly (and a little melodramatically):

    For me, the game is both a reminder and illustration of the many challenges and the triumphs, the sadnesses and joys that life has to offer. For me, it’s life affirming, and I consider it deep, rich and meaningful. There are almost no other games (and few movies and books, for that matter) for which I can say the same.

    Take a chance: play this game.

    • Just because someone disagrees with you, doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Nor does it mean that you’re right, either.

    • You’ve managed to alienate a heap of people here by passive aggressively bitching about them to the point that most that read this won’t try this game solely because of you.

      Good work.

    • though i enjoyed the experience, it wasnt without its many flaws…

      but man you really did get all the feels… your experience sounds like it was quite unique… personally however i dont recall getting a lap-dance by david cage whilst playing it…

      • i dunno, did you see Juno?

        i made a joke because it’s easy to make jokes about it, but i actually really liked juno but i just wanted to fit in 🙁

        • I didn’t mind Juno, and she did get a nomination for the film, it’s the “very much in keeping with her Academy Award for Best Actress” comment I’m querying.

    • You know what I consider deep, rich, and meaningful?
      Mars Bar cake.
      Doesn’t mean it’s flawless, though.

        • Is that the newish ice cream they introduced? They’re damn delicious. Actually the Snickers ones are the best. Pure bliss every mouthful!

          • Nah, a home-made recipe Mum used to make which involved cocoa-pops, mars bars, and dark chocolate, in a layered slice of pure deliciousness. Apparently out of a New Idea or Woman’s Day magazine that ran several times.

          • Dude, you had a deprived childhood if you don’t know Mars Bar Slice! 😮

            Man I could sure go some right now.

    • You might be a wee bit obsessive about this, unless you really are David Cage in which case you need to stop astroturfing.

      A lot of people who would hate this game are simply not playing it and so are not reviewing it. This is a game where, honestly, you know what you’re getting before you get it. People who didn’t like Heavy Rain or didn’t like the sound of Heavy Rain aren’t having a bar of this. Looking at the number of fan reviews is misleading. This isn’t like a Call of Duty where millions of people will buy it because they like FPSes or they like the series, and then find out if they like it or not.

      Obviously it is exactly the kind of thing you like. Good for you. For others this is not what they want in a gaming experience, or it is but they think the story and characters are paper thin. That’s their opinion. Pretending that this is a game everyone should like is hilariously wrong.

  • I fall under the category of having loved the game.

    Much of the hatred comes from how little gameplay there is, if anybody was truly excited for the game like I was and loved Heavy Rain, you should have known what the gameplay would be like. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.
    There is also hatred for how the story is told, I think it was brilliant and engaging. If you got to the same ending as I did, the way the story was told fully made sense. Finding out about how Jodie and Aiden are connected and how important the 2 are to each other really made me feel for the characters. It created an unreal journey. If people really paid attention, they might of actually understood the problems they had.

    I think too many people are looking to compare it to other games, sure that it plausible but you need to take in the game on its own. Don’t compare it to Heavy Rain or The Walking Dead. Judge it fully on the game itself.

    The visuals and sound were better than anything else I’ve seen or heard on PS3 (actually probably tied with The Last of Us), the acting from Ellen Page was oscar worthy and she really deserves far more credit for her performance, which I think is overshadowed by peoples perception of the game. I enjoyed the story, the gameplay kept me focused and honestly, while not perfect I definitely see this game as a 9/10 minimum and would give it a 9.5/10.

    I look forward to Cage’s next game, whether he writes it or not. The guy is an artist and I love his work.

  • I absolutely enjoyed this game. The acting was perfect. The story was perfect and is probably the second best game this gen (After GTA 5) I really hope for a sequel.

    The only thing I didn’t like was the game being out of order. The game would of been more tense without that in it.

  • I also loved this game.

    I enjoyed the presentation, the superb score (hints of Inception, same composer), the idea of working alongside a partner that you don’t really understand well (Aiden), the guilt in Jodie’s personality not exactly knowing why, the ruthlessness with which she ends up behaving, in stark contrast with her conflicts at her early career…

    It could have been improved. I got the feeling that the narrative and story could have been conveyed differently, without the game taking me by the hand at every single step.

    —Caution: SPOILERS follow—

    – When playing as Aiden, you pretty much are told what to do, when to use Aiden, which object to use and how to use it. It would have been more satisfactory to have let the player investigate what objects / actions would work for a certain situation, instead of labeling them with a blue dot every time.
    – Also, when encountering enemies, you get accustomed to switching to Aiden every single time, checking whether you can strangle or possess someone in advance, and moving on. Why does the game force me to only kill this or that specific enemy? I understand you cannot give infinite power to such an entity as Aiden, as the game would be pointless. But it leaves no sense of accomplishment if you are instructed what to do at ever step.

    How to fix this?

    Change the dynamics.

    Make Jodie suffer when controlling Aiden (this is even hinted at early stages) so that you have to limit your usage of your special ability. With limited time for Aiden-play, you can now give full freedom to the player on how to approach every situation. Strangle an enemy surrounded by mates? You will alert them. Proceed carefully and you’ll succeed is the key to the MGS series, it could have been used here.

    Of course, for the sake of the story, you cannot die, so it is hard to punish Jodie for her wrong decisions. But you could punish the player himself by forcing him to skip the gameplay! If you mess up at the very start of the “Mission” infiltration chapter, you get surrounded by enemies, a chopper comes and picks you up, you fail in your mission… and the player misses a good hour of superb story and gameplay. You miss motivation and character building for other decisions ahead, you force the player to behave with caution by threatening to remove future experiences from him.

    I believe this mechanic could have worked better.


    But even with these objections, I believe this is one of the first next-gen videogames.

    We are not playing a game in the usual way anymore, advancing from chapter to chapter in a story when you are able to master certain button-pressing or puzzle solving.

    We are building a story ourselves, choosing along the way how we want it to unfold, and witnessing the consequences of our acts. Mass Effect also does this, you can skip great chunks of story if you wish… and it’ll just be your very personal experience.

    You need to play “Beyond: Two Souls” to see if you enjoy the story you build. I very much loved the one I built.

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