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Beyond: Two Souls

Yes, David Cage has done it again. Beyond: Two Souls is a game with writing flaws deep enough that it more-or-less gives away its “surprise” ending in the title. It’s essentially about the protagonist’s connection to some supernatural being “Aiden”, who can do stuff like knock things over and open doors.

As far as gimmicks go, this isn’t awful. It’s fun to leave your avatar behind and float around doing tasks as some entity somewhere in space. Along with this floating through space, the story floats through time as it’s explicitly revealed nonchronologically. There’s an actual timeline that pops up and shows you how each chapter of the game fits in after you’ve completed it.

For some reason, supernatural CIA agents need to learn number theory

Because of her supernatural connection, Jodie is by turns a childhood test subject, a CIA agent, and someone on the run from the powers that be. Much of this is quicktime events, but there’s some more traditional gameplay as well. The control situation, while in my opinion nicer than in Heavy Rain, only really shines during one training montage as Jodie transforms from teen with superpowers to CIA agent with more focused powers.

Some of the writing is…questionable. There’s one part where Jodie is on the run from the law, and becomes homeless. It’s pretty rare that a game makes you play as someone homeless, so this could have been an interesting opportunity. Unfortunately the situation instead reads as someone who’s never been homeless preaching to the audience that homelessness is like, totally hard and stuff. We’re in a game! We can have pretty much direct empathy for any character’s situation by playing through the experiences that you want to tell us are challenging.

I definitely wouldn’t care so much about writing quality if Cage and co. didn’t make such a big deal about how much they care about developing characters, producing real emotions, etc. But that’s what I’ve seen, so that’s the context in which the work will be evaluated. The gameplay is fine. The graphics are fine. Even the story…it’s good enough. The writing was desperately oversold, though.

The inclusion of real actors’ likenesses (Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe) is something I have seen too much of in other games. It wasn’t really any more uncanny-valley-esque than any other character designs, but in a situation where it’s so easy to make new characters look like…well, new characters, it’s confusing why the choice was made to import real actors into video-game land instead.

Play it if

You want to experience being an out-of-body entity, being homeless, being a CIA agent, or being frustrated that video game writing is the way it is