Beyond: Two Souls is like a Bond game action scene in slow motion. It has vehicles, a cool underwater base infiltration scene, and you get to save the world from the bad guys. But rather than a playboy with an ever-ready quip, you play an emotionally damaged woman with a unique ability who simply yearns for a normal life. There’s also no penalty for idling (usually) mid-action scene, and seemingly no penalty for doing a terrible job. Best of all, you get guard-railed opportunities to ride a horse, drive a motorcycle, and pilot a submarine.
The plot is similar to Stranger Things, except the protagonist has no friends. Her entire childhood is monitored by a secret government agency, and she’s later forced to become an operative of the CIA, where standard spy plots ensue. She carries out orders that cause her internal conflict, and she becomes a fugitive. While on the run, she deals with homelessness, delivers a stranger’s baby, goes into a coma, and helps out as a ranch hand. But her past catches up with her and she’s forced to confront it. In a parallel to Jodie’s experiences, much like in Stranger Things, the government is carrying on side projects to harness the power of the other side, entities come through the opened rifts, and it’s up to Jodie to clean up their messes.
Each of the main characters is caught up in circumstances and ambitions beyond their own, just doing the next thing they can, trodding the familiar paths of betrayal, reversals, and redemption. This provides ample opportunity for ethical quandaries and tough choices. As the player, you get to experience all the flavors of life: homelessness, a fugitive on the run, an operative in a war-torn hot zone, an awkward teenager, an awkward date, all of which is tempered by opportunities for wardrobe management and real home cooking.
The context controls were fairly well done.
The right stick was used to interact with the world as Jodie, while the L1 + both sticks were used as Aiden, which was only really used for plot devices where Jodie needed a helping telekinetic hand or a timely possession or strangulation. As Jodie, stick actions would appear as a white circle, but wouldn’t provide a direction; direction was assumed based on screen positioning: if the circle was to the left of the character, you move the stick to the left. This became intuitive very quickly.
During action scenes, the right stick was used to keep the player engaged by giving them a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ direction to move. The first time this mechanic is introduced, I beaned myself multiple times and was still told “Good job.” The motion direction control was especially confusing during scenes with weapon-wielding opponents. There didn’t seem to be any penalty for being bad at this mechanic, which is good, because I was really bad at it.
Other buttons were used less often, and always seemed awkward. Generally the R/L buttons corresponded to a limb, with R2/L2 as legs and R1/L1 as arms. Cross was used for grabs or to focus on a scene. Circle, triangle, and square didn’t see much action.
The camera does a decent job helping you out when you get off track, but the lack of real control would occasionally make me feel like I was fighting against it, especially in high-adrenaline scenes where I couldn’t turn around to see the rest of the room.
Absurdity you can’t get from a movie or book
There are moments I forgot I was playing a game, and others where the idle loop was so absurd that thinking about it in a real life situation made me laugh out loud: crying continuously while packing for the CIA with everyone standing outside the door staring into space; stalling in the wine glass clinking scene while the characters smiled, then didn’t smile, then smiled wider, then smiled normally, etc.; endlessly adding curry powder to the curry chicken (choke on that, Ryan). Characters are also rather accepting of things falling down on their own.
Beyond: Two Souls is a good game, but I probably wouldn’t play it again, just due to the time commitment. I only felt impatient a few times, mostly during The Mission, when I thought I was almost done, and then I had to do yet more stealthing to get to yet another building, then the game froze as I got to the end of the second segment and I had to repeat the whole thing. The end scene was dripping with post-apocalyptic juices and left the game wide open for a sequel.