Back to normal business: time for my thoughts on 'Beyond: Two Souls'. As this game was made by the same people that did Heavy Rain, I was reading my review of that in order to make a decent comparison. And it's interesting because, apart from a few detractors, Heavy Rain was genuinely considered a critical and commercial success. Beyond: Two Souls has split the gaming community like crazy, so I did wonder if I would even like it at all. Well, it's certainly the most grandiose and 'Hollywood-like' video game I've ever seen. Just look up its advertising materials and game case art if you want to see what I mean. Plus it has Hans 'Inception-Boom-Music-Guy' Zimmer producing the music, with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe among the lead cast. (The actual music composer is Lorne Balfe, who had also done the soundtrack for Assassin's Creed 3.)
Despite its design and nature though, I'm not sure it'll be a runaway hit like The Last of Us was. Personally, I would say "Beyond" (as people keep referring to it) is my pick for 2013's Game of the Year. The key reason I say this is, well, I've finished the game and I'm still thinking about it and considering its story. When I had finished TLoU I just...shrugged and thought, 'well that was a fun ride' and considered what else to play. If that's my reaction to the end of a game, something went wrong. In the case of both TLoU AND Bioshock Infinite, which was hyped like crazy, the gameplay was just too dull for me to want to pick up the pad again, so I haven't considered their stories any further.
Admittedly, it's not just Beyond's story that makes me want to replay it. One of the things I liked about Heavy Rain and wanted more of, was the behind-the-scenes features that detailed various 'making of' stages. Within the Beyond core game, you can find 'bonuses' that unlock these videos, as well as the test videos that Quantic Dream have created over the years, plus design work.
So, what's the game about? Well, you play as Jodie, while you also control Aiden, a spirit that is bound to her for some reason and is able to perform various tricks and abilities. (I had actually figured out very early in the game who and what Aiden is!) Now these 2 unfortunate souls are caught up in events of other people's making, so you play them through 15 years of Jodie's life, learning to understand what she sees and does, how her life played out and so on. And since this is a David Cage story, of course part of her life involved being a member of the CIA and infiltrating military bases :P. Now the story is very linear and, unlike Heavy Rain, is not meant to be a multiple-choice story with different endings, story length and even slightly different chapters depending on the player's choices. Beyond's chapters have free choice within them of what activities and actions you do, except key ones push the story forward and how the chapter ends might differ, but the story itself basically remains the same. I like this. Also, the chapters in Jodie's life are not chronological, so in 1 chapter you control her as an adult, the next, she's a child again; as you go through the game you see a timeline showing when each chapter takes place. It's a bit confusing at first, but I find it keeps the game in an even mood (if all her adult chapters had been played out in order, I would have been playing 5 hours straight of intense emotion and high-octane action). We also find out why this is in the end, the story is actually being told from Jodie's point of view after it has all happened, so we're going through her life like a person goes through their memories.
What I don't like is the fact that such a linear story can result in 23 different endings. More accurately, a player would need to replay the game and/or the final chapter about 8-11 times to see them all. Why? Just why? It's not necessary and induces extra headaches in those who quest for all the trophies. Each chapter provides 2 different outcomes or key scenes, sometimes 3, so it's not varied enough for people to be willing to play through that many times just to collect all the endings.
Also, I loved the controls of Heavy Rain. They're similar this time around, but a lot more barebones. One of the 'making of' specials revealed that David Cage's thinking was to avoid command prompts on the screen, trying to make the commands and actions of the player more intuitive. I don't like this. It made the game feel like less of a game at times, while during action scenes I started to find the controls counter-intuitive after a while. During an action scene, you're expected to move the control stick in the direction Jodie is moving in. Sometimes I found myself moving the control stick in the direction I would have moved, messing up Jodie's actions in the process and getting her hurt. It's very annoying. There were also times when I legitimately could not tell which direction I should have moved in. I'm also sad that certain parts in the game don't let you play with Aiden, even though I was under the impression I could play as him any time I hit triangle. I also got reminded that Beyond offered no option of listening to Jodie's thoughts, that was one of my favourite things about Heavy Rain.
Technically speaking, the visuals are stunning. I had to giggle when I was re-reading my review of Heavy Rain, when I had stated the graphics were not that impressive. It was only during replays of Heavy Rain that I noticed that, while the graphics weren't that nice overall, the impressive parts came from how natural the trees looked, how life-like the eyes were, how believable it looked to tie a tie. Beyond has no such issues, everything looks stunning and natural...except hair in some parts, but that's a minor quip. I also found it odd that certain things would 'appear' with no action done by Jodie. At one point, she steps out into the snow gloveless, then gloves are magically on her hands. Same with Tuesday, when she gave birth to Zoe; a blanket just magically appears on her. Ruins my immersion quite a bit.
It was a bit unfortunate that the soundtrack was not more memorable, I only remember 3 tracks and like 2 of them. The Heavy Rain soundtrack was much more memorable and well-crafted. Funnily enough, the Heavy Rain composer was meant to have done the soundtrack this time as well, but...he died. Apparently he did accomplish finishing 1 or 2 tracks for the game, but most of it was obviously done by Lorne Balfe, who seemed much more in his element during the Navajo chapter, which is when Jodie is living with a Navajo family (Navajo are a North American indigenous tribe).