I would be a terrible liar if I told you that I don't like quick time events. Some of my favorite games of this generation of hardware (The Walking Dead, Asura's Wrath, Dead Space 2, etc) make liberal use of QTEs. So I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with a title whose gameplay revolves around them; they just need to be done well.
This among many other reasons is why I thought Quantic Dream's infamous Heavy Rain was terrible. Its QTEs were scattered throughout the game randomly, usually having very little correlation with what you were doing, much less whyit was important that you were doing it. Alongside that it had a miserable script, god awful voice actors, and a bullshit plot twist at thend. But thanks to some very interesting parts where the quick time events were actually excellent, Heavy Rain was at least an interesting train wreck.
Fast forward three years later and we have Quantic Dream's next title, Beyond: Two Souls. (I keeping getting this confused with Brother: A Tale of Two Sons for some damnable reason) Beyond which might as well be Heavy Rain 2.0 as it shares a great deal of DNA with its ancestor. Sony and Quantic Dream have been making a big fuss about the involvement of big Hollywood actors and actresses like Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page being on board, but that only made me even more weary of the project as a whole. Hollywood talent hasn't done a lot of great things for the video game industry.
But after playing Beyond: Two Souls, I come away somewhat surprised. Quantic Dream is getting progressively better at their brand of game design. Although it is also clear that they still have a lot of room for improvement.
Beyond: Two Souls follows the story of Jodie Holmes (Played by Ellen Page). Ever since birth Jodie has been studied and controlled by forces behind her control. The reason for this is because of her special relationship with the world after death (Called the "Infraworld" here). Jodie is psychically connected with a supernatural spirit whom she calls Aiden. A mysterious energy ties them together, keeping Aiden from entering the world beyond and Jodie constantly in the company of a mischievous and sometimes murderous entity that she can't entirely control.
The game takes place over many years, jumping nonlinearly between events during Jodie's time as a child, teenager and adult. It's an interesting way to tell a story, but Beyond: Two Souls connects the events between two different events in time poorly. Lacking thematic and visual moments which are normally used to tie a nonlinear story together, it just feels like Quantic Dream just randomly switched up the events of the game for a very unsatisfying reason which is revealed by the end of the game.
Interaction with the world is almost solely through quick time events and context sensitive button presses. During more intense action sequences like hand-to-hand combat, the action slows down when Jodie or an enemy attacks, here the game requires you to push the right analog stick in the direction that Jodie's momentum is traveling. This is new compared to Heavy Rain, and in theory would feel more natural, but I frequently found myself confused as to exactlywhat direction that I had to move in.
In addition, at almost any time you can switch to Aiden, which is actually one of the more enjoyable aspects of Beyond: Two Souls. You can do standard ghost stuff like floating around and moving through walls, and utilize more substantial powers like pushing objects, choking enemies, possessing people, and more. Playing as Aiden is normally very empowering gameplay-wise, something that is practically absent from most of Quantic Dream's previous titles.
Unfortunately this is hampered as randomly you won't be able to move through some walls, with the game sometimes forcing you to go the long way around instead of via easy ghost traversal. Also you don't have a lot of agency in how you choose to use Aiden's abilities. Everything that can be messed with are marked with specific colors which are tied to specific abilities which prevents you from experimenting with all of your abilities. The game gives no story reason for why this is, which is strange for how story focused the game is.
Speaking of story, everything about the telling of it is vastly improved from Heavy Rain. The script is tighter, the dialogue more believable, much better acting, and more endearing characters makes it easier to enjoy Beyond on the story front than Quantic Dream's previous endeavor. But then again, most of all of the above is average or middling in pretty boring ways, and the louder and more action-y the story gets, the worse it is.
What really saves Beyond from being merely forgettable is Ellen Page's performance. While you can tell that she's working with sub-par material, she brings Jodie and her relationship with Aiden alive in constantly compelling ways. There's a particular quiet and human scene in the middle of Beyond that really touched me, which would've fallen completely flat if it weren't for the valiant efforts of Ellen Page. I could only imagine what she could've done with much stronger material. It's a shame then that Willem Dafoe doesn't fair as well. His character, Jodie's father figure, suffers the worst from inconsistencies in demeanor and in his goals and desires, twisted at the end into someone ridiculous and impossible to take seriously.
Visually Beyond is absolutely stunning. The environments have an incredible amount of detail in them, and feel like real places. Though easily the strongest aspect of Beyond's presentation are the character models; they are simply jaw dropping. When the lights were off in my room and I was absorbed into the experience, it got hard from me to tell that they were computer models. Technically Quantic Dream makes a gigantic leap over Heavy Rain with Beyond, hopping completely over the uncanny valley that their previous title frequently inhabited. It's really remarkable stuff. The sound design is pretty uninspired though, and the soundtrack is completely forgettable.
It's incredible frustrating how close Beyond: Two Souls gets to becoming something undeniably great. For every good thing that Quantic Dream does, from introducing Aiden has a theoretically satisfying character to play and finally archiving their goal of conquering the uncanny valley in their presentation, they find some way to trip themselves up, like the weird execution of Aiden's gameplay and a middling script and plot not successfully taking advantage of the game's incredible production values.
Beyond: Two Souls probably would've been something that I played through and have completely forgotten, but thankfully the involvement of Ellen Page gives the game the heart and soul that Quantic Dream has been searching for in over three games now. Her performance made Jodie and Aiden's relationship deeply touching and relatable, which forced me to stay up late at night, excited to see what would come next. If Quantic Dream's next title continues to make improvements and finds someone as powerful and invested as Ellen Page is in Beyond for their next game, then I'll finally be a believer in their signature cinematic game design.
THREE OUT OF FIVE
( A balanced game that has a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, meaning that it alternates between being good and bad in mostly equal measure.)