Warning: Slight spoilers for Beyond: Two Souls are below.
I have a lot of respect for David Cage and the stories he tells. Looking back at my fondest gaming memories, I recall most of them taking place when experiencing his creations. Fahrenheit for example, hit me square in the face. Back then, I had never experienced anything like it; the emotion that game emulated and the journey it took me on still resonates with me even now. Years later, the blockbuster hit Heavy Rain absolutely tore at every bit of my conscious and emotion. It was Fahrenheit on steroids and I loved every bit of it. Taking that into consideration, it would have been ludicrous to assume that with an all-star cast and years of successful storytelling experience, Cage was going to fall short with his latest manifestation, Beyond: Two Souls.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened.
As you scroll down fellow reader, I ask that you proceed with caution, skepticism and an open-mind – after all, if there’s anyone who has defended David Cage in the past for his unique ways of storytelling, it is I. So in saying that, below you will find the 5 core reasons why Beyond: Two Souls simply didn’t take me to infinity … and beyond.
5The lack of choice and consequence
David Cage has, in the past, made his reputation known by providing the responder with an unprecedented amount of choice and consequence, however this is something that is almost non existent in Beyond. Most of the choices we are exposed to during the plot, only seem to affect the current chapter rather than having a memorable influence on the overall arc.
The few major choices and or consequences that I do recall only seemed to have a minor effect on the final stages of the game ie: whether or not Ryan is wearing an eye-patch. As you journey through the game, you will slowly begin to realise that you are walking a very linear journey that not only has all the major story arcs covered, but will only allow you to make minor choices, including how many boys you want to make out with.
4Too many themes
The main reason why I believe Heavy Rain was such a success was because during every chapter you’d encounter, the same theme would greet you: An emotional thriller that continually asks the question: ‘How far will you go to save someone you love?’ If I honestly tried to brand Beyond with a theme, we’d both be here for days. This game experienced aspects of an emotional thriller, horror, action, adventure, drama and romance.
To be honest, as I virtually walk through my local Civic video, I think the only one I’ve missed out on is ‘Adult’ and knowing David Cage, even that’s probably hidden in there somewhere. Beyond really needed Cage to stop trying to be the writer/director he so desperately wants to be and go back to what works: one theme told its entirety. If that could have been done effectively, we will then have achieved a sense of emotional connection.
3The misinterpretation of what makes a greater impact to the responder
What truly upsets me most about Beyond was that the potential for a truly memorable experience was there. During the game, we saw small sparks of vintage David Cage pop up in the most unexpected of places. Simply sitting at home with Jodie and watching her passion and dialogue with Aiden was truly memorable. Listening to her busk with a guitar in her hand was no doubt a humbling experience. And being able to choose whether or not to pack teenage Jodie’s teddy bear when being recruited by the CIA was what allowed me to feel apart of Jodie’s life as opposed to just being a spectator.
Unfortunately these small sparks of brilliance were few and far between, as Cage opted to instead go for big action sequences with the purpose of wowing the responder overtly. Personally, I think too much time was taken with these melodramatic scenes as opposed to the things that really created emotion and connect. Keen to know what really put the icing on the cake for me? Even though I chose to not pack Mr Teddy, he still appeared on my bed at the CIA base chapters later.
2A lacklustre finale
Some may look at the multiple endings in Beyond and state that it covered all bases; I disagree with this notion entirely. If we critically analyse these endings, we will see that we are simply given a choice at the end of the game as to which cut scene we want to see – in addition, these cut scenes are hardly a reflection of our hard work throughout the plot. Did you want Jodie to see what was Beyond? Simply go left and it is yours. Did you want Jodie to live? Simply go right and decide whom you would like to spend the rest your life with – the choice is yours. But where is the engagement? Where is the consequence?
To compare, let us examine Heavy Rain again for a second – If we didn’t pass Ethan Mars’ trials, we would never have found where Shaun was being kept. In contrast, if we did pass them, we were then rewarded with said location and in turn, an ending that corresponded with our gameplay performance. Bar the ‘Jodie dies’ ending which, let’s face it, takes a massive amount of ‘doing nothing’ to achieve in the closing stages, all the endings are already pre-determined – all you need to do is pick one, and regardless of your performance throughout the plot, it’ll play out.
1The lack of true emotional connection
The final and biggest let down for me was the lack of emotional connection I was afforded to share with our main protagonist Jodie. I believe this issue arose when Cage decided to tell his story in a non-sequential manner. For a story to be told like this, two massive factors that foster an emotional connection have been put at risk. The first is that Cage failed to give us ample time to connect with Jodie during different times in her life.
For example: As soon as I began to feel a spark of care for Jodie, my chapter would soon end and I would then be greeted by an action based CIA mission, which had Jodie creep back into her military routine and in turn, her 2D shell. The second is that by first allowing us to play her as a 19-year-old, we all of a sudden feel a sense of disconnect when we later play her as a troubled 6-year-old simply because we know that whatever trials she encounters, she’s going to make it out alive. Therefore by risking these two factors, Cage ultimately eliminates any form of long-term emotional connection with his protagonist.
Beyond: Two Souls tries very hard to be everything all at once. It falls short as an action/adventure game and scrapes through as an emotional thriller. It’s lack of choice and consequence diminishes it’s ability to cement itself as a David Cage gem and it’s lack of true emotional connection is what makes us feel at times further away from Jodie when in fact we should have been invested in her journey from the very beginning.