This console generation has largely been typified by a procession of remakes and remasters rather than new ideas. One could say that apart from a few stellar titles, PlayStation and Microsoft have frequently looked to the past to bolster their libraries, rather than looking to the future and harnessing the true power of their machines. While the allure of the remaster for those who have missed a title in previous generations makes sense, there is nonetheless far too many games whose corpses are barely cold that are getting the remaster treatment. Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls is one such title. The brainchild of auteur David Cage (of Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit fame), B:TS launched near the end of the PS3’s lengthy lifecycle barely two years ago. Despite the fact the game is hardly ancient, Sony have released a remastered version of the game for PS4. However, where good remasters will feature vast visual upgrades and gameplay additions that might make the purchase worthwhile for those who have already experienced the game, the B:TS remaster contains few meaningful additions and feels more or less like the exact same flawed yet enjoyable experience I had two years ago.
Tilt thumbstick to play with dolls
Aiden: Full-time entity, part-time ice sculptor
B:TS is an action-adventure game that follows the story of Jodie Holmes, played admirably by Ellen Paige. Jodie would be just like your average girl except for the fact that she was born tethered to a mysterious ghostly entity named Aiden. Throughout her life, Jodie struggles under the weight of her link to Aiden and his world, because despite the power it grants her, her relationship with Aiden alienates her from those around her and makes her a target for those who want to manipulate her gift to their own end. The player controls both Jodie and Aiden as they experience fragmented sequences of Jodie’s past, coming to grips with who they are, where they’ve come from and where they fit in the world.
In the original game you were forced to play the sequences that make up Jodie’s experience out of chronological order. In the remaster you are given the additional option of playing through the events in chronological order, however I seriously recommend not playing in this fashion. One of the criticisms levelled at B:TS was the fact that the choices you made didn’t seem to have too much impact in the grand scheme of things. While choices you make within a sequence will have some effect as to how that particular sequence plays out, there are very few tangible effects on proceeding sequences and to a large extent playing though them in chronological order highlights the superficiality of many of your choices. No matter your input, the events of Jodie’s life will remain more or less identical, it’s only your perspective of them that is slightly changed. There is a certain power to this, as everyone’s view of Jodie and Aiden will differ slightly, and I recommend going with the flow and simply playing in accordance with your natural instinct rather than try to peer behind the veil of the game’s construction. Once I began fighting my own instincts as a human being and a gamer in an attempt to manipulate the outcomes, the cracks started to show, and the experience reveals itself as a touch passive. That being said, if you are keen on experiencing the flipside of the decisions throughout the game and how they bear on Jodie’s tale, the remaster conveniently adds a feature that shows you branching points within each sequence so you can go back and test the effects is has on the plot.
Once I began fighting my own instincts as a human being and a gamer in an attempt to manipulate the outcomes, the cracks started to show, and the experience reveals itself as a touch passive.
David Cage’s games are always visually ambitious, striving for that photorealistic feel to give maximum immersion. B:TS was a great looking game on PS3, and at times I would say that it managed to be strikingly beautiful. Despite employing two well-known actors to play its main characters and having all animations meticulously motion captured, some of B:TS graphical features let it down and these oddities are reproduced in the remaster without improvement. There will be occasional flat textures (Quantic Dream always seem to struggle with animating food and liquids), or unnatural movements or interactions with objects that slightly mar the experience. Many of the characters also struggle to escape that unsettling uncanny valley. Even the excellent Willem Dafoe, who plays scientist and sometimes father-figure Nathan Dawkins, can occasionally be caught in an odd light that makes his eyes and skin appear lifeless to the point of being creepy. The remaster does increase the resolution from 720p to 1080p to good effect, and the lighting and particle effects also seem denser. The PS4 version maintains a smooth frame rate, something that could not be said of the original PS3 release. When all is said and done, despite the polishing in the visual department and the addressing of the stability issues, it hardly represents a quantum leap from the PS3 release.
Making the tough decisions
Some of Jodie’s low moments are heart-wrenching
There’s a great use of light and colour throughout
Revisiting B:TS was a bittersweet experience and truth be told it is a game I recommend only playing once. The second playthrough reveals that the player is more often than not really only given the illusion of choice, and the vast majority of decisions are without much consequence. The overarching plot is an engaging one though, with some genuinely poignant moments to be had. In the end, whether you enjoy the game will probably be determined by whether or not you connect with Jodie and Aiden, and if you do there’s a great story in there to be enjoyed. I for one appreciate David Cage’s games and his lofty ambitions to deliver games that play like interactive films. I do believe he is yet to strike the balance between storytelling and interactivity, but am confident that such a balance is achievable in the hands of the talented developers at Quantic Dream under his direction. If you have already played B:TS, I don’t think the remaster adds enough to make it worth revisiting Jodie and Aiden’s world. If you haven’t, and enjoy interactive dramas such as Telltale Games’ Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us series, then this is definitely worthy of a playthrough. While it’s somewhat of a failed experiment in gaming, it does point to the potential of David Cage’s vision in delivering an experience that channels the unique participatory nature of our medium and transforms it into great storytelling.
Reviewed on PS4