When I picked up a copy of Beyond: Two Souls I believed I was picking up a GOTY candidate. Based on the concepts, graphics, and celebrity personalities involved in the game I figured the resources spent on the project would result in one of the better games of the past ten years. What I got was a game that failed to find its identity and took on a bipolar personality. Parts of the game feel like classic video game moments whereas other moments feel bland, boring, or even worthless. What this creates is a game that is impossible to put down, yet impossible to feel satisfied with.
Over the course of video game history, the industry has produced a wide range of stories. Some games capture their stories well as they properly utilize themes to draw users in emotionally. Creating emotional attachment to video game characters is something that is very hard to pull off--and few games do it well. When this attachment is successful, we are introduced to characters like Tidus from Final Fantasy X. When it isn't, games fall apart at the seams. In Beyond: Two Souls, it is nearly impossible to not feel an emotional attachment to Jodie and her counterpart Aiden--a paranormal being who has been attached to her since birth. Jodie's life is defined by her personal struggle of being "different" as many of us often feel. Due to Aiden's presence in Jodie's life, Jodie is mocked, ridiculed, and even used for scientific experiments and military operations. The struggle in Jodie's life is constant in every scene as she struggles to build relationships and control her emotions throughout the game. She is often distant, angry, and even confused by why she can never be like other "normal" girls.
Without spoiling the story too much, I'll say that the game is often defined by its darker moments. For example, Jodie--based on the decisions you make in the game--is sexually assaulted multiple times only to be saved by Aiden. Most of these dark moments occur when Jodie attempts to take control of her own life and separate herself from Aiden--though sometimes they occur when she attempts to take revenge on the individuals that have betrayed or used her. The story does carry its positive moments, but the deepest connections are made in the moments where Jodie is at her breaking point--which she reaches multiple times. We all feel lost and alone at times in life, and Jodie provides an avenue that we can connect with.
The game play in Beyond: Two Souls is what gives the game its bipolar feel. The structure of the game follows that of games like Fable and Mass Effect. Decisions can be made by the user to create or guide Jodie's personality--and in this game the decisions are DARK. This model is great for games with a great story, so the pairing of the game play and the story is great. However, the model for in-scene decisions and actions is pretty terrible. Buttons appear on the screen that lead to actions. The consequence for failing these actions is "oh well, try again immediately." This model--at least in my experience--created a situation where the user could never fail. No matter how good or bad your decisions were--or how good or bad your reaction time is--the game and story press on.
A form of media where you follow a story with characters and your actions don't matter is called a movie, not a video game. While the story was enough to keep pressing on, the game play was boring and incredibly frustrating, because there is never a sense of being challenged. The environment interaction--especially on CIA missions--is fun and makes for a good time, but without the possibility for failure there is little sense of enjoyment in actually beating the game. Completing the game feels like the end of a really good movie rather than beating a classic video game. This is enough of a flaw to automatically take the game out of Game of the Year running on its own.
While the story and graphics in this game are stellar, the lack of any difficulty in game play really puts a damper on the experience. I wanted so badly for this to be a GOTY candidate--and at the beginning of 2013 I pegged this as my GOTY pick--but it just wasn't. The connection that is made between the user and Jodie/Aiden is very strong, and it's hard not to be touched by many of the moments in the game. However, video games need to come with a sense of difficulty to be good, let alone great.
Game Score: 6/10