It's been many years since developers Quantic Dream started on the path to redefine the way video games tell their stories. It was 2005 when their second game, Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophesy in America), hit PC and consoles to a combination of fanfare and derision for it's fresh take on player choice alongside it's stumbling storyline. In the years since, PC gamers have been out in the cold, watching as Playstation exclusive after Playstation exclusive kept Quantic Dream's evolving catalog out of reach to anyone unwilling to jump on the Sony bandwagon. Now though, it seems Epic have worked out a deal to bring their work exclusively to the Epic Store at an appealing low price, so has time and the transfer to PC been kind to the company's fourth game, Beyond Two Souls?
Before getting to the nitty-gritty of whether this port has made the leap to PC with grace or whether it's stumbled, there's the matter of what this game is all about. Imagine you had an invisible friend. Perhaps you did once upon a time, or at least told yourself you did. Now imagine you could see that not-so-invisible friend floating around you, a hovering black mass, attached to you through some ethereal umbilical. You'd certainly hope that it was a nice entity, right? That's where you as a gamer step in.
Jodie, a young girl from a seemingly typical family, has such a spirit. She calls him Aiden and whether he's a friend or tormentor to this girl as she grows to become a woman is very much in your hands. You see, one half of Beyond Two Souls gameplay is very much a continuation of what Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit had already done, with you controlling characters as they interacted with scenery and solved simple puzzles while making the occasional moral or story focused decision.
The second half of Beyond Two Souls gameplay comes from taking control of the incorporeal Aiden. Disembodied as he is, Aiden can move in 3D space like he's flying, passing through solid objects to reach locations Jodie can't, eavesdropping on conversation and influencing the world around him. While Aiden isn't a physical force per se, he can throw objects, interfere with electrical equipment and outright possess people like some sort of poltergeist. With all that power, you can imagine all the opportunities you might have to wreak havok. But is that fair on the person you're tied to?
There are two ways to experience Beyond Two Souls that are available from the outset - the original, chronologically jumbled narrative or a remixed, more linear version of the story that follows Jodie through her adolescence as she's raised in a shady facility, under the watchful eyes of clinical overseers. Both versions of the story work to a decent extent, with tonal missteps here and there and occasional scenes not coming off as particularly natural set alongside moments that evoke some real empathy, set pieces that get blood pumping and the occasional laugh.
Not wanting to spoil the story at all makes it hard to go into detail here, this being a game carried entirely by it's narrative, but in many scenes it's your choice to be kind or cruel as Aiden that will colour the conclusion. There are moments where Jodie, experiencing cruelty or potential harm, will cry out for Aiden and whether you choose to help as well as how far you go in defending her will change outcomes. In one instance it's the difference between letting Jodie be tossed around a room by a far more malevolent entity or attacking them before she's hurt. I can tell you, doing nothing and just watching, just to see what happened, turned my stomach a little in exactly the way Mr Cage and company would no doubt be delighted by.
In other scenes though, it's the choice to go too far that's presented, with numerous chokings and assaults with blunt objects being ready choices for Aiden. There's a distinct lack of nuance at times, with a majority of scenes amounting to binary choices between an often grim but not terrible outcome or a truly negative event in the life of Jodie. Either you solve the simple puzzles laid out with Aiden and Jodie struggles through her life of being tested and observed without being too much trouble for those around her, or you injure and torment just about everyone Jodie ever meets.
It's not much of a choice and without making the conscious effort to go against my gut feeling, I always leaned toward helping Jodie. I honestly can't imagine that many would pick the negative options for any reason other than to do a "bad" run of the game after playing it once and seeing the effects of keeping Aiden in the "friendly ghost" camp. It's a problem that the choices here don't provokes much genuine moral conflict and invite obvious reaction, one that has been addressed by Quantic Dream since in their follow up Detroit: Become Human, but in this case there's not much to be said for the branching plotline, limited as it is.
Beyond Two Souls takes the intent of game it's director, David Cage, to blend cinematic technique with the player agency of a video game a few steps forward from it's predecessor, Heavy Rain. The most obvious change here is the inclusion of Hollywood actors in the cast, namely Ellen Paige as Jodie and Willem Dafoe as Dr Nathan Dawkins, the man responsible for Jodies care and potentially her prison warden. They both fit their roles well, with Paige's character and acting evolving as Jodie ages and suffers some frustrating experiences and Dafoes inscrutable doctor giving off a mix of concern for Jodie and quiet fascination, the kind that may be tainting his motives. The plot here is one part coming of age story, another part Stranger Things style "what lies beyond perception" style horror with a dash of thriller style espionage in the mix and it hits it's notes well enough to grip those drawn to such things.
In spite of a few years passing since the game's original release on PS3, the renders for the actors and the game in general have aged very well indeed. The uncanny valley, a term to describe the way human faces can look utterly inhuman if rendered poorly, is avoided here and the humanity that's added to emotive scenes through facial expression is strong. It's still aged a little, as Quantic Dream's own Detroit: Become Human has since set new standards, but Beyond Two Souls is a fascinating step on the path to photo-realism and somewhat scarily real humans in video games.
As far as the quality of this port to PC is concerned, it's standard stuff in all the right ways, with a selection of granular graphics options available. Those out there who can't stand motion blur can ditch it, or if depth of field frustrates then it's up to you if it's there at all. FPS is locked to either 30 or 60, and while it might be nice to have super silky frame rates available, the pace and narrative focus here mean that there's no high pace gameplay being affected by the limits. I ran the game on an Ivy Bridge, email@example.com with a Nvidia 1060 6GB and saw zero frame drops, hitches or signs of technical hiccups. Recommended specs are an i5-4430@3ghz paired with a Nvidia GTX660 2gb, or AMD Radeon HD 7870 2gb, so those on lower end systems ought to be able to run the game at reasonable settings. Anyone on the fence should check out the Epic Store page for the game and download the free demo to see if spending the rather friendly price of £15.99 is worth it for you.