Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive, story driven game created by French studios Quantic Dream that starred Hollywood names Elliot Page and Willem Dafoe in key roles, yet thanks to a mixed quality of the game itself, and a number of controversies surrounding it, will likely only ever be remembered and spoken of in poor ways. Before coming to write this piece, a member of the team came to me and asked ‘Why would you do this to yourself?’ – and if that doesn’t sum up the way this game is thought of I don’t know what does.
Beyond: Two Souls tells the decades long story of Jodie Holmes (Elliot Page), who has grown up with special mental abilities tied to an invisible entity that she calls Aiden. When still a child, Aiden causes an incident at Jodie’s foster home, and she’s given over to the care of the US government, to be used in experiments. She falls under the control of doctor Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) who want to try to figure out how her powers work, and if they can be used to benefit the government. Dawkins raises Jodie, becoming a surrogate father figure for her, and they spend years together.
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Years later, Jodie has to help at the lab when one of Dawkins experiments goes wrong. Dawkins has discovered Jodie isn’t psychic, but is instead able to access the spirit world, and is manipulating ghosts. He has used this to create a device to access this world, dubbed the Infraworld, in order to try and communicate with his dead family. The machine, however, malfunctions, and releases spirits into the facility. After Jodie is able to combat the spirits and shuts the machine down she is recruited to the CIA, where they train her to become a field agent. As the story progresses, Jodie ends up becoming a wanted criminal, living on the streets, and eventually has to save the world from the ghostly spirits that Dawkins is continuing to play with.
Quantic Dream built a name for itself with story driven games such as Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. The studio mandate was to put stories first, to try to evoke emotions in their players through interactive storytelling. For the most part these early games were well received, with the sci-fi driven Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy garnering positive reviews and a few awards, and their dark crime story Heavy Rain doing equally as well. With this in mind it is no surprise that the announcement of Beyond: Two Souls was met with anticipation when the first trailer was released at E3 2012. The inclusions of well known actors in the game’s key roles also helped to grab attention.
Upon release of Beyond: Two Souls, however, the lustre seems to have begun to wane for Quantic Dream. The game was met with mixed reviews, with some review outlets praising it, whilst others focused on a number of points they saw as flaws. The game was praised for the acting from its stars, but people seemed to be tired of the game play style that the studio were implementing, with basic walking and interacting features broken up by the occasional quick-time events leading to the game feeling more like an interactive cut-scene that a more traditional game. The promises made of the game containing ‘more spectacular action’ and ‘direct control’ were seen to have been overselling things somewhat.
Within just days of its release, Beyond: Two Souls was attracting controversy, as nude images of its star, Elliot Page, were shared online. There was a segment in the game in which players had to take Jodie into the shower. In the game this scene was shown from certain angles that hid full nudity. However, players with access to developer Playstation 3’s were able to manipulate the camera to reveal full body nude images of the character. This quickly received condemnation, and Page, who had a no nudity clause in his contract, was outspokenly outraged towards Quantic Dreams, and even began legal proceedings against them (he would not go on to sue them).
Quantic Dream was criticised for putting a fully nude model of Page into the game, something that was not needed, in a scene that didn’t even add anything to the story. The fact that no nudity was shown in the game the way it was first presented, yet the developers added a fully realistic nude figure to the game, was a source of outrage for many. It was considered especially damaging to Page, as this fully nude model contained his likeness, and whilst not his actual nude body it was shared on the internet as if it was him naked. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time that Quantic Dream had received criticism for such things.
Their previous release, Heavy Rain, contained a notorious glitch in which one of its four playable characters, the only woman, would be rendered fully naked for the rest of the game past a certain point. This was on top of shower scenes which, as with Beyond: Two Souls, seemed to be included to titillate male players rather than serve the story, and scenes in which the character was the victim of sexual violence more than once. Beyond: Two Souls would also receive criticism for its inclusion of sexual violence. There is a scene in the game in which a homeless Jodie is propositioned to perform oral sex in exchange for money, and data miners reportedly uncovered cut content in which the character is gang-raped.
This does seem to only be the tip of the iceberg as far as Quantic Dream and controversy goes. In 2018 the studio was accused of creating a toxic and sexist working environment. It was reported in a number of French publications that staff at the studio accused them creating hostile work environments that upper management allowed and encouraged. Staff members would have their faces photoshopped onto images of Nazi officers, as well as racist and pornographic images that reportedly numbered in the hundreds. These complaints also included allegations of wrongful dismissals, extreme crunch and overly long work hours, and inappropriate physical contact.
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The studio would go on to face backlash for its next game, Detroit: Become Human, for graphic depictions of domestic violence, and comments from studio head David Cage were revealed in court proceedings where he claimed “in my games, all women are whores” and that “at Quantic Dream, we don’t make games for fags”. These comments and controversies have not just had the effect of damaging the reputations of the games already released by them, but has also resulted in outcry and criticism towards their upcoming Star Wars game, Star Wars Eclipse.
With all of that in mind, is Beyond: Two Souls a good game? No, it’s not. Even if you take away the female nudity and rape scenarios, even if you forget the team who worked on the game in a hostile work environment, even if you discount the controversies and legal proceedings, it’s just kind of dull. Beyond: Two Souls is often lacklustre, with a meandering plot that takes up too much time, and never really proves to be interesting at all. Not even great performances from its stars can elevate the game to anything beyond forgettable. Sadly, the only real reason the game hasn’t been forgotten is the awfulness that surrounds it.
Beyond: Two Souls was released in the UK on 8th October 2013.