How to play Beyond: Two Souls...the right way!
Far be it from me to tell you how to play your video games, but sometimes changing up your play style can be the difference between a mediocre game and a super effective one. Dead Space is more scary with the volume up and the lights out, Battlefield is more fun if you play objective gametypes, and Halo is a more interesting shooter if you play on higher difficulties. Likewise, Beyond: Two Souls is a much better experience if you opt to play it in co-op. Even moreso, it’s one of the better co-op games to play with one of your non-gaming friends.
Quantic Dream, developers of Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, and now Beyond: Two Souls, weren't very vocal about their latest game’s co-op feature, which is a shame because I think it’s key to the experience. As a single player game, Beyond has you taking on the roles of two characters -- Jodie, a young girl whom you watch grow up over the course of the game, and Aiden, her spectral companion who has been attached to her all her life. The two have a deep, entangled relationship -- sometimes they’re at each other’s throats, and sometimes Aiden is the only thing keeping Jodie alive.
The problem here is that, when you’re playing by yourself, you’re projecting one personality onto two different characters. Helping Jodie make friends and then scaring them away with Aiden feels like self-sabotage. But, as a co-op game, where one player is Jodie and the other is Aiden, those counterintuitive decisions suddenly make a lot more sense. Even better, when you have to work together to solve a problem, there’s a feeling of camaraderie that you don’t get when you’re doing it all alone.
Beyond is a massive piece of interactive fiction, and while a lot of it works from a storytelling perspective, it can be a bit ponderous or melodramatic at times. It’s also a lot of storytelling -- you spend substantial chunks of the game watching, walking forward with little choice to do anything else, or following some basic QTEs. This can all be a bit dull by yourself, but Beyond follows that golden rule of gaming: even bad games can be great in co-op. Beyond isn’t a bad game by yourself, but it is absolutely a more enjoyable one with a friend.
Perhaps my favorite thing about co-op in Beyond, though, is the potential for introducing someone new to gaming. While playing as Jodie can often require some finger Olympics in terms of timing-based button prompts and motions, most of Aiden’s gameplay is more laid back. You’re rarely under time constraints when playing as Aiden, and since only one player is ever actually playing at a given time (you press Triangle to pass control to your partner), you can always help out in the tougher sections.
Since Aiden is a floating spectre, controlled via the Dualshock 3’s twin analog sticks, the game is also a nice way to ease someone into modern controllers. Much in the way Portal is a great way to learn mouse and keyboard or a controller (since that game rarely has things shooting back at you or strict time constraints), Beyond is a great starter game, and even more simplistic. Bring a friend who has never played a game before, a significant other who just doesn’t understand your gaming habits...hell, play the game with your grandma and you might still have a great time.
While it might make you stir in your seat a little to introduce gaming to non-gamers through a game that barely earns the title, Beyond is a great introduction to this medium. It’s simple, it’s co-op (so you can always help out), and it is a stunning showpiece with real-life famous people in it. The great performances by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe could be just the thing to get non-gaming friends interested.
That said, even when playing the game with a fellow gamer, co-op offers a better experience. Case-in-point: my girlfriend is a card-carrying griefer who shoots me in the back during Killzone team matches and throws me into spike pits in Spelunky co-op. We were both a bit indifferent about all the QTE bits, but it was really cool to see our different personalities affect the narrative. While I was trying to help Jodie make friends or have a successful date, she was trashing the place and scaring everyone away as Aiden. Unless you’re bipolar on cue, that’s not an experience you’ll be able to have by yourself.
If you’re planning on checking out Beyond: Two Souls, I implore you to play it in co-op. It’s a better game and a better experience for all the reasons described above. If you do manage to introduce someone new to gaming through Beyond, please, share your story in the comments section below.
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