Game reviews: Beyond: Two Souls and Among the Sleep

Two games updated for PS4: Beyond Two Souls is a slight improvement over the previous version, Among the Sleep lacks creative gameplay

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 January, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 January, 2016, 8:00am

Beyond: Two Souls

Sony

Beyond: Two Souls was one of the biggest disappointments of 2013 – David Cage’s “interactive drama” was highly anticipated, an ambitious big-budget PlayStation 3 adventure from the creator of Heavy Rain, featuring the acting talents of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, and promising to offer innovative storytelling that would make the game accessible to all manner of player.

Sadly, it did anything but, polarising casuals, obsessives and even non-gamers alike through a murky, muddled melting pot of a story that could never quite decide what it was. Tarantino-esque timeline-hopping drama? Seventies-style sci-fi-horror? Meta-throwback pulp cheese? This PlayStation 4 upgrade doesn’t really smooth out the problems, but played in retrospect without all the debilitating hype, and with its series of minor changes, there’s almost something to admire here.

That largely comes down to the freewheeling concept, in which gamers play out the story of an extrasensory girl named Jodie, but really end up messing with her invisible friend Aiden. As Aiden, a ghostly entity who can do everything from float through walls to choke the living hell out of random victims, players are given free rein to wreak havoc – it’s an analogous representation of gamers, one that’s absolutely immune to the on-screen consequences.

That slice of frivolous fun is made all the better by a lightening-up of Beyond’s notoriously heavy tale. The developers couldn’t very well rewrite auteur Cage’s story, but they could get it back in shape, and restructuring the plot in chronological order surprisingly gives the game the weight and cohesion it was lacking the first time around.

Then there are all the expected next-gen improvements: upgraded graphical textures, lighting that adds new layers to the visuals, and improved sound design that gives the game a Hollywood feel. The gameplay isn’t far from the Heavy Rain approach – plenty of eventually frustrating quick-time events – but the DualShock4’s motion abilities make them that easier to handle.

Beyond: Two Souls isn’t a great game – it’ll never be a great game really, it has too many flaws to elevate it to classic status. But like a clever director’s cut and a remix done right, this PS4 edition is a marked improvement, one that will more than appease fans of story-heavy action-adventure.

Among the Sleep

Sony

The wonderful thing about modern gaming is that anybody armed with ambition, fortitude and the right kind of hardware can transform their virtual dreams into reality. It’s a mostly positive situation, and the only real setback comes when the timing is off and games miss their mark.

That’s sadly the case with Among the Sleep, a game originally released on computer and console systems in the summer of 2014, and only now seeing its PlayStation 4 debut. Developed by Norwegian studio Krillbite, there’s plenty going on here that would normally excite small-time thrill seekers. There’s the concept of course: it’s past midnight, a mother has disappeared, a house is abandoned, and a two-year-old has to find out what’s going on alongside his trusty talking bear.

There’s the inspired approach to the toddler’s adventure, a first-person, bleary-eyed surreal world where crawling is your only recourse, closets can feel like endless labyrinths and language is a mere series of indistinguishable characters scrolling on-screen. And there’s the wonderful atmosphere, set up by creepy shadowy graphics and a score that perfectly captures the moody chills.

Unfortunately, it’s all hampered by a paradoxical lack of creative gameplay. Put simply, Sleep is mostly style with little substance. Puzzles follow a tried and tested “find and fit” scenario, enemies can be quickly avoided by simply running away and, worst of all, the entire running time clocks in at a mere two hours, give or take the once-DLC, now-included prologue.

All of that wouldn’t have been such a problem a year ago when the game was first released, but the market’s since been flooded by all kinds of psychological horror games: The Park, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Until Dawn, Soma, nearly all of which are exceptional in their interactive abilities.

Very little has been improved upon – not even the controls, which all but replicate the original PC layout – in the end it is yet another initially exciting concept that turns out a disappointment.

We missed Among the Sleep the first time around and were excited to experience what many had said was a unique horror adventure. This just goes to show that in the rapidly developing gaming world, when you snooze, you lose.