Having succeeded in avoiding all spoilers at Eurogamer this year, I was happy that I got this on release date. However, the adverts were getting harder to avoid, so I'm also glad I finished today.
Firstly, I think the graphics are amazing. The motion capture was great and didn't look out of place on the character models. I think it also made great use of the range that both Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page provided. The acting was moving and believable, and I think a step up from Heavy Rain. The score was also brilliant, and was barely noticeable, in the same way that Skyrim achieves.
The story was well written, and I am glad that this is a high profile game that is willing to put its budget into story, script writing and visual effects. I didn't enjoy the narrative as much as Heavy Rain though. The multiple perspectives kept the story interesting. I really like noir crime stories, and this slightly Sci fi philosophical treatise on the nature of the afterlife wasn't really my thing. They could have gone a lot heavier on the sci fi for me, but most of all, it just wasn't enough of an exploration on the nature of humanity and what lies beyond. As a character study, it was good, but again, I think the choice to focus on basically one person didn't give me the depth I was expecting. The story was a little reminiscent of Fahrenheit, my biggest criticism of which was the fact the story basically didn't make any sense about half way through. This was much improved, but the theme of an unknowable race of creatures coming to take over seemed like a retread. Willem Dafoe's character arc was a bit predictable too, and unnecessarily so. I think the guy could do without further typecasting, and there was no reason he couldn't have been a more sympathetic character.
I found the methods of interacting to be disappointing. The controls have been simplified, which in one way is a good thing. Fahrenheit was very tricky at times, and it wasn't always obvious what was going on. While Heavy Rains controls were more responsive, they were sometimes too complicated, but not in a way that ruined the story. One scene where Jayden is trying to take drugs and becomes very shaky is a really hard button combo challenge to pull off, but it reflects the state of mind of the character. In Beyond, I think they have tried to go for minimalist controls so they don't remove you too much from the absorbing environment, giving a feel of more of an interactive story than a game. But for me, this is its downfall, as it isn't a game any more. The controls are far too simple, so I don't see the point of playing. The emotional link with the character was lost through the removal of the interface. In its place the actions of the two characters are supposed to express their feelings, but too often I chose something for the character to not carry it out. I wanted to take the coins, I wanted to take Nathan's photograph, but the game saw fit to deny me this through poorly implemented controls.
The greatest block to my absorption was the camera angles. The third person view was so bad, most of the time I could not see what to interact with. I nearly gave up on the game in two places because it wasn't obvious what I was supposed to do. The controls were almost a step back to Fahrenheit, which after the sophistication of heavy rains controls makes me angry. I don't understand how it got past the ux testers honestly. The walking pace of the game also threw up a huge barrier to my absorption, as it showed the short walking animation cycles.
Although I approve of the polished nature of the script and consistent story line, i take issue with the way in which the story is presented through game play. The story is linear and choices don't feel meaningful. At least in Fahrenheit, the only choices that affected the outcome were at the end, but the story was constructed by the choices you made for the characters. And in heavy rain, some of the choices vastly affected the outcome, which made going back and replaying the game more interesting when you understood what was going on, but the main outcome had been decided before the game even began. Both these games were in a sense very linear, and were lacking in interactivity but they did a much better job of fooling you into thinking they weren't.
Overall I am not sorry I bought this, and I think it is a great improvement in interactive storytelling. I see the medium evolving over the next few years, as people become bored with improvements in graphics and want richer storytelling experiences. However I really hated the controls, so much so I don't think I will play through again. I hope quantic dream continue to make this sort of game, as despite its flaws, is still far more interesting than many of the main big budget games out at the moment.