David Cage wants video games to “grow up”, but it’s difficult to see any evidence, in the latest game from Quantic Dream, of anything resembling maturity on any level. If anything, Beyond: Two Souls fails spectacularly to meet the standards its creative force, David Cage, insist the gaming industry needs to meet. Let’s run down the list, shall we?
Make Games For Everyone And Make Them More Accessible
Here’s the gameplay of Beyond: Two Souls in a nutshell; walk to a cutscene. Choose how the cutscene starts. Watch the cutscene. Repeat.
Seriously. That’s the “game.” That’s all it is. Worse, the decisions you make don’t really have any impact on these cutscenes; aside from a few minor changes, I couldn’t find any drastic difference when I repeated a scene, and this game makes the cardinal sin of making the fights pointless; even taking a bunch of hits or deciding to let Ellen Page just hang off the edge of a cliff won’t change the outcome.
In short, it’s not simple: It’s simplistic. I wouldn’t give this game to a non-gamer, because I’d be insulting their intelligence. It’s accessible, in the sense that you’ll barely tap buttons, but the ultimate effect is of watching a crappy movie that expects you to keep jabbing the Play button.
Creative Use Of Gameplay
You’d think a guy insisting we need “new paradigms” of gameplay would, you know, try something new, but you’ve seen this before. When you do actually get to play the game, which is not often, the mechanics are arbitrary and nonsensical. Ellen Page and her ghost sidekick Aiden develop new powers and lose them as the plot demands, which manages to destroy any sense of progression in the game, and none of those powers are interesting or creatively used at any point. Basically this is the old GameCube game Geist except vastly more limited and pretentious. You will long to haunt dog food bowls very, very fast.
Having “Something To Say”
Because it refuses to let you really engage with the world, or even make decisions it doesn’t like, Beyond: Two Souls quickly develops a distasteful sense of both voyeurism and atrocity tourism. “See? This is human suffering. Look at how sparkly we made it look!” “Hey, want to see a teenage girl totally screw up at a party?” Say what you will about Call of Duty, at least it’s honest about its exploitation.
The Somalia area, in particular, really brings out the game at its worst. It’s a stealth sequence, except every single way around the enemies is clearly laid out. The dialogue is awful. And it manages to trivialize a real place with real problems, even as it’s patting itself on the back for being all sensitive to the plight of African people.
Focus On Player Feelings
The characters are too flat, and the plot is too cheesy, for you to form a connection. In fact, the game fights you, every step of the way, to keep you from relating to our heroine on your terms by defining her character. Honestly, whenever I could wander around as Aiden, the not-particularly-well-defined ghost/spirit/soul/whatever, I wound up doing that. It was more interesting, to be honest, to poke around and look at the admittedly beautiful art direction than it was to give a crap what Ellie was doing.
There was only one moment where I felt something, and that was when I was presented with the option, as a player, to let Ellen Page get felt up. I felt uncomfortable, slimy, and creeped out, not from what was happening onscreen, but because it was pretty clear nobody at Quantic Dream had stopped to consider the implications of “Does she get her boobs grabbed? Or not? The choice is yours!”
Bring In Outside Talent And Be More Like Hollywood
Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe work hard here, but ultimately it’s just distracting. They’ve both been in better work, and the script is so shoddy I never thought of them as anything other than “Ellen Page” and “Willem Dafoe.” They seem to get along well, though. Maybe they could be in a better movie.
Honestly, games like Papo And Yo, Journey, and The Unfinished Swan are stronger arguments for stepping away from Hollywood and its forms than this game is for embracing them. Still, the best comparison is the indie game Gone Home. Both are barely “games” in the conventional sense, and both are focused on the emotional journeys of young women.
But Gone Home is a vastly better and more engaging game not least because it’s not trying to be a Hollywood movie. Beyond: Two Souls shuts you out at every turn; nothing you do matters. Gone Home, the only way to find the end of the story is to be active; everything you touch, examine, study fills in more about your character and the family she’s looking for.
There’s nothing wrong with exploring different ways of playing games, but Beyond: Two Souls is not a game, not even according to the man who made it. And that’s a shame, but if nothing else, we’ll say this: It’s a game that could only have come from Sony.