Δευτέρα, 9 Δεκεμβρίου 2013

Games from the Multiverse-Beyond: Two Souls

The mess to outhype and outproduce the Dr Who 50th anniversary special…

Games From The Multiverse-Beyond: Two Souls

DISCLAIMER: In light of this being my 150th post, I have decided to epxeriment with podcasting this very same article. If you think it sucks, let me know and simply click on the title to read it, instead! Intro music mashup courtesy of Fotis Wiz Frikiman Kyriazidis

I would not call myself a gamer. I would describe me perhaps as a hopeless dreamer, a half-assed romantic and/or a mean drunk philosopher, but to come out and admit to people that I know shit about vidyagames would be purely hypocritical. Especially seeing as how the only game I have recently been invested in was ManHunt 2 and that was a bloody, violent mess that would have been better off phoned in by M. Night Shyamalan than actually marketed as an honest-to-God, super serious narrative.

Omg u gaiz they were the same person all along!!!1! #whatatwist #totallydidntseethatcoming

But the fact that Beyond marketed itself as the next step in video game story presentation and was thought to have successfully challenged a number of video game tropes, paving the way for a new wave of story-based games is plainly ridiculous.

Many people say that Beyond: Two Souls is Quantic Dreams making a movie that plays like a game (which, by the way, was the same slogan that Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties used) when in fact this is painfully NOT the case. That is because Beyond does not go about presenting itself as a movie, but as a novel.

A very shoddily written book with awkward dialogue, at that. Also, holy shit, Linaweaver wrote this shit? Nooooo!

That is because Beyond tries to innovate in 6 ways at once and fails every single step of the way, not because of incompetence on the part of its developers but because the developers actively chose to abandon the game at the hands of its writer(s) who possibly have very little experience with how vidyagames actually work. In the interest of not turning this article into a long-winded review of the game, here are a few of its failings that I would like to address that pissed me the hell off.

·         The idiotic artsy lack of a User Interface.

There used to be a time when game UIs were gigantic, clunky things that took up half of the screen. There was a hell of buttons, prompts, save icons, inventory bars, health bars etc, which forced the player to play the game at a good ¾ of the screen (or, in the case of Ultima 6, in barely half of it). It was during that time, when a trend designed to eliminate a need for UIs in gameplay arose, which became a staple of horror games like Silent Hill and RE, allowing the designers to clearly separate the crunchy part of the game from its narrative.

And while the idea worked for claustrophobic horror situations (and sloppy, campy survival horror) it was considered a no-go zone for every other genre, because the players needed to be aware at all times on their characters’ status and of how much shit they were carrying on their person. Beyond tries to eschew that entirely, trading menu screens for unclear QTEs and tiny white dots that are lost to the player, thus breaking the story’s flow for a good 30 seconds as the player is forced to twirl around like a dumbass, looking for the script.

·     Beyond’s Ellen Page boner

I don’t like Ellen Page. I don’t care for her as an actress, I thought Juno was a hipsterrific piece of shit and I think she is built like a 12-year old girl. I also cannot, in good faith, convince myself that she is capable of emoting anything other than pure apathy or abject panic.

The fact that Beyond tries to both promote her as some ultra-sexy almost-pornstar and as action-movie star material bugged the fuck out of me. I had to put up with Jodie during the entirety of the game, even as the game made me look at her half-naked form and tried to convince me that I should somehow fap to her while admiring her resolve and also believe that Jodie as a character is a living breathing rapist-magnet that drives every man around her to actively want to molest her. 

Motherfucker, if I wanted to masturbate to fantasies of almost rape, I would watch the scene where Hulk tried to fuck Scarlet Widow into a bloody pulp. At least then I would shoot my load just as Thor came into the screen and drown out my latent homosexuality amidst alien superhero carnage.

·         The waste of its William Dafoe capability

As far as actors go, William Dafoe is more than capable of pulling of a range of emotions but he is at his fucking best when he is a cackling, campy motherfucker. Nathan, the games main antagonist mentor guide plot device is instead this calm, measured dude that does sweet fuck all except deliver one awesome line:

“You are not like them, Jodie and you never will be. You need to accept that.”

William Dafoe could have been the cheesy, supervillain antagonist that Beyond needed, but instead he was the meh mad scientist it deserved.

·         The Trans-Story railroad:

You cannot lose in Beyond. This much the developers made abundantly clear, ever since the game was first announced. The game is impossible to fail at, resulting in the immediate dissolution of any tension or interest on your part as a gamer. Why the hell would you wiggle the controller or slingshot your analog sticks, if Jodie is never in danger of being shot? Why bother dodging punches or a machete swing with an elaborate QTE, if the game won’t let anybody kill Jodie? Why bother pressing buttons or flipping switches or making choices, if the story has decided that no, you are going to see this shit through to the end, whether you like it or not?

By taking failure out from the gameplay, you end up creating the narrative equivalent of a shitty book, or better yet, Mary-Sue based fanfiction. If I know, from the word go, that my character is not in danger, why should I even bother? That’s like picking up a book that goes to great detail to tell me that no harm will ever come to the protagonist and expecting me to still give a shit about it. Oh sure, the secondary characters are fair game, but I don’t have any reason to give a shit about them especially not when they are all one-dimensional asswipes that are rubbed into my face until I develop story-based Stockholm Syndrome.

Three seasons and I still can’t find it in my heart to give a fuck about this character.

But I could look past that, if Beyond gave you anything for it in return: perhaps a branching path that took the story elsewhere, or a series of choices that would perhaps end up making Jodie the villain in the eyes of the player instead of everyone else. Maybe if any of my choices in the game made the tiniest bit of difference, then perhaps it would have had some redeeming factor. Except it doesn’t, because nothing you do matters. Press shit to move the story ahead as David Cage wrote it. Press nothing to David Cage can keep telling his story. Fight back the advances of the asshole who is hitting on you just so the game can Stockholm Syndrome you into liking him. Die, so your clone-baby from another woman can take your place. Live, so you can get the same cutscene.

For all its stylish visuals, mocap bullshit and outrageous budget, Beyond is a shoddily-written, selfish game that refuses to acknowledghe his failings and tries to make you love it in its own, serial-killery way. So let’s say, for a moment, that the game was, somehow different, just a tiny bit better. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Earth 4-Gamma’s Beyond: Two Souls…

Written and directed by anyone other than David Cage.

This iteration of Beyond, features a number of stark differences, such as…

·         A linear narrative

After the tragic destruction of David Cage’s notes following his demise in the house fire caused by his flammable collection of Ellen Page waifu pillows, Quantic Dreams is forced to go ‘fuck it’ and starts the story at the very beginning, with Jodie’s birth. However, in an attempt to create some actual dramatic tension, the writing team decide to have the adult role models be Jodie’s actual parents, who are trying to raise a child while being scared as hell by the invisible killer that has bonded with her and lashes out when she has tantrums.

In this iteration, Jodie’s dad is her mentor-figure, used as a tutorial to teach her how to control Aiden and hide her powers. Her mother, on the other hand, is terrified of her daughter’s powers, but does her best to share her husband’s enthusiasm (even as she hears at the things inside the bedroom walls that hiss in the middle of the night and won’t let Jodie get rid of her night light even after she is no longer afraid of the dark).

The parents don’t meet horrible deaths, but are instead forced to give up their daughter, after a fight with a group of bullies get out of hand, causing Aiden to lash out and kill them. They watch, in horror, as their child is taken away and are finally silenced when they come too close to the truth, later in the game.

This version focuses on showing the players that Jodie is growing up, mastering her powers, finding a friend and then an authority figure in Nathan Dawkins, who remains however a neurotic control freak fixated on the death of his wife and daughter. His initial clinical approach to Jodie changes when she reveals that she can contact them and he decides to get the girl on her side, using her to exploit her powers to look into the worlds on the other side of life. It is this that gives the player the illusion that Nathan is actually a good, caring man who fights tooth and nail for her when she is recruited by the CIA and finally gives up his research in order to find an alternative in bringing his family back to life. This is because…

·  Nathan Hawkins and Ye-Etso are the main antagonists

Instead of wasting our time with bullshit international politics and second-rate Cold War spy stories, this version of Beyond tries an entirely different approach.

The awesome approach

Instead of Aiden being her ghost dead baby brother, Aiden is one of the creatures that slipped into our reality along with the demon Ye-Etso, when the Navajo shamans attempted to bind the demons from the Other Side to their service to kill the white men and failed. While Ye-Etso was the big bad motherfucker that remained on Earth and plagued the world as a small-time Lovecraftian entity, Aiden instead tried to find a home in this place of matter and form, Possessing human beings and adapting to the rules of Earth. Where Ye-Etso is all muscle, Aiden is intead learning to adapt to the rules of this reality and finds a perfect, symbiotic host in Jodie.

But they are not alone. The Navajo shamans were not the only people who made contact with the Other Side. Other spirits have also slipped into reality and hid among humanity, while others have been bound and the secrets of their world have been forcefully divined from their minds. In this version, a long line of necromancers, diviners and warriors who fight with forcefully bound spirits exists in the world and the masses are just beginning to take notice. This is what causes the government to gain an interest in Jodie and to create the DPA, in an attempt to harness the powers of the Other Side to their own benefit.

Jodie is sent to find and assassinate one such necromancer in Asia, a man who binds the spirits of the Other Side into the newly dead to spread a campaign of terror. It is there that she discovers the truth about Aiden’s origins and Nathan’s plan to find the places of power and harness them for his own purposes. This is what drives Jodie away from him, forces her to go on the run but also allows for Nathan to bind and control (to some extent) Ye-Etso, after Jodie banishes it back to the other side.
When Jodie and Nathan meet again in the end-game, Nathan is a technological necromancer, possessed by one of the oldest, most malevolent and hungriest things on Earth. And she has to stop him.

·  Jodie is not a super victim

The homeless sequence stays, however.
The tragic death of 4-Gamma’s David Cage allowed the writing staff to get rid of the post-it notes that detailed Jodie’s molestation scenes and allowed them to re-write Jodie as an angry, but ultimately good, person, a knight in sour armor. After discovering the terrible truth about Aiden’s nature and she runs from the people who are trying to access the Other Side, Jodie finds herself trekking across the country, locking horns with necromancers and people who have also tried (with various degrees of success) to bind the spirit-creatures.

In Washington, she fights a serial killer created by a death cult. In Iowa, she is cornered by a team of CIA operatives who have access to anti-spirit technology, courtesy of Nathan Hawkins. In Utah, she is aided by a team of mystics against a rent in realitythat causes the first insurgence of the Other Side into our world and prevents the apocalypse at the very last second. In Nevada, she fights and banishes the Ye-Etso by the skin of her teeth, aided by cryptic messages by Aiden, receiving insights of his time among the living.

When she ends up homeless in California, Jodie is broken by her encounter with the being and shot by Nathan just as she tries to escape. She starves and is left out in the cold there, trying to stay hidden but is finally force out of hiding when Nathan finds her family and threatens her that he will kill them if she does not give herself up. This is the turning point in the story, when the player has to choose Jodie’s final path. With Ye-Etso’s banishment, Aiden has grown in power and is a thing of fearsome power. If she gives herself up, Nathan gains the means to enter and harness the other side. If not, she dooms her parents and cuts a swathe of destruction across the country.

What’s important is that this deviates from the initial idea of the game and turns Beyond into an action game with boss fights and some rpg elements. While this iteration does not feature too much variation in the storyline, it does allow the player to choose a wildly different course of action later in the game, when Jodie has truly become a force to be reckoned with. It is important to note however, that the choice that is made at this point changes the endgame entirely. Giving up to Nathan makes him take Jodie with him and use her and Aiden as the battery to power the Black Sun condenser (yes, there is only one condenser in this version, instead of three). This allows the Ye-Etso to escape the Other side along with thousands of its kind and swarm the world, beginning the apocalypse, ending in a climactic battle between Necromancer Nathan and Jodie-Aiden. In this ending, she becomes a beacon of hope for the living, a superhero in her own right.

The other choice turns Jodie into pretty much Mystic Hulk, tearing up the forces of the CIA, their few bound spirit-slaves and ends in a confrontation between Ye-Etso/Nathan and her in the crumbling ruins of the DPA headquarters. While this choice does not lead to the end of the world, it does end Jodie’s world, once and for all. She has become public enemy number one and something way past human, the world’s very first arcane supervillain.

This version of Beyond is definitely not the narrative, artsy experiment that exploded with pretentiousness all over our faces. Its drama is not based on the idea of writing a sorta horror story with cheap, dirty attempts to tug at our heartstrings. Instead, it is the story of the world’s first necromantic superhuman, making her mark on history and tearing shit up like, a lot.

Is that a shallow version? Is that another half-assed attempt at a money-grabbing scheme? Perhaps it is. Do I give a shit?


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