This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Beyond: Two Souls.
As anyone who's eaten Tex-Mex before a long plane ride will tell you, colons can be very problematic. I fucking hate saying the title Beyond: Two Souls, 'cause you have to mark the colon with a little pause, or people think you're saying Beyond Two Souls, as in "more than two souls". So, three souls, then? Four souls, dare we dream!? But if you take off either part of the title then people won't know what you're talkin' about:
- "I've been playing Beyond!"
- "Beyond what? Beyond the limits of social acceptability?"
- "No, I mean I've been playing Two Souls!"
- "Oh, right, isn't that that really hard game from By Software? I mean, by From Software?"
- "No, that's Dark Souls!"
- "Oh, so you were playing some kind of game about the exploration of several human sphincters?"
- "No, that's Arse Holes!"
The whole colon-title-separation thing is predicated on the irritating trend that all games must at least pretend to be launching some kind of larger franchise. But, frankly, after playing this, I wouldn't hold out much hope for Beyond 2: Some More Souls We Found in a Hedge.
Beyond – Eergh, fuck that – The Ellen Page Variety Hour comes to us from David Cage, a man who is himself caught between two worlds: eager to spearhead a unique genre of interactive narrative, but at the same time possessing the writing ability of a half-melted chocolate bunny rabbit. His previous game, Heavy Rain, switched between ridiculous high-octane quick-time event scenes and prolonged sequences of someone bumbling around their house, looking for objects and surfaces to momentarily rest their gonads on, like if someone intercut Dragon's Lair with security footage from my living room on the morning of a major deadline.
Ellen Page-apalooza does thankfully tone things down a bit with the bumbling – well, depending on your personal bumbling capacity – but without bumbling, the game's little more than a linear sequence of actions, each firing off only after you press the button prompt, and the great thing about this is that you can recreate the exciting "interactive narrative" experience by watching any normal film and pressing the pause button every two seconds. Or by strapping yourself into a Chinese water torture machine that asks for your consent between every single fucking drip.
Previous games have attempted broad multi-character stories that all spectacularly collapsed, so this time the narrative focusses on a single character, randomly flipping back and forth between key points in Ellen Page's life, from birth to childhood to teens to more teens to– actually, she never really moves past the teens. It is quite funny at one point when she's supposed to be a rogue CIA agent but she looks more like a 15-year-old boy put on camo gear, and drew all over his face with black felt-tip pen like mummy's little insurgent.
Anyway, Ellen Page is really sad her whole life because there's an invisible ghost following her around who kills everyone she doesn't like. Fucking suck it up, Ellen Page; some of us had to make do with rat poison growing up! But no, the ungrateful tart spends half the game sounding like she's about to start crying, and the other half crying. Actually, everyone in this game cries like altar boys after lights-out. You could use their faces to irrigate the Sahara, since, y'know, the emoting thing doesn't seem to be working out. I do think it's churlish to criticize facial animation when just ten years ago you'd be lucky if characters opened their mouths when they spoke. But having said that, whenever someone's supposed to be at the limits of screaming emotion in this game, it looks more like they're concentrating really hard on trying to do a horse impression.
The Ellen Page-David Cage Rage Gauge pulls a very mean fast one by letting you think there's actually gonna be some fucking gameplay in it. There's a stealth tutorial early on when Ellen Page is training for the CIA in a sequence borne out of David Cage watching the opening sequence to The Silence of the Lambs at some point, introducing such mechanics as using your ghost murderer friend to scout ahead and clear paths, as well as cover mechanics and pre-animated takedowns, which normally would excite me as much as a lukewarm sponge on a dead cat's face, but I'll fucking take it if it means we can finally have some action that isn't a sequence of quick-time events, cracking off like farts from a row of nervous pigs. The problem is that, besides the tutorial, these mechanics are used on only one other occasion, which, by staggering coincidence, turns out to be the bit that was in the gameplay trailers. Now that's just dishonest, David Cage! What was the thinking? "Yeah, people might get pissed off with how little organic gameplay with invisible murderer ghosts there actually is, but I reckon by that point they'll have been drawn in to Ellen Page's heartwarming struggle to kiss a succession of hunky boys!"
And for the record, Despite Ellen Page, I Am Still Just a Rat in a Cage contains the most retarded attempt at a token multiplayer mode I have seen since The Amazing Back-Titted Woman: it's the same as the single-player except one player controls the Pagemaster and the other controls her imaginary friend. But since neither character can do anything while the other is in control, you may as well just pass the controller back and forth. And it's pretty unfair if you ask me, if one of you gets to kick furniture around like a bored six-year-old with the upper-body strength of Rowdy Roddy Piper, while the other, meaning no disrespect, has to be Ellen Page, the snotty handkerchief trapped in the body of a human being, whose secondary misbehaving invisible friend is the camera, to which her movement controls are oriented, so controlling her is like playing putt-putt with a gym ball and a breeze block on the end of a stick. If you are playing as Ellen Page, then when you're at a point where you have to switch to the other player to make the plot move forward, it won't do so until you press the button. So at least that provides a way to glean some amusement from the experience: "I know it says to push the button, but I dunno, maybe some secret will be revealed if we watch this idle animation another eight or nine times!"
Buried somewhere in the concept of piloting a telekinetic ghost with a grudge against furniture, there may be a nice little idea for a game, but in the hands of Quantic Dream it is like an arthritic horse trying to hold a china teapot. For a company so bent on exploring videogame storytelling, you'd think they'd get less shit at it! The tone and atmosphere wobble insanely back and forth like the wheels on an insolent supermarket trolley, so one minute Ellen Page is exploring the grim realities of homelessness, and the next she's using spirit magic to fight Native American demons with a pair of hunky boys. All the characters' actions bear about as much resemblance to believable human behaviour as a camel licking sweat off your forehead does to a whirlwind holiday romance.
About the best thing Quantic Dream games do is provide material for David Cage's psychological profile. What struck me out in this one is that he's got a really patronizing view of poverty; nobility and quiet intelligence go up in inverse proportionality to the character's bank balance, while rich characters all seem to end up taking drills to people's hoo-has. Maybe he's just trying not to alienate himself from the people he might have to live with if he keeps making games like this fucking shambles.
- Keeps all his souls in an unmarked van: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- In my experience teenagers will at least wait until the second playdate before trying to burn you with cigarettes
- Who needs hunky boys when you have me