David Cage, the writer and director behind Quantic Dream’s 2010 hit, Heavy Rain, has achieved critical success in the video game world due to his non-stop willingness to transform the video game medium into a respectable art form. And he’s set to further his legacy in the upcoming game, Beyond: Two Souls. The narrative centers itself around Jodie, a young woman who lives a strange life: her conciousness is tied to that of a disembodied spirit: Aiden. The game is said to explore what happens after death. With its great graphics and heavy star power (Ellen Page is playing the lead character) Cage looks like he’ll definitely have another hit on his hands. Whether it will be any good or not is an entirely different question.
Heavy Rain received critical acclaim when it debuted for its attempt to marry the conventions of film noir with storytelling the device of gaming. And yet, while it was honored for the way it bravely stood out from the crowd, the main selling point of the game, it’s story, collapsed in the last third of the game. Players were given the bait-and-switch in one of the most nonsensical twists in gaming. Revealing Shelby as the Origami Killer unraveled the entire concept of the game, and suddenly half of the character’s motivations ceased to make any logical sense (especially Shelby’s). It’s a shame that this had to happen in such an inventive game, but I guess those are the breaks. They’ll surely fix those bugs in their next release, Beyond: Two Souls, right? Well, it’s hard to say. One look at Quantic Dream’s track record shows us that the company seems to have a knack for telling great stories that always seem to fall apart at their seams in the third act. And Cage has a tendency to be a bit of a sexist braggart .
Their first release, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, (1999) attempted to combine multiple play-styles while telling a story about the actual player’s soul (that is quite literally you) being sucked into an alternate dimension wherein he is granted the ability to transfer his soul from body to body. After playing for a bit, it’s revealed that the player has been tricked into the “soul transference” and must therefore find a way home by fighting the government and destroying their propaganda fueled reign in the alternate dimension of Omikron. The plotline may be strange enough already for gamers, but it was worth playing through, at least until the last third. Things get weird when the player is forced to confront Astaroth, a demon who is at the center of the whole conspiracy. It’s not necessarily that the plot took a wrong turn, but one could feel like the last third of the game was haphazardly rushed.
Most gamers recieved a similar feeling when they reached the end of 2005’s Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit. Lucas Kane, the protagonist of the piece, dies about 3/4 of the way through the game only to be revived (but in soul only). Players spent the last few hours of this formerly intruiging story controlling a corpse as he confronted otherworldy forces that seemed to spring out of nowhere. Aliens, computer bugs, where did they come from? And the sex scene between Lucas (a dead man walking), and Carla (a very much alive and attractive young woman) gave players the creeps. What really stuck out, though, was how the narrative jumped ahead significantly in time, leaving the developing relationship between Carla and Lucas unseen.
It’s true, all of these games have glaring faults, but they’re still, for the most part, very enjoyable. They’ve got good gameplay, interesting ideas, and captivating worlds. But something is missing from them. There’s something wrong here. I would wager that its David Cage’s attitude that leads these games towards their failures. The man makes promises he doesn’t keep, and seems to consider himself the holy bearer of the video game art form. What’s most telling about the man’s attitude (and lack of maturity) is his treatment towards sexuality in his games. He claims that sex/nudity only exist in his work to further the atmosphere/idea of his art. But a quick look at Heavy Rain’s female protagonist tells us differently. Madison gets the brunt end in more than a handful of sexually charged scenes. She’s assaulted by masked men in her apartment, forced to strip at gunpoint to ask information, and is attacked with a chainsaw by a madman. Those are all story incidents, and could possibly be argued away, but the ability to go take a shower and oogle Madison’s breasts voluntarily while slowing down the camera, well that doesn’t add points to Cage’s maturity themometer. Oh, having your heroine sleep with your hero when his son is in mortal danger doesn’t really gel.
One could say I’m complaining here; that I’m not a screenwriter, that I don’t have the right to bring up these criticisms. Well, yes, I’m no novelist; but I do have five years of College Theatre and English Literature underneath my belt, and I know a good story when I’ve seen one. So far, Cage’s games have all the ingredients for masterpieces, but none of them have come together in their own right. They’ve all taken their bows before the third act is finished. Can we count on Beyond: Two Souls to break this tedious and quite annoying repetition? I hope so, and I’m definitely going to be playing it. But history doesn’t bode well, and so I’m not holding my breath.