I say “watched,” you may assume, to suggest that Beyond: Two Souls is more of a movie than a game. In reality, that isn’t quite true, either. Beyond: Two Souls isn’t really a game or a movie. And I don’t say this to suggest that Beyond: Two Souls is somehow bolder or more expansive than either a video game or a movie, or that it defies categorization. I refuse to put a label on Beyond: Two Souls because, if I were to do so, whatever category I were to put it into would be irrevocably worsened.
It is not a video game, nor is it a movie. If pressed to define it, I’d say it’s a twelve-hour piece of performance art where some innocent fuck is tricked into spending sixty dollars on a boring, useless item, then is compelled to use it despite a mounting sense of rage of disgust.
* * *
My relationship with David Cage, Beyond: Two Souls intrepid W R I T O R and D E R E K T O R, is a complicated one, except that it’s actually very simple, because I hate him and I think he’s a piece of crap (and a racist). I loathed Indigo Prophecy with the force of a thousand suns–enough to temporarily blind me to the surprising successes of the later Heavy Rain, which I now begrudgingly admit is an innovative and highly enjoyable piece of game-making, for all its wacky Europeanisms.
So I approached Beyond: Two Souls with a skeptical but overall neutral point-of-view. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a fun experience, but it’s hard not to feel twice-shy being once so bitten. And there was a very specific moment in our playthrough, towards the end of the first act, that made me go cold with incredulity, and erased any charitable feelings I’d allocated for Cage.
There was a point in which Jodie, our implausibly old-name-having protagonist, has to walk through a ruined medical facility. There is an encounter with an enemy that asks you to follow the on-screen prompts to evade danger and progress. We missed several prompts somewhat clumsily, and I was actually rather surprised that we cleared the challenge, remembering how easy it was for Madison Page to meet any number of context-sensitive grisly deaths in her encounter with the good doctor in Heavy Rain.
Anyway, immediately following this sequence, Jodie got stuck in the wall trying to exit the room, frozen and inanimate (but still crying and panting–thanks). Ah. Well. Glitches happen, it’s no Fallout: New Vegas–at least not yet. So we restarted the chapter, participating in the QTE fight again, this time never missing a prompt. It was at this point that we realized is that, despite how much better we were at pressing the appropriate buttons this time, the scene played out in exactly the same manner as it had previously. Our suceesses and failures merited no rewards or consequences within the scene.
What we realized is that were never really truly participating at all. We were just along for the ride, humoring Beyond: Two Souls.
What greatly angered us was another realization. Does David Cage know that we’re humoring him, or does he really think he’s humoring us?
* * *
There is another point in B:TS where Jodie has to run away from something terrible that’s chasing her. Just to see what would happen, I put the controller down on the floor. Would Jodie be captured by this monster and torn limb from limb?
No. Some moments later, Jodie, on her own, ran away.
(Spoilers will get slightly more persistent from here forward, but only slightly. After all, you’ve seen everything that happens in this “game”–the reversals and surprises and betrayals and losses you encounter as Jodie are all rote recitations of the same Hollywood junk you’ve seen crammed into games for the last fifteen years. Even the least savvy of eight year-olds can tell you the most shocking twists to expect in such a formulaic offering. DUDES! Your idealized mentor father-figure is actually MORALLY AMBIGUOUS OMMMMMGGGGAAAAAAADD!?!?!?!?!?!)
* * *
Later, we wanted to find out if it was actually possible to get intimate with one of the other characters in the game during a romantically-charged scene. (And I don’t mean “emotionally close,” I mean “can we get THIS penis in THAT vagina?”) So I Googled “beyond two souls walkthrough”. What a redundant phrase. For the most part, Beyond: Two Souls is a walkthrough of itself.
We discovered that there was, indeed, a way that the chapter could end with sex AND a Playstation Network Trophy. We figured we’d go for it. As long as we’re going through this, we might as well get some gamer cred, or whatever.
However, there was a disclaimer in the walkthrough for this particular portion of the game:
NOTE! If in [the chapter] “Like Other Girls”, the protagonist was groped by the bar’s clientele, no closer relationship with Ryan will happen.
I know you’re probably reading this sentence because you had already finished the previous sentence, but I want you to go back and read it again.
In this story about the supposed complexity of a human being’s life and identity over the course of many years, it is suggested that because Jodie was sexually abused several years prior, she is incapable of intimacy in the present.
There aren’t many choices you can make in a chapter that actually affects the events of another chapter – just one reason the boneheaded achronological narrative is just a bloody smoking hole in the foot of the story – but Cage made sure to fit in the little moral that if you didn’t have the foresight not to avoid your attempted rape, you are damaged goods.
Not only is this thing void of good ideas, whatever ideas it manages to portray are toxic for society and antagonistic to humanity.
* * *
While experiencing B:TS I was often on Twitter, writing thoughts about it as they occurred to me. Although this form of expression is troubling in several ways, it is appropriate for the works of David Cage. Deep analysis isn’t terribly necessary. All that needs to be done is present without irony exactly what occurs in Beyond: Two Souls, and any intelligent person can construe that it is lesser than garbage.
What follows are more detailed extrapolations of my Tweets as I experienced B:TS. These are essentially a list of observations in the order they were made.
- B:TS opens with Ellen Page’s talking head, sounding confused. This is running motif in Cage’s work – big heads seeming unhappy. Supposedly, this is the end of the events of the story, and the following chapters take place BEFORE this point. This scene is mostly meaningless considering we have no idea who this is or when this takes place. It’s not like Sunset Boulevard – there are no expectations set up here.
- After every chapter, the wavy-looking “timeline” for Jodie’s life is displayed, along with the name of the next Chapter and at what point on the timeline it occurs. It would be neat if this were a screen in which you could select what chapter you wanted to experience next. It would even feel somewhat immersive if the next chapter did not proceed until you pressed X to indicate you were ready to relive this memory. Instead, the timeline is just a loading screen, loading whatever part of Jodie’s life Cage thinks you should walk through next. Though it is marginally useful in finding out at what point the next chapter occurs based on chapter you’ve already seen.
- Child Jodie is a pretty good actor. Way better than the French kids Cage got to play children from Philadelphia in Heavy Rain.
- Willem Dafoe plays Jodie’s mentor and father figure, Nathan, trying to find out how she connects to her invisible psychic/ghost friend, Aiden. He does it through all the usual bullshit ways movie paranormalologists detects psychics – by asking her to pick cards with pictures on them.
- You can control Aiden by interacting with objects marked by blue dots and knocking them over. This is Aiden’s primary purpose: knocking shit over. The game asks you to knock things over. But then at some point you knock something over and everyone in the lab starts freaking out. We start to think, “Okay, I guess we’ll stop knocking shit over.” But the story doesn’t proceed if you don’t knock more shit over. In order to convey that Aiden is sometimes “out of control” and “dangerous” the story forces us to force Aiden to knock shit over. Aiden doesn’t feel “out of control” to me. He just seems to be stuck in a story in which he is “out of control,” despite the fact he is completely in my control.
- Nathan, calming Jodie down, says, “It’s alright, Jodie, it’s over.” Jodie responds, “It will never be over.” ಠ_ಠ Yep, because real people talk this way.
- The next chapter, bafflingly, takes place at Sheikh Ahmed’s black tie gala. At this point, Jodie is in the CIA, and she’s going to use Aiden to find out what important secrets she can find in Sheikh Ahmed’s house. It’s one of the few times you have reign to float around and do stuff. Unlike other games in which you can decide how to use your powers to solve the problem in front of you, Aiden can only use certain powers on certain objects that the story needs to be interacted with to progress. Imagine a Legend of Zelda game in which the room you are in has a locked door, and there are switches all over the walls, and there is only one switch that opens it, but that switch is glowing blue, and the other switches actually don’t do anything. That is every sequence with Aiden.
- Jodie is wearing a dress with her entire back exposed. The texture of her back is somewhat terrifying – as though her skin is paper thin and you an see every muscle fiber under it. This is one of the most unsettling dips into the Uncanny Valley, but sure not the last.
- The bathroom signs for Ahmed’s place feature a veiled face over the door for the women’s bathroom, and a bearded face over the door for the men’s bathroom. This seems racist to me, but then I’ve never been to the Middle East.
- The next chapter involves a birthday party at some brat’s house. Nathan thinks it’ll be good to meet kids my age. He already picked out the present for the birthday girl: an old collection of the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Our guess is that the girl will think it’s a terrible gift and that it will act as an additional reason we should feel absolved for torturing her later. We are right.
- The party has beer and weed. We indulge in both. We also get to pick the music. We picked disco. Another brat said it was a stupid, and changed the song. We weren’t sure if that moment was to get us to hate that girl, or just B:TS trying to simply negate another one of my choices.
- You can score with some limey kid, but in the end, he and the others turn on you for being a “witch.” Their bright idea for dealing with witches? Lock them in a closet. ‘Cause that won’t backfire.
- It totally backfires. This is the only point in the story where we feel as though Jodie, Aiden, and us are on the same side. We toss knives and set fires. We’re finally having fun, despite how blurry and floaty Aiden is.
- There is a chapter that has us training to be in a special division of the CIA. It plays out like an actual montage. Pressing X to run over tires. Pressing X to solve… math equations? Flicking the analog stick to punch dudes. Do we really need this shit? I have an invisible ghost friend.
- Suddenly Aiden can “heal” wounds by just kind of floating over them. This is used again I think four more times afterward.
- Jodie’s step parents are really funny. The mother might actually be a good actor, but it’s hard to tell in this game, since nobody says things that regular people say. The father is hilarious. He just is always angry and often shouting. At some point I think you get a Trophy based on whether or not you display hatred toward him.
- For the most part, the only way for things to progress is for Aiden to knock hist over. This could easily be called Knock Shit Over Simulator Pro.
- The first wham-bam “blockbuster” sequence involves going through a ruined medical facility where people are trying to harness the awesome power of ghosts for ??????? reasons. It is at this point that all the seams show, if they haven’t already.
- All QTEs are rigged in your favor.
- Solving puzzles means switching to Aiden to knock over the “correct” thing – Aiden, really, is just a more complicated QTE.
- You can read memories from dead people’s corpses or possessions, but they only tell you what you already know.
- People respond to crises and tragedy in ways that don’t make sense. “Go!… Nothing but… DEATH… in there!”
- The logic of Aiden’s powers and the ghost world are completely inconsistent. Sometimes Aiden can help Jodie, and sometimes she’s all on her own. Aiden can beat up ghosts, but they can’t do anything to him.
- Jodie does things she should know better than doing. Like taking the elevator instead of the stairs in an emergency. What the FUCK is actually wrong with you. I don’t care if you have a magic zombie-goast pal to bail you out–take the stairs, you lazy bum.
- Jodie seems to know how to find and shut down the power for a unique piece of machinery. She doesn’t think to just cut all of the wires around her, but instead has to cross through a ghost tornado for reasons.
- Fighting the ghosts – which should be a big deal, they’re fucking flying screaming horrors that have the power to make people kill themselves and each other – is exactly as fun as knocking shit over in the rest of B:TS, in that it’s not. They could have invented a different action specifically for fighting the ghosts, but it’s the some input as knocking over paper and water bottles and crap.
- Nothing is scary or surprising, because most humans have seen a movie before, and sound cues indicate what’s going to happen all of the time.
- The engine Cage uses to make these games only heightens the excitement and drama of small things – most famously The Lizard trial in Heavy Rain. It is incapable of capturing the complexity of a fantastic action sequences the same way most video games already can pretty well.
- Jodie’s thighs are too fucking thin.
- Jodie tells Nathan, “Don’t let them do that again. If they open a passage, there’ll be nothing left.” The bad news? I think we’re supposed to be surprised that they do it again. The worse news? Because of the way the story works, it won’t be relevant for another 10 hours.
- The chapter in which Jodie is homeless and makes friends with homeless people invites a question for anyone interested in seeing more scenarios that aren’t typically presented in video games: Why isn’t the whole game about using your ghost powers to overcome and navigate the challenges of being homeless? Because 1) Cage does not have anything poignant to say about being homeless, 2) he hasn’t met enough black people in his life to write about more than one in the same story for too long, and 3) despite all the smoke he blows about taking video games to a new level, he’s afraid NOT to put in more scenes that involve the same guns and violence that every video game has.
- There’s a point where you can accept someone’s sexual proposition, but even if you do Jodie just changes her mind about it. Again, your choices are negated if David Cage doesn’t like them, yet he’s still willing to put women in dangerous and titillating situations without seriously confronting their consequences.
- There are maybe one or two times where Jodie has prophetic visions in her dreams. These were likely put in so the plot would make slightly more sense. Since the story is presented out of order, it totally doesn’t work.
- By the way. Aiden is pronounced throughout the game as “Eye-den,” except for one point when Willem Dafoe pronounces it “Ay-den.” He probably pronounced it that way because that is how you are supposed pronounce the name Aiden. Cage did not deign to correct Willem, even if it meant an inconsistency.
- Women in David Cage games exist to 1) be fucked or threatened with unwanted fucking, 2) be beaten up, 3) be impregnated, 4) cry, or 5) all of the above.
- Flashbacks to Child Jodie are mostly complete wastes of time. The only good part is when you have a snowball fight.
- Girls’ Night Out is the chapter is which Jodie is whiny, entitled, and uses her powers for stupid reasons. Rather than making you appreciate Jodie’s growth, it only highlights how often Jodie is whiny and entitled throughout the story.
- The Navajo chapter has already been equated to a bad episode of the X-Files. Doesn’t that sound great, though? What if every chapter was Jodie drifting into some town and solving their ghost problems?
- Believe it or not, the sequence in which a white girl teaches a Navajo family how to deal with the vengeful spirit that their ancestors foolishly summoned to repel the White Man 200 years ago is still not the most racist thing David Cage has written.
- The horses on the Navajo ranch are wearing English bridles, while they should be wearing Western bridles. They’re the only horses in the game, I mean, come on
- Also, nearly every time there is an elevator in this game, a sign nearby refers to it as a “Lift”. It’s like in Heavy Rain when abandoned lots were referred to as “wastelands”. Cage would never let a copy editor near his precious script.
- Nathan’s back story is illuminated very quickly and very late. Cage probably had exactly 6 hours with Willem Dafoe to just cram everything in.
- Also, I know I said Nathan was Jodie’s father figure, but is he really? Seriously. I can’t think of a single nice thing he does for Jodie, or even a single lasting lesson he imparts on her. Nathan’s assistant Cole is nicer to Jodie than basically anyone else in the story, and he’s still just a “supporting” member of the cast.
- The one environment that gets reused over and over is the dorm that Jodie stays in while working with Nathan. It’s suggested at one point we should feel sentimental about it, even though it is the least impressive looking residence in the whole game and nothing pleasant ever happens there.
- It’s during The Dinner scene where we had the brilliant revelation that the game might have been better if the chapters were divided between those in which you controlled Jodie and those in which you controlled Aiden. As is, the opportunites where you can control Aiden seem arbitrary, and when you actively control one to sabotage the other, as in this scene, it seems as though your presence at best deteriorates the story and its logic, and at worse puts you in control of the character who is in the least interesting situation at the time.
- David Cage loooooves making women take showers with their hands against the wall being all live, “Uhhh, I just looove being NAKED and wet.” It’s not sexy, though, because Jodie washes her hair while it’s still pulled back in a ponytail. Grrrrrross. No shampoo, no conditioner, just a pile of wet, dirty, smelly hair trapped in a festering pile. Help me, Aiden!
- It seems to be completely arbitrary, as well, what actions get QTE prompts. Opening a bottle of wine gets two. Putting on a diving suit doesn’t get any.
- Ellen Page is a fine actress. But she just doesn’t have the range to hold my interest or sympathy for 20 hours.
- Ellen Page is also one of the least expressive actors in Hollywood. She’s known for having a somewhat monotone voice and deadpan delivery, no matter her role. This may make her an excellent choice for some movie roles, but this makes her particularly poor one for an animated medium. Compare Ellen Page’s extremely faithful motion capture to that of Kristen Bell, from the Assassin’s Creed series, and you’ll see a markedly less wooden character model, despite the less sophisticated technology. Bell is a naturally more animated, physically/facially/vocally expressive actress, which makes her tremendously more interesting and engaging to look at when rendered as a 3D nonhuman.
- There’s a scene in which someone gets news that someone they cared about died. It’s hard to tell, though, because literally no one acts like they would have had it occurred in reality. Think about it: if someone asks you, “What’s happened?” after getting this news (first off, fuck them for not figuring it out while they’re in the room with you) would you say, “A truck… wrong side of the road… drunk driver… sentence fragments… just phrases!”
- The saddest part of the game is that there is a dedication to someone who had died. Which means, even having known the death of a friend and colleague, David Cage STILL wrote this scene. This man doesn’t know what empathy means. He can’t even empathize that Americans use elevators and not lifts!!
- And again, it’s even more jarring when, like, name actors have to work with horseshit.
- There is a chapter that is, basically, just the first act of Metal Gear Solid 4, except with a lot more floating around and wondering, “What the hell do I do now?” Yep – that’s David Cage! Pushing the envelope by making you kill brown people in a blown-out desert town! In a video game, no less!
- Jodie gets betrayed at some point. The suggestion is that we, too, should feel betrayed, but by this point she has made so many poor decisions – decision the game railroaded you and her into making – that it just feels like it’s her fault. In another game this would feel like a revelation. Here, it just doesn’t fit in with the birthday party and the homeless pregnancy and the estranged father figure and all the other stuff that happens in the story that has nothing to do with CIA missions.
- There are no fat people in this game. Cage probably hates them, too.
- In case you were wondering, yes, even while on a government mission, Jodie is still whiny and panicky and complaining.
- Your purported love interest is a terrible person who lies to you. You have the option to forgive him, when you should have the option to push him into a fast-moving river.
- As B:TS approaches its “climax,” several new characters are suddenly introduced who are conveniently “the bad guys”.
- If you put down the controller during a bout with one of these villains, you will still live and they will still die. They are so inconsequential that you don’t even need to fight them to succeed.
- Jodie is knocked out by antagonizing forces more than once after walking through a door. Considering she can see through walls, this likely means that she is an idiot.
- The only reason that the climax occurs is because several people do really stupid things that make no sense.
Every once in a while B:TS made us say, “If only this was the whole game.” If only the whole game was spent spying on enemies governments. If only the whole game was exorcising ghosts. If only the whole game was trying to get a boyfriend. If only the whole game was stealing and turning tricks on the street.
One of the hallmarks of the truly great auteur is the ability to self-edit, and show self-restraint. Tarentino edited Gogo Yubari’s vengeance-seeking twin sister Sakura out of the already incredibly genre-bending and seemingly unrestrained Kill Bill. He prioritized a cohesive, coherent narrative over simply cramming in all the stories he’d originally hoped to. And Cage seems to think of himself as an auteur, but ultimately he shows no fidelity to his own narrative–he is too eager to spill his every thought to just buckle-down, focus, and tell us a goddamned good story. Like a five year-old recounting his day at school, Beyond: Two Souls is filled with “and thens.” And then she’s a witch with magic powers. And then she’s a secret agent. And then she’s an angsty teenager. And then she’s a jilted lover. And then she’s a homeless person. And then she’s a great white savior to a bunch of hunky Injuns. And, like listening to a five year-old, I can only nod my head woodenly, praying his mother will save me from his incoherent babble before I eat my own hands out of boredom and frustration.
Instead, it’s all of these things and more. Nothing lasts long enough for it to become important. It’s none of these things and less.