Podzilla 1985

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why am I not excited for Beyond: Two Souls?

      

        
  Beyond: Two Souls came out Tuesday and so far, reception seems to be mixed.

There was a time back when it was announced that I was excited for it. It had big names in Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, it was bound to look fantastic, it was another story driven experience, it had an intriguing supernatural element, and I liked Heavy Rain.

So what changed?
I'm not really sure.

The more footage that came out, the less I "got" what was going on. The plot seemed all over the place.
Heavy Rain was a relatively grounded thriller/mystery. The initial trailer for Beyond: Two Souls seemed, at least to me, to promise another relatively grounded story focused on one character(likely better acted this time) but with a supernatural element.
But then more clips came out and we were seeing her in the CIA, overseas in a 3rd world country, and in combat with camo.
 It just felt jarring and like a change in tone to me.



Now when I said "I liked Heavy Rain". I meant just that. I liked it. I didn't LOVE it.
I was hyped for Heavy Rain because it was fairly unique in what it was. Story driven and laden with choices that effected the outcome. Plus the enjoyment I got out of it was from the moments of tension it created.(Some people call Heavy Rain and B:TS, a return of classic adventure games, but I take issue with that. My experience with adventures games is that they were filled with charm, humor, puzzles and dialogue choices. These modern games are just story driven.)
I only played it once and didn't really feel compelled to play again to see other outcomes. Mine was the one I earned. It wasn't a good one, but those were my choices.

The thing is, one could argue, and many do, that Heavy Rain was somewhat poorly written and contained plot holes. It's much more apparent when you ask yourself, "How would I rate this if it were a movie?"
Admittedly, I'm not too sensitive to those things so I didn't catch on to that stuff during my playthrough. Plot holes rarely effect my enjoyment of a story, unless they're so obvious that a kid could see it.
(David Cage claims Heavy Rain is meant to be played once. Which makes me wonder if he KNEW there were plot holes that would become more obvious  if you played multiple times.)

But to get back to my point, the more I reflected on Heavy Rain, the less interesting and memorable I found the story. Plus, the more I read from David Cage, the more he came off as a wannabe filmmaker/artist blowhard. I can't really point to specific remarks, but he's a guy who's made story in video games his crusade yet seems to fall behind other developers in that aspect who allow more input/gameplay into their games. He wants gamers to pay $60 for what's basically a movie.(Simplistic, I know. But you get my point)


Now it's out, the reviews are mixed and I'm thinking "Neat, maybe people will realize Cage isn't quite the genius some think he is" and "I'll wait until it's cheaper and play it. I'm sure I'll at least enjoy it."
(I know I know, it's petty. But the guy irks me if he thinks his storytelling voice is unique or head and shoulders above other developers)

___

   Story in video games is still in somewhat of a period of growing pains. While there have been games with good stories through the years, it's never been a consistent thing. A lot of gamers still see it as secondary to gameplay. But, I'd say within this generation that's soon to be ending, great progress has been made. I'm guessing it's for several reasons. The age of the average gamer is now squarely in the adult range. Budgets have skyrocketed. And technology has allowed much more believable and nuanced performances from the characters. I like this trend and I hope it continues. But the thing I'm not sure Cage understands(Maybe he does and my limited knowledge of him restricts my view of him) is that you can tell a mature and interesting story in a video game without taking most of the control out of the gamer's hands.
  There have been a number of games that were heavy on action(in the sense that the gamer controlled most of what progressed the plot) without sacrificing the narrative. I mentioned them in a previous blog post but The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite both did that in my opinion. Others include Red Dead Redemption, Resistance 3, the original Bioshock, possibly GTA V, and arguably the Uncharted series(from a more pulp adventure aspect).
 Cage wants to focus heavily on telling mature stories. Fine. Good. Go for it. Don't misunderstand me. I have nothing against a more cinematic approach like Quantic Dream does. That's not my complaint. But if you're going cut out a lot of traditional gameplay, I expect more from your final product. Other developers do it and they don't pretend that the industry isn't interested in story.

There was nothing in Heavy Rain that stuck with me like Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us or Red Dead Redemption. For a game that's focus is heavily the story, that's something you can't allow. Your characters better be fleshed out and your plot better have tension.

So I guess when it comes down to it, I know why I'm not as excited for Beyond: Two Souls as I once was. My expectations are that it'd be $60 and I'd play a story driven game that I'd somewhat enjoy but would just move on and forget about it. On to more action packed games whose stories stuck with me.




Some notes:
-David Cage may be a nice enough person in real life. I have no clue.
-I didn't mention any of the Metal Gear Solid games up there within examples of good story AND gameplay packed games. I'm not sure if the Metal Gear Solid narrative is objectively good or not honestly. Kojima writes interesting stuff. But he needs an editor sometimes. I have to wonder if people just confuse thought provoking plot with "good writing". I'm not saying it's bad. It can just be so...out there...that it's hard to tell.
-Reviews say Beyond: Two Souls is different from Heavy Rain in that the lead character can't die like the characters in HR at various times. And surprisingly, that Ellen Page is better than Willem Dafoe.
-I talk a big game but I can be easily satisfied by stories in movies. But I stand by my thoughts on video game stories.
-All of this may just be me being cynical about games that outright STATE that it's dramatic and story driven.
-I honestly am curious to play it eventually. I'm just trying to keep my expectations in check given who I think is passionate writer/director, but claims more talent than he has.
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