Review

Beyond: Two Souls

Doused With Spirits

Beyond: Two Souls tells a story that wants to be everything. It certainly is something.

By Joe Keiser • October 10, 2013

One of my favorite things I learned in high school, a lesson from my ninth-grade English teacher, was that every time you write a story, you are allowed to place in it a single tear. Shedding more, she said, is “not literary,” and bawls would wash away your grade. I love this lesson because it is wrong. There aren’t rules about this kind of thing. But it prevented a generation of melodramatic teenagers from plinking out prose about crying in the rain. And since I’m pretty sure adolescent tales of “I’m sobbing alone because no one understands me” are the No. 1 source of teacher resignations in America, this was one wrong rule for the greater good.

If someone submitted Beyond: Two Souls to my English teacher, they would be kept after class. There is one scene, early in the game, where crying is used effectively. Here, the player, as the invisible specter Aiden, is likely to run amok, and the tears make the player feel like a bit of an animal. But then the game keeps crying, for events small and large, steamrolling well past the point of ridiculousness. At one point, the protagonist, Jodie Holmes, is not allowed to go to a bar, and you can direct her to throw two different kinds of tantrums. In another scene, you move her around a room to fill a duffel bag, and she cries the whole time. Time and time again, Beyond wants you to feel Jodie’s pain, so it reaches for the fire hose.

Beyond: Two Souls

This is a game that wants you to feel something, anything, so badly that its story throws everything at you in the hopes that something will stick. But it only leaves you reeling. It tries to depict the life of Jodie, a girl who grows to adulthood tethered to Aiden, a poltergeist-like being of unknown provenance. Aiden is rather powerful, so the government keeps Jodie locked up and under the watchful eye of the paranormal scientists Cole and Nathan. Jodie’s relationship with Aiden, the government, and the researchers who become her surrogate parents are all explored—a walking weapon’s journey to adulthood.

Some of the pieces are here for this to work out. Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and Kadeem Hardison perform the respective roles of Jodie, Nathan, and Cole with motion-captured gusto, and state-of-the-art visual tech does their performances justice. Under a steady hand, then, this might have been an interesting character portrait. Instead, it is a careening character portrait-action-horror-drama that’s lit with explosions and soaked in salty tears. Without revealing anything too story-specific, this is a game where you are likely to kick-box with police on a moving train, find a spot in the snow to pee, pal around with a child soldier in Somalia, and choose whether or not to accept the awkward butt touches of a strange boy at a party. Yes, child soldiers and butt touching. This is a game with some hard swings.

Beyond: Two Souls

The experience of playing the game does nothing to paper over these vast story chasms, and for the most part, the game design does its best to stay out of the way. In practice, playing as Jodie is mostly walking around and following a handful of simple onscreen cues—pushing “X” when the screen displays an “X,” or moving the stick in the direction of a dot. Playing as Aiden is similar but slightly more interesting because you can wreck stuff with your ghostly powers. The game can also be played with a proprietary phone and tablet app, which replaces the controller completely. This simplifies play even further, though at the cost of less intuitive character movement.

But if you need proof that your participation takes a backseat to the story being told in Beyond, you only need to look at Aiden. He has an incredible number of powers, including the ability to possess people or to choke them. Beyond: Two Souls also refuses to stop telling its story—even if Jodie is captured or killed, the arc bends around it and continues on. Since this malleability has to be pre-planned, Jodie is only allowed to die at set points. Which in turn means that Aiden largely can’t screw up a choke or possession. The game won’t let him. He can only strangle certain people, and possess certain others, in a way that ensures Jodie stays hidden and safe. This makes playing as Aiden feel arbitrary, but it lets the game continue apace.

Beyond: Two Souls

Being freed from the pace-slowing shackles of player mistakes allows the tale of Beyond to pinball violently around, and there’s an uncomplicated hilarity to watching it unfold. Everything is so disjointed and strange, and all the emotional hooks have been sandblasted into such a featureless plane, that there’s no way to tell what will happen next—you could be playing with dolls, or dealing with a “mature” theme like suicide, or gearing up for a training montage.

Or you could enter one of the rare scenes where the light interactions mingle with subtler storytelling to create something arresting. When Jodie is preparing herself and her apartment for her first real date, and you’re asked to fret over the small things that seem to mean so much in this situation, everything snaps into focus, and it becomes clear why you would want to make a game this way. But this was probably not how Beyond was meant to turn out, with just a few islands of great storytelling in a sea of unearned melodramatic nonsense. It’s an unintentional B-game, in the campy tradition of a B-movie. But with all these tears, it just isn’t literary.

Beyond: Two Souls
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Price: $60
Rating: M

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  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    The scientists are named Cole and Nathan? What is this, a video game?

    • TheBryanJZX90

      Man I wanted to name my hypothetical future son Cole ever since Final Fantasy 6. And I totally could have done it too, because my wife named our daughter after some character in an anime show she watched when she was a kid. But then 45% of all AAA video game characters from the past 6 years have been named Cole and it completely ruined the name.

      • TaumpyTearrs

        What’s your daughter’s name? Sailor Mercury?

        I kid, I would totally name my daughter Ryoko (and my lady loves Tenchi Muyo too, so it would probably fly).

        • TheBryanJZX90

          Uh, it’s Candice actually, taken from this manga: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/7f/Candy_c.jpg

      • DrFlimFlam

        I know a child named Vash and that’s all I can say because it makes me so sad.

        And yes, Cole is the gamiest name in the world.

        • J-

           I wonder if he’s met my kid, Timmy Night Shift Nurses Json?

      • Zetes Johnson

         I work with a guy named Cole. I guess my first thought is Cole Porter.

    • Destroy Him My Robots

      Clearly. That redhead in the second screenshot obviously goes to the same barber who’s worked on all the Bioware games.

      • PaganPoet

        IKR? A Caesar cut? In 2013? Open a magazine, people.

      • Green Arrow

         Thank you.

      • Fluka

        Alistair approves +10.

        • PaganPoet

          Who cares what Alistair thinks? The cock-tease.

        • Fluka

          *Pats @PaganPoet:disqus on the back sympathetically.*

      • J-

        I have never been as sure as I am now that Bioware has like a $940 million dollar facility in Switzerland of 225 guys with math PhDs who *specifically* and *exclusively* code hairstyles?

    • miltthefish

      Voiced by Academy Award nominee Ellen Page, Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe, and the guy who played Dwayne Wayne.

      • WELCOME_THRILLHO

         That reminds me of what my friend said when we saw the trailer for Prisoners- “Eight academy award winners and Paul Dano.”

        • Zetes Johnson

          I think the only actual winner is Melissa Leo, though. And Dano deserves an Academy Award more than she does.

      • Marty McFly

        “Ellen Page; otherwise known as that-girl-who-played-the-girl-in-The Last of Us-but-wait-she-didn’t-what?!”

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          Man, I feel really bad for Ashley Johnson. Ellen Page got more recognition for The Last of Us than she did.

        • Halloween_Jack

          Quite honestly, I’m not sure why this game is being as heavily promoted as it is except that TLOU was a sleeper hit and Ellen Page got tired of people praising her for being in a game that she had nothing to do with and decided that maybe they were trying to tell her something. 

    • Pun-Expected Dave

      Every Nathan I’ve met in real life is a surfer.

      • Citric

        I know one who is a long-haul truck driver.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           He can be two things

      • cjm78

        you don’t seem too familiar with mid-west nathans. totally opposite animal.

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    Welp, this sounds awful. I should finally get around to playing Shadow of the Colossus or something, because I’m starting to really hate these games that try to be ART and the discussions surrounding them from the gaming community.

    • PaganPoet

      I just wonder when we’re ever going to get the Wuthering Heights of video games. 

      Or The Rite of Spring of graphic novels. Or the Seated Woman With a Parasol of handmade basket weaving.

      • G.E.L.F.

        As video games mature, we’ll get the equivalent of great literature– it will just come in a form that’s brand new, arising from the strengths games do have as a medium (total immersion and interaction, world building, freedom of exploration, nonlinear narratives, even the ability to be completely abstract while maintaining a discernable logic) instead of trying to be like a movie with a few choose-your-own-adventure spots. 

        • Forcemeat

          *As video games mature, we’ll get the equivalent of great literature…*

          Interesting theory. Here’s my counterpoint: Galloping horseshit. Like, what, painting was a weak art form until we finally got burnt ochre and periwinkle?

          I hate to tell you–wait, no, actually I take great pleasure in telling you that games aren’t maturing at all. That’s pure, distilled David Cage Mistake you’re drinking right there: That bad media will become better if we add more technology. Counterpoint: Delgo.

      • dreadguacamole

         You know what? We already have the Wuthering Heights/Citizen Kane*/Queensryche’s Eyes if a Stranger of video games. It’s called Tetris.

         *I just realized Citizen Kane has 8.5 in IMDB. Don’t they realize what that will do to its metacritic score?

        • PaganPoet

          Aye, I was making fun of the notion that video games even need a Citizen Kane.

        • a_scintillating_comment

          “Aw shit…it’s final. The Metacritic score has settled at an 84. Well, someone has to tell Orson he’s not getting his bonus, and it’s sure as hell not gonna be me!”

        • dreadguacamole

          Dear @PaganPoet:disqus : 

          A) I seem to be unable to avoid replying to Are Games Art? questions – even though everything that could be said about it has been said. Repeatedly. Sorry!

          B) I may have used your comment as a platform to mention that stupid Citizen Kane factoid, which made me laugh when I discovered randomly last week. Sorry!
          C) Queensrÿche’s Eyes of a Stranger should be mentioned as much as possible in any possible context. I will not apologize for that.

        • Citric

          Do Sight and Sound polls attract angry misspelled rants about how Citizen Kane totally owns Vertigo? Because I want to live in a world where they do.

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           WE MUST FIND THE HEATHENS AND BURN DOWN THEIR REVIEWS. THE THINGS WE LIKE MUST HAVE PERFECT METACRITIC SCORES.

        • Halloween_Jack

          WE WILL DIG UP ROGER EBERT’S CORPSE AND MAKE HIM PAY FOR HIS HERESY, OH YES WE WILL… WAIT, SOMEONE BEAT US TO IT? SCREW IT, BREAK OUT THE SHOVELS ANYWAY

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Tetris is video gaming’s “Cubic Construction” by Sol Lewitt, I think. But probably a better piece of art (nothing against Lewitt, Tetris is just that good).

      • Professor_Cuntburglar

         The odd thing about games is that, unlike a lot of other art forms, it’s way easier to make a crazy space adventure game than it is to make a game about real normal people talking and going about their lives.

        • G.E.L.F.

          It’s not that odd. Comics and animation are the same way, it’s easier to go big and crazy with superheroes or wacky animals instead of making quiet real-life dramas that really ring true. With a movie you have actors and real locations to start with and the further you want to get from that, the more effort it requires. A game or piece of animation starts from a completely blank slate so it’s generally easier to come up with a world and story that operates by its own logic than try to capture a glimmer of reality. 

      • Pablo Martin Podhorzer

        The Stanley Parable is a strong contender for the title. If only was longer…

    • PPPfive

      Thanks for starting/fuelling that discussion you hate here. Masochist?

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

        Haha. Yeah, reading that this morning my comment is pretty douchey, especially for one of the first ones on this review. That said, I stand by it. 

        I like the discussion, I just don’t like the mainstream discussion on it. I’ve had some great talks about games as art here on the GS before though. 

        But yeah, my original comment here is pretty obnoxious and inflammatory.

        As for me being a Masochist, I do tend to always stumble down and read a few of the comments on about every internet article I read, so… probably.

        • PPPfive

          It’s OK! I was just messing around. I can’t tell if that’s Chauncey or the Honey Monster in your profile pic, either way I could never attempt to chide you sincerely

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I don’t have an issue with games that try to be art, even games that try something ambitious and fail.

      I do have a bit of an issue with games that purport to be breaking wild new artistic ground while actually operating well with in the tradition of FMV drek the like of “Dark Star: The Interactive Movie.”

      • a_scintillating_comment

        Darkstar was interactive?!

    • Sean Riley

      Most games that try to be ART are fine. ‘Gone Home’ I didn’t like, but it does its thing very well. ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ and ‘Ico’ were both amazing. ‘Passage’ is a powerful little thing.

      Just ignore anything from David Cage. He doesn’t want to be a game designer. He wants to be a film-maker. I don’t understand why he doesn’t just make films.

      • http://www.facebook.com/a.j.woolston Adam Woolston

        The film industry already has its M Night Shyamalan and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have room for another.

        Seriously though, it seems pretty clear Quantic Dream would likely be able to take their games to even more interesting places if Cage could only take a step back and let other writers and designers take the lead while he acts more in a creative director-type role rather than an overwhelming director / writer one.

        • Fluka

          M Night Shyamalan is the aptest comparison.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          @Fluka:disqus Shyamalan has ceased considering himself a cutting-edge flimmaker, and now is more about him as a master student.  Cage still pontificates.

          If The Last Airbender made a ton of money and Shyamalan took on Cameron-like qualities, THEN the comparison would be flawless.

      • CrabNaga

        I guess a good rule of thumb is: if you can tell that a game is trying to be art, then it’s probably not doing a good job at it.

        • J-

           Mmmm . . . sorta. But lots of games that don’t try to be art and, well, aren’t art either. Sorry, but “Modern Warfare” just straight-up is not on any sort of a continuum with Shakespeare.

    • saabmanlutz

      Shadow of the Colossus works since you do one thing: hunt down and destroy monsters, and the game does that one thing very well.

    • stakkalee

      Yeah, this just sounds like a series of QTEs with varying levels of involvement.  For an ‘interactive story’ it seems pretty locked down.

    • CrabNaga

      I don’t really get the “games as art” argument, since I feel like games have been art since the first one was made. Trying to make a game into an “art game” is basically saying “I want to make something other than a video game.”

      • J-

         It’s people’s way  of arguing that people should stop saying things about bad, boring games such as “This game was bad and boring.”

        Games are not art. Games are games.

        • randall nickerson

          So paintings are not art, they’re paintings? And music is not art, it’s music? Etc., etc.

          “Art” is far too broad an subjective term to categorically say “X” isn’t art. Are video games classical art? No, but they are certainly an art form in much the same way movies and books are art forms.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        People sometimes don’t understand how art works, and say stuff like “that isn’t art” when they mean “that isn’t good art” (which may also be a useless statement, but I’ll leave that aside).

        Since 100 years ago with Duchamp (at least), it’s been pretty clear that any and everything can be art. People just look silly or ignorant when they say something isn’t or can’t be art.

        • J-

           Games are not art. Doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable or beautiful or creative but still: Not art.

        • GaryX

          I did enjoy that when MoMA added video games, the announcement just started with “Are video games art? They sure are…” So succinct. 

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @disqus_mh5S263In3:disqus Not all games are enjoyable, or beautiful, or creative. BUT all games absolutely are art (not all art is enjoyable or beautiful or creative, either), unless you have some arbitrarily restrictive private definition of the term ‘art’ that you for some reason aren’t sharing with us. If you’re going to make a sweeping knee-jerk dismissal like that, you’re going to have to lay out your terms. “For me, art is Renaissance painting and nothing else. Therefore, games are not art, to me.” Or whatever.

    • doyourealize

      I hate this, too…but I accidentally did it below. Sometimes the English teacher just takes over, the need to critique something with at least some merit.

  • signsofrain

    Quantic Dream should have listened to the internet and made Kara.

    • Derek_Noakes

      I thought Heavy Rain succeeded better as a video game, because the player choices had a bigger impact on the overall narrative (from what I can tell after a single play through of Beyond), however the narrative and acting in Beyond are significantly stronger. I’m totally on board with David Cage’s idea of what a game can be, I’m just waiting for him to make the perfect one.

      • Logan

        He’s trying too hard. A perfect game won’t come if he keeps attempting to make one. He just needs to make a game with the technology and better his story telling. We also need other directors to play around with Quantic Dream’s budget. 3D has been used in Friday the 13th, leave it to Alfonzo Cuaron and James Cameron to better utilize it.

        Same thing, Give that money to somebody who can use that idea better, and we will have games that approach compelling. Right now, we just have Special effect set pieces and overwrought storytelling. We need stronger writers, and by then, we could at least start cooking with gas.

      • JohnnyLongtorso

        So they didn’t get a bunch of British actors to do bad American accents this time? That was the weirdest thing about Heavy Rain – all the voice actors somehow sounded like they were French actors trying to do American accents, despite their nationalities.

        • JamesJournal

          That really annoyed me. Like why not set the fucking game in France then? You have computers that can set the game ANYWHERE for the same amount of money

      • Gryffle

        I actually thought the Taxidermist DLC was the most interesting part of Heavy Rain in terms of gameplay. Set in a murder suspect’s home as whatsername the reporter searches for clues, it combined exploration and investigation with a great, creepy reveal, followed by a tense section where you have to hide from the killer and find a way to escape. It had multiple endings, and let you try a bunch of different ways to evade detection and get out. And you could fail, badly. To me it was both more interactive and created higher stakes than Heavy Rain’s main story, which, as some have mentioned, often made it feel like your actions were inconsequential.

    • Sean Riley

      Man. I just watched Kara for the first time. That’s some competent sci-fi right there, nice stuff. The male voice actor was awful, but it’s just a tech demo after all.

      That’s probably the best thing I’ve ever seen Quantic Dream do. No wonder the internet loved it.

      • signsofrain

        I can already imagine the kinds of things a designer might do with that scenario. As Kara your owner might ask you to do objectionable or unethical things. Part of the game might be figuring out how to subvert him without outright disobeying. Disobey too early in the game and be returned to the factory… Wait for your moments to assert your free will. Other Kara types you meet won’t seem to be sentient but soon you’ll meet others who, like you, can think and disobey…

  • zerocrates

    These Quantic Dream games are all basically an amateurish story with the bare minimum of gameplay and interactivity grafted on top, and a strange fascination with detailed simulation of the mundane right along with the supernatural and the absurd. David Cage has made it no secret that he approaches games like movies, and often the results have the kind of pacing and coherence you might expect from a 10-hour-long movie.

    That being said, I’ll probably end up paying money for this. I can’t exactly explain why.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      Sixty dollars seems a bit much to pay for butt touching.

      • http://caspiancomic.com/gametheory caspiancomic

        It’s worse than that: the review suggests you’re paying sixty dollars to have your butt touched.

        • zerocrates

          And?

        • SaoirseRonanTheAccuser

          That’s actually kind of my thing.  I’m tempted now.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @zerocrates:disqus  @SaoirseRonanTheAccuser:disqus 
          You’re paying way too much for your butt touches. Y’all need to get on Craigslist.

      • MathleticDepartment

        Must be a regional thing. Where I come from, we call that “value”

      • a_scintillating_comment

        I guess it depends on how much butt there is to touch

        • MathleticDepartment

          Market value is determined by several factors, yes

      • Marty McFly

        Shit that’s CHEAP in my area code. 

        • Pun-Expected Dave

          You need to visit Halifax, Nova Scotia. We have surfers named Nathan and all the butt-touching you can handle for a $5 cover charge.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      It feels like he never learned the lessons everyone else did from the glut of “Look! An interactive movie!” shitty FMV games that game with the development of CD-ROM in the 90s. Admittedly, I haven’t had the chance to play his newer stuff (console exclusivity is another annoying, tone-deaf tic of David Cage…), so it’s possible it’s not as bad as reputed. But Indigo Prophecy was a total shitshow, and from what I’ve seen of the newer games, they still carry pretty glaring flaws.

      • DrKumAndGo

        Yes, this exactly!

        The Walking Dead games are great because they combine excellent ideas and writing with the 30+ years of design lessons that we have from LucasArts-style adventure games. They elaborate on an already very good wheel to make something great.

        Cage’s games, on the other hand, pair poor design and writing with a poor understanding of videogames as a medium. They try to reinvent the wheel without understanding why it needs to be round.

        Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A “vision” is all well and good, but going from vision to finished product requires knowledge and experience. And if you’re contemptuous of your medium and its history, like Cage apparently is, you’re not going to know what works and what doesn’t.

      • stepped_pyramids

        Indigo Prophecy was better than Heavy Rain (in the same sense that Jason X is better than Freddy Vs. Jason), and this new game sounds like Heavy Rain with the best parts removed.

    • Citric

      The weird thing about Heavy Rain, the only Quantic Dream title I’ve played, is that it seems to be so obsessed with the mundane, there’s as much time drying off your balls and wandering around your house as there is doing things that are relevant.

      I actually enjoyed it as a kind of pulpy choose your adventure thing, though I certainly understand the backlash – David Cage seems like he’d make a game out of the premise of The Three from Adaptation – but it struck me as odd how much time is spent on really inconsequential garbage.

      • zerocrates

        Right.

        If you’ve been playing games lately and wondering, “Hey, what are the exact actions this character might perform in the bathroom on an average day?” then David Cage has a game for you.

      • JamesJournal

        The time spent doing mundane things in Heavy Rain is what made the core action that much more intense.

        For a couple hours you’re a dude, then someone draws a gun and the stakes feel WAY higher than in GTA because I really feel like I’m just a dude

        • signsofrain

          Agreed. People are too hard on Heavy Rain. Yes, there is much to be derided (Jason? Jason! Jasonnnn!) but there’s a lot to like about it too. Ethan and Madison are particularly likeable, realistically realized characters. (Though I felt Ethan’s wife got a bit of the short end of the stick as a character) The acting might be a little wooden, but I felt empathy for Ethan. The poor guy lost it all, and his grief felt real.

    • Pablo Martin Podhorzer

      I´m watching it in Youtube, like a movie, and is not bad at all. Lately, videogames are a better Hollywood than Hollywood.

  • rvb1023

    Me and my friend have been playing the co-op and while the writing has improved from Heavy Rain the same problems persist. Choices usually don’t matter except for a few key ones and failure seems to be non-existent. It is at the very least much better acted than Heavy Rain or Indigo Prophecy, since English actually seemed to be the first language it was made in.

    The problem is The Walking Dead showed the right way to make this kind of game and David Cage isn’t doing it right.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      I wouldn’t go so far to suggest that The Walking Dead has a monopoly on this kind of game, but it’s also the only game I can remember to make me cry over something, as opposed to getting a little misty-eyed at best.

      I have to wonder why I found The Walking Dead so much more affecting than, say, Indigo Prophecy, which is the only David Cage game I’ve actually played. Is it the visual style? The time limits? The suggestion that other characters are actual people that will remember the things I do?

      It can’t just be the writing. Then again, The Walking Dead never expected me to Matrix-fight a Mayan oracle by playing Simon. Advantage: Telltale.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        It’s also the controls. Indigo Prophecy has literally the worst control scheme in all of gaming.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        It could just be the writing, as Indigo Prophecy has famously some of the absolute worst writing and storytelling in the medium, while Walking Dead’s is relatively well-respective.

        The shitty acting might also have made the story in IP less affecting, too.

        • CrabNaga

          I think my favorite bit from Indigo Prophecy was the part where Ethan(?) dies and the game/story handles it like “oh, you’re undead now.” 

        • uselessyss

          @CrabNaga:disqus That moment is followed by what is probably my least favorite moment in IP, which is when the recently-dead/zombie Ethan has sex with the female detective character, whose attraction to the guy is completely inexplicable and forced.

        • JamesJournal

          IP was cool until that last third damn it.

          Then … WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @jamesjournal:disqus ”Oh, hai, nanobots! I’m a zombie now. Fancy a trip to the bone-zone, pretty lady?”

      • Roswulf

        For me. it’s the synergy between story and mechanic.

        The premise of The Walking Dead game’s story (heck, the premise of the universe) is that a zombie apocalypse forces people to make terrible choices concerning their interactions with other people. By forcing the player to make those choices, Walking Dead, can hit the player over the head with this specific two-by-four of meaning over and over and over. Making the audience responsible for each pivotal decision is an enormously powerful tool for this sort of story, where the protagonist is an easily empathized with individual who chooses to do monstrous things.

        Now to be sure the Walking Dead elaborates on this core emotional engagement very well. By sketching character well (I love you Clem), it creates stakes. And it avoids becoming too repetitive both through devilish creativity in the plot and through a truly impressive sense of pace- sometimes by giving the player forever to make the hard decision, sometimes forcing an immediate gut betrayal.

        But The Walking Dead works because it tells a story that depends on empathy, and uses gaming mechanics to supercharge empathy.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

          test

        • Roswulf

           @facebook-100006233854747:disqus I really like your ‘director’ versus ‘character’ distinction, I think that’s exactly what Telltale understands.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

          Thanks Roswulf. I get the impression that Cage is too controlling with his artistic vision to let anyone affect it meaningfully. To draw on analogy he might like, courtesy of Manny Farber, it’s the whole white elephant art thing — Cage’s games are pretentious and clinical, whereas there’s something unfussy and old-Hollywood about THE WALKING DEAD, in terms of its core grasp on characters/story. 
          I say that as a fan of HEAVY RAIN, but I also feel like it’s a very pretty piece of eye-candy that could sit on loop as a tech demo. 

          ————————————-
          edit .. rats — I’m new here and don’t know how to reply to a lower post in the read.

        • djsubversive

          @facebook-100006233854747:disqus this deep in, you can’t directly reply to a comment. it’s one of the annoying little quirks that makes up Disqus. you can, however, ‘tag’ somebody by using @theirName.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

          @djsubversive .. thanks, when I first published the second reply, it appeared directly under Roswulf’s, so I became confused, but it looks like it’s found its right place in the pecking order.

      • rvb1023

         I didn’t mean to imply The Walking Dead had a monopoly on story-driven games, merely that The Walking Dead is the most obvious example for the kind of game David Cage wants to make done right. So far, Beyond has the best writing he has had since Omnikron, acting is the most natural, and the QTE elements are visually less obvious than ever.

        But the writing still isn’t good, both in conversation and in story structure as a whole. This is a game that could have played out in chronological order but instead jumps around probably because Cage thinks its smarter this way.

        And Indigo Prophecy is by far the worst game he has ever made, Heavy Rain was a (small) improvement and I’ll need to beat Beyond before I can form any sort of consensus.

        It should be noted this game has a co-op mode that keeps the other people in the room more interested, as most of my roommates have been watching me play through.

        • The_Helmaroc_King

          I was thinking of the last line in your comment when I wrote that line about the monopoly:

          “The Walking Dead showed the right way to make this kind of game and David Cage isn’t doing it right.”

          “The right way” can mean a lot of things, and there’s a lot I loved about The Walking Dead, but I’m hoping there are more ways for designers to make their games affecting than just aping the one that everyone loved. It wouldn’t fix the writing issue, at any rate.

          I’m not surprised if Indigo Prophecy is Cage’s worst; the last half of that story was all kinds of messy, and the whole “Simon” thing was never a particularly good idea.

        • rvb1023

           @The_Helmaroc_King:disqus You are entirely right in that regard. Actually, up until TWD, I had never enjoyed a Telltale game and it took some convincing to even get me to play that one. I certainly do not wish for TWD to become the gold standard story-driven games.

      • Pun-Expected Dave

        As @facebook-100006233854747:disqus has said, Quantic Dream games create a distance between the player and the character. In Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, you’re called upon to direct your characters’ actions, but you never get into their minds. When controlling a detective, you look at clues and then the game makes the logical leaps for you.* The characters’ emotions are controlled by an algorithm, whereas most games with an “interactive story” component allow the player to “choose” their character’s emotional response.**

        *Compare that with an adventure game like Phoenix Wright, where the player is the one who must draw the correct inferences. It intensifies the “holy shit” factor when you solve the mystery yourself, rather than simply having the solution explained to you.

        **In Mass Effect 2, for example, the player chooses whether Shepard reacts with approval or disapproval to seeing an inmate get beaten by a guard.

        • JamesJournal

          Alpha Protocol does a good job of this. Not only do you determine Thorton’s motivations, but YOU have to out spy the bad guys.

          When you get over on people its because you deduced their secrets or out played them

          Sometimes you believe liars and play right into their hands

    • JohnnyLongtorso

      I read one review of the game where the reviewer stated that they literally put down the controller during an action sequence and let it play out and there was no penalty beyond the sequence taking longer than if it had been done correctly.

      • rvb1023

         I can attest that this is likely true. Though I have tried to succeed every prompt, whenever I have missed any it never seems to have negative consequences.

      • Derek_Noakes

        That’s true in a lot of cases. But last night I tried playing the end chapter and failing one of the final QTEs. Suffice it to say I saw a “bad” ending and one that isn’t in any of the “All Endings” videos on YouTube. So it can certainly affect the narrative.

    • JamesJournal

      The Walking Dead is the better overall game. But Heavy Rain has a bigger sense of choices mattering. All four leads can actually die in Heavy Rain.

      Your kid can die, and you can kill yourself in prison.

      The Walking Dead always ends the game way, with the same three characters surviving no matter what you do.

      • PaganPoet

        I agree with this, and it’s one of the things I hope they change in The Walking Dead 2. Your choices in the game certainly affect the way characters react and talk to you, and they affect certain minor plot elements, but ultimately, no major plot points will be changed. I’d like to see radically different stories.

        • JamesJournal

          I appreciate them wanting to keep the story bleak, with no alternate “everyone lives” ending.

          But I would have liked some meaningful plot variance. Beyond “X character is nicer to you if you give them an apple”

          Not only are there character deaths and stuff, that lose their power when you see they were forced on you, but choices that really should mean something don’t.

          I looting the van in episode 2 should actually result in better morale in episode 3, you may feel bad, but maybe the group doesn’t turn on each other and more people make it out alive. 

          Maybe the version of Lily that didn’t also have to deal with dwindling supplies can be reasoned with for a smaller chance of losing her and Carly at the same time

          However if you don’t loot the van, the entire Clem kidnapping scenario has no reason to happen. 

          You would experience an alternate episode 5 just about getting out the damn city. Only people are trying to steal the boat and you’ve potentially got less team members left.

  • Citric

    Is there another sequence where you go through a long sequence of controller motions to have a nice relaxing shower?

    • RidleyFGJ

      You better believe it!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bBIcJ96erS

      David Cage really has a thing for shower scenes.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        There was a wave of articles a little bit ago about how this game was inspired by “pictures of Ellen Page David Cage found on the internet.” It probably wasn’t the intent, but those headlines all made him sound like kind of a weird creep.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001717906444 Michael Williams

    he rip-offed Ghost Trick.

    • Other Chris

       Dammit, beat me to it. I enjoyed Ghost Trick more.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001717906444 Michael Williams

        Yea, Normally I am the last one to party. Ghost Trick in my very humble has very good writing. twists are properly foreshadowed, characters are consitant and fun, case in point Missile when you read his line all I can say is that is definitely how I little doggy would talk and act, mysteries are solved in believable way, and even they use time travel it doesn’t for apart into mess. music great, art style great, and fun gameplay and at times challenging. 

    • TheBryanJZX90

      What has better writing, this or Ghost Trick?

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I’m going to go out on a limb and say Ghost Trick. It’s written by a team famous for engaging, entertaining writing, while this game is written by a team famous for embarrassingly bad writing.

    • Pun-Expected Dave

      It turns out that you’re a cat all along?

      • Citric

        If that was the big twist in this I would buy it today.

        Beyond: Two Cats

  • hurbleduh

    Stop David Cage from making videogames. Please shame him publicly into a giant stupid Frenchy coma. Thank you. The end.

  • evanwaters

    “The best video game ever made.” – Tina Belcher

    • patagonianhorsesnake

       when i read about the butt touches, i immediately hit search and typed in “tina”. i do not regret it.

  • LoveWaffle

    Poor David Cage, tearfully holding on to the woefully incorrect idea that more photorealistic facial animations make for stronger characters.

  • JeetRaut

    What about a sequel called Beyond 2 Holes?

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      You can probably find that on another corner of the Internet.

    • EmperorNortonI

      We are still waiting for the porn-video game crossover singularity.  Until then, Beyond 2 Holes can only be a dream.

      • Carlton_Hungus

        Someone get Tracy Jordan back in the lab!

  • Derek_Noakes

    I enjoyed it. It’s not perfect, but it improves upon Heavy Rain from a story perspective. I was a little less impressed with the way player choices affected the overall narrative in this one when compared to HR.

    I get why these games aren’t for everyone, but I also don’t understand the outright ire that David Cage’s games draw from the community at large. I’d love to see this concept perfected with a tighter narrative that’s affected in larger ways by player choices. 

    I think The Verge’s review nailed why I enjoy Quantic Dream games: “The nonlinear narrative is confusing at first, switching between Jodie as an adult and as a young girl, but it pays off by keeping the story moving at a brisk pace – focusing on one theme, one mystery at a time, while subtly sneaking in bits and pieces of later revelations. This is the true game: not mastering the mechanics of how to steer Jodie and Aiden around, but figuring out which choices will get the game it give up its secrets, and piecing together the fragmented story in your head.”

    • Crusty Old Dean

      I think the ire stems from some statements he made in interviews during the promotion of Heavy Rain. Basically he painted himself as the saviour of the industry, with his superior, sophisticated games.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        And, likewise, his preening and posturing during the PS4 non-release event which juxtaposed his self-important smugness about the artfulness about his games with seemingly contradictory claims about how with the number of polygons the PS4 could push, games could start telling real stories with real emotion for the first time. Because polygons == emotions.

        He made an analogy comparing the transition to PS4 to the transition from silent to talkie films, intimating that silent films had been congenitally incapable of telling meaningful stories because they lacked sound. John rightfully tore into him for that in this editorial.

        (Though John himself isn’t above painting a whole category of games as ‘primitive’ because they lack graphics. SOME WOUNDS WILL NEVER HEAL.)

      • CrabNaga

        Yup. People caught wind of his attitude and saw that his games weren’t so great and decided to punish him for it. I feel that people would dislike him and his games a lot less if he didn’t have this “holier-than-thou” attitude about game design. Then again they’d probably sell a lot worse, too, so maybe he keeps the persona up just to increase sales.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          If he was just a guy experimenting with a particular, singular, semi-interesting-if-kinda-broken type of game, I don’t think people would hold it against him. But his assertions  that that semi-interesting-if-kinda-broken type of game is somehow the (not a) future of the form is pretty dumb and annoying.

      • Derek_Noakes

        This kind of ties in to the Doug Tennapel conversation from a few months back, but I find this a situation where you have to separate the art from the artist. Yes, David Cage makes over-reaching, self-aggrandizing statements in interviews. But QD has also produced some of the most compelling  experiences I’ve had this gaming generation. The narrative may not live up to the best movies ever (as Cage claims), but he’s trying harder than most of the writers in the video game industry. I welcome any story I can feel like I had a part in crafting, and for all their flaws, Heavy Rain and Beyond both succeed at giving the player that sense of satisfaction. I’ve unlocked endings in Beyond that aren’t in any of the “ALL ENDINGS!!!1!!1!” YouTube videos, which tells me I’m doing something right, and so is the game. As I said in an earlier thread, I get why they’re not for everyone. But I hope there’s enough people that “get it” to balance out the haters, because eventually Cage is going to nail it.

    • JamesJournal

      Same here, I love the “interactive movie” concept. The way this game is constructed doesn’t work because the time-line makes it impossible for me to contribute to how the story evolves.

      I’d love to play more games like this that REALLY pushed the flexibility aspect. When I play this kind of thing and the story is linear, well that’s fine … if it’s a movie. 

      Alpha Protocol, is still sadly the best example of a movie like game narrative that you can really have fun experimenting with.

  • needlehacksaw

    Reading the early reviews, I was reminded of Ian Bogost’s recent critique of Gone Home, which in fact was more a critique of the culture surrounding video games. A culture so hungry for emotionally resonant games (or the “art” moniker) that the small successes on that front, the games tackling the mundane and everyday life, are praised to heaven and back — even though what they deliver is actually a bit trivial compared to what other artforms achieve on a regular basis.
    http://www.bogost.com/writing/perpetual_adolescence.shtml

    One could argue that judging games by other media’s  standards is problematic, and that’s true enough. On the other hand, David Cage definitely asks for it, both with what he says time and again about the so-called “future” of games (which according to him, is to be found in better technology and, above all, movies) and the games he produces — I haven’t played Beyond yet, but according to most reviews, it’s even more linear and asking for less inputs than Heavy Rain.

    The thing is just… well, as Joe writes, his movies/games are/would be schlock. That wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself — god knows we have enough bad games, and if you don’t like them, you don’t have to play them.

    What gets me up in arms though, is, as Bogost said, the reception those games get, with people praising them to high heavens, not because they are good trash (I really hope Cage’s self-seriousness will give us one day the Room of videogames), but because they are “art” or “importnat”. I mean, if a reviewer for digital spy thinks that it’s “capable of stirring up the same depth of emotion as great works from the mediums of film and literature”, then I can just dismiss this as the opinion of somebody who probably hasn’t read a lot of literature, nor seen a lot of movies.

    But what really made me die a little inside was when the Swiss government launched a national support program for videogames and elected Guillaume de Fondaumière, Quantic Dreams co-CEO, as the head of a jury supposed to judge which videogames were worthy of financial support. Which means that Cage’s grandiloquence actually got him to a point where people who are not familiar with the medium think of him and his games when they are looking for “videogames as art”. That would be funny, if it wasn’t a little sad (and speaking for the PR problem that this medium still has.)

    • PPPfive

      It sounds silly, but why are people not familiar with videogames less qualified to decide what games become ‘art’? 

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Because they’re more likely to assess games by inappropriate metrics derived from media with which they are familiar, for one. Which is likely why David Cage’s neo-FMV “interactive movie” games are so alluring to them.

        It’s the kind of myopia that leads to someone who has made nothing but bad games being appointed to selecting games worthy of government financial support.

        Which is analogous to, say, when my country elected a spoiled rich frat boy with a history of running organizations and businesses into the ground to run our country (into the ground) because most Americans’ metrics for integrity and competence at the time seemed to primarily include “wears a cowboy hat sometimes” as a criterion.

        On an individual level, of course, anyone can form a perfectly valid opinion about a work of art. But the cultivation and encouragement of art and culture are definitely things one can have specific education, experience, and knowledge about (like any field), and the people in positions to shape culture can and should be knowledgeable about the choices they’re making.

        The kids I teach make awesome art, and their opinions and ideas about the art we look at together are really interesting and bring things to light I’d never have considered on my own. But I wouldn’t put any of them in charge of curatorial duties for the Whitney – unless some perverse part of me wanted to see the whole collection auctioned off and the museum filled with, like, Bakugan shit or something. Their ignorance is entirely justifiable, and doesn’t diminish their worth as people or artists, but it still exists and still has an impact.

        • needlehacksaw

          Somehow, my reply went to moderation limbo. But yeah, I wanted to say the exact things you pointed out.

        • PPPfive

          I spent a long time typing out a lengthy, considered, relatively well-written response here, but then excellent Disqus crashed and lost it all before I could post it. I’m going to try to recreate it but it will doubtless turn out misshapen, wanting and clumsy, so please excuse that.
           
           
          You make good points, and I guess it depends on whether or not you think games have ’achieved’ ‘art’ in the past; I wouldn’t put a bunch of kids in charge of the Whitney as the Whitney is popular and fulfils it’s purpose as a gallery; there’s no need for change. However, many would say that videogames have never been close to art, and as such the view of an outsider could arguably be of more use than someone accustomed to gaming’s ways. What makes for a good videogame may not be what makes for a good ‘art’ videogame, whatever that may be.

          For the record I don’t care either way about ‘art’ in games (my favourite game this year is probably Rayman Origins), but I don’t think ‘interactive movie’ is making the most of the medium’s potential for storytelling that can provoke a meaningful emotional response (if that’s how such things are defined). 

          This does not apply to your post, but I guess I was bothered enough to reply because I don’t see the threat in the pursuit of gaming as art as others seem to. It comes across as needlessly anti-intellectual. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. The worst that can happen is something you could enjoy might exist. The thought that it will ever present a threat to ‘traditional’ gaming is ridiculous. We will still be able to shoot/jump on the heads of our adversaries: anything as art, in any medium, is going to be a niche product.  

        • Citric

          @needlehacksaw:disqus  Is there any way to tell what the hell triggers moderation limbo? I can get all sweary and it’s no problem, but yesterday on the AV Club I had multiple posts eaten up when I tried to say the Hyundai Accent was a pretty decent car.

        • needlehacksaw

          @citric No idea. I think in my case, it was due to excessive editing, but I really don’t know.

          (Neither do I know if there is a life for comments after limbo… I don’t think that I ever was witness to one being reborn.)

    • dreadguacamole

       The thing is, for people who aren’t into gaming, David Cage’s spiel is appealing – they want what he’s selling, because it sounds more similar to what they like (or at least, more arty) than what gamers are selling.
       The horrible state of writing on the majority of high-profile videogames doesn’t help at all. Put next to Gears of Duty’s boundless idiocy, the schlock Cage is putting out can’t help but to look good.

    • NickHanover

      I think one of the biggest issues here is the struggle for games to learn valuable lessons of storytelling from cinema while not losing sight of the playability of the game. As graphically interesting as works like Beyond are, they’re so clearly trying to emulate cinematic experiences that it becomes obvious that the playability has moved towards the bottom of the priority list and given that they have such huge flaws in their storytelling, that’s a major problem.

      Personally, I’d rather play a game that is enjoyable but has major storytelling deficits than play a game that has ambitious writing that doesn’t really work AND has poor or boring mechanics to boot.

      The games that stand out to me as the best and most innovative in video gaming history are works that can tell interesting or unique stories while also having enjoyable and creative game mechanics. Games like Chrono Trigger and Cross, the Fallout series, Red Dead Redemption, and Bioshock all serve as examples of this, in my opinion, because they balance video gaming’s capacity for interactive storytelling with great mechanics and visuals. And they were all highly influential as a result.

      The way I see it, video games are stuck in the same cultural ghetto comicdom was in the ’80s, with many creators confusing grandiosity and grittiness with respectability and maturity. That led to a pretty dark period for the medium, but comics are arguably better than ever now that they’re out of that awkward phase and maybe video games will have a similar development.

      • Pun-Expected Dave

        The notion that a game’s artistic merit is limited to its storytelling is very narrow, and it needs to die.

        • Marty McFly

          Shadow of Colossus being a good case-in-point. You can recite the story of that game in two sentences. But the act of playing the game? 

          Unforgettable. 

        • Professor_Cuntburglar

           Except the gameplay is the storytelling. The story of the game is whatever you make it to be, but it’s still storytelling, and the choices that the creators give you are part of the storytelling.

          The only exceptions are games like Tetris that have zero narrative.

        • Pun-Expected Dave

          @Professor_Cuntburglar:disqus : The point I’m making is that narrative is not the only form of art. A painting doesn’t usually tell a story, for example.  

        • GaryX

          Narrative and “plot” are two different things that to often get conflated. They can be one and the same but don’t need to be, and a lot of video games that exceed contain powerful narratives (Shadow of the Colossus) without necessarily robust plots.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

        @NickHanover:disqus  .. as a very recent example, I would add THE LAST OF US to that list. The foundational story archetypes are a little hackneyed, but it achieved a better trade-off between story and gameplay than Cage’s stuff.
        I hate to sound like a pretentious d-bag, but I wonder how well-versed in cinema guys who aspire to emulate it in games are. I mean the UNCHARTED games are fun, but basically riff on INDIANA JONES. However, is a playable version of L’AVVENTURA something we’d even want? I think game developers probably have to work out what elements they’d want to borrow/steal from movies and literature; plus, there’s the sad fact that making something that’s going to be playable for 6+ hours has obvious story-setbacks that films rarely face, and also the fact that a huge percentage of the audience in AAA games are the kind who populate Gamespot/IGN reader comment sections.

        • lokimotive

          I think your potentially pretentious point is actually pretty brilliant. Anyone that’s familiar with a narrative medium, whether it’s film or literature, knows that the most affecting (and arguably ‘best’) examples exploit the peculiar resources of the form. Boiled down to their essence, the pillars of literature or film are hardly the most complex narratives: Ulysses is just a couple of dudes wandering around Dublin trying to form some sort of connection, L’avventura… well… I mean L’avventura hardly has a plot at all by the end.

          But it’s how their told that makes them notable.
          So we don’t need gamemakers that look to other mediums for inspiration, at this point gamemakers should be looking to the medium of videogames itself for inspiration. If they look to film, it should be to reject the narrative forms, to say, okay, that’s fine, but that’s not how I want to tell my story.And that’s why Gone Home, to belabor a point, is as respected as it is. It’s not because it tells a compelling story, for god’s sake, it’s not because there’s lesbians in it, it’s because they way it tells the story is unique to the form of video games. It doesn’t really matter if it totally works, at least it’s trying to break out of the mold of Films. Which, of course, is why people smack their heads when Cage opens his mouth.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          @lokimotive:disqus This also holds for non-narrative artforms, too. Different media have different formal qualities, and while there may be some aesthetic overlap, there are certain fundamental formal differences to consider. What makes Tetris good isn’t what makes an Oskar Fishinger film good isn’t what makes a Julie Mehrehtu painting good.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

          @lokimotive:disqus exactly .. I’m admittedly not super-well versed in games as many on here probably are, but that’s why I loved THE WALKING DEAD so much. For me, it did something story-wise that didn’t feel like it would have been possible in another medium.

  • Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle

    Beyond: Two Souls: not as good as Beyond: Kirk Douglas.

    Yes, I am going to make this joke in every Joe Keiser contribution published on this site.

  • needlehacksaw

    Not silly at all, maybe I was not too clear. In fact, since art is a ‘system’ with specific rules and gatekeepers, it will ultimately be (at least to some degree) the latter who can give cultural legitimacy to a medium.

    Still, if the judgement of quality is left only to people to whom a medium is strange, this can, in my opinion, lead to at least two problems:

    a) if you are not familiar with a medium, but are asked to judge it nevertheless, chances are that you will judge along the criteria that you know from the media you are familiar with. While that may, to a degree, be inevitable and legitimate, being familiar with the history, the forms, the tools etc. of that particular medium will lead, in my opinion to a more refined judgement. (Ideally, you do know about other media as well, of course.) This does not mean that highly valuable criticism was not done by “strangers” to a specific field, say, authors of novels writing about movies. But here is a reason why almost all art forms have “experts”, who dedicated a lot of time to that form. In other words: Somebody who has never played a game will probably focus on specific aspects, say, the writing, or the architecture etc., all of which is well and good and can lead to excellent criticism, even to criticism that couldn’t be achieved by somebody who is only versed in video games. At the same time, games do have specific qualities that probably will be difficult to get for somebody who has not played a lot of them. I know that the ideal of a “holistic” approach to games is a lofty one, but, well…

    b) it is easy to get blinded by novelty, and chances are higher that something seems “new” to you when you can’t put it into the necessary historical context. In a way, it’s the other side of the fearmongering coin so often encountered when “outsiders” write about games — for the fearmongers, the medium is bad, because it’s new. But there is also a tendency to automatically think everything is exciting and good, just because it’s new. Being knowledgeable about a medium can also mean that you can observe it from a certain distance. That’s one of the things I liked about the discussion of GTA V. While in general interest media, it seems to either be praised as a wonder of modern technology, with the “satire” being mentioned in passing, or as a problematic thing leading directly to crime, in the game media people judged it more level-headedly: Saying things like, well, it’s interesting, it’s well-made. But we know all of that. So let’s look, for once, at how well done this so-called satire is, and if the game has actually something to say.

    tl;dr: I don’t think that the judgment of people not familiar with games is without value per se. A good writer and critical thinker can apply his mind and writing to various subjects, and games are certainly not off limits. But, you know, there is a lot of highly questionable criticism coming from people who are hardcore gamers. At the same time there are a lot judgements of people not familiar with games that I might question. And it is often obvious that this does come from their unfamiliarity with the medium/art form — they simply lack the critical distance or the tools to give a more refined judgement.

    So, what I wanted to say is… if a governmental institution invites Quantic Dream to be the judge of what makes a “good game” (and the reason why I am dubious about their capacity to do so is not the games they make, but what they say time and again in talks about games), I would think that this is the case, at least to some degree: The games look splendid, and what’s more, they look like movies, an art form with high cultural caché and one non-gamers are familiar with — thus, the games looking like movies must be closer to art than, say, Hotline Miami. I would say that somebody more versed in games would at least have paused to ask if there might not be other people that could give better advice, or sounder judgement.

  • Crusty Old Dean

    So am I to understand that this game has more streamlined context-sensitive controls and less QTE? Not that it’s a dealbreaker really, I’ll probably get this sometime down the line, but I wasn’t all that immersed by the controls in Heavy Rain.

    • http://syntheticerror.wordpress.com/ Cyanotetyphas

      Press X to enjoy video games as art.

  • dmikester

    I keep trying to comment on this, and keep starting over.  All I know is that Cage has let me down twice now, and let me down hard enough (I’m still furious at the big reveal of Hard Rain, which pulled off the rare trick of making almost everything that came before it make no sense and dropping, yet again for Cage after Indigo Prophecy, a supernatural element of the story), that I refuse to pay anything close to full price for any of his games.  I actually enjoy the game play of his games, which I know is an acquired taste, but he’s so uninterested in making fully coherent experiences that despite having fun with them, they end up leaving a really awful taste in my mouth, especially after spending a lot of time with them.  I’ll say this: Cage absolutely gets under my skin, both in a good way for the potential his games have and in a bad way for the aggravating way that they never fully pan out.

    • CrabNaga

      I thought the big reveal of Hard Rain was that by the time you get back to the boat, the whole place is flooded.

    • dreadguacamole

       I only played HR once (and promptly forgot most of it,) but I’d classify it as a sub-par thriller/killer of the week show kind of thing; I honestly can’t remember any supernatural elements in it. Did I miss them completely on my playthrough?

      • dmikester

        I don’t remember it that well, but there’s this whole thing where Ethan (and yes, I had to look up his name) has these blackouts, and there’s a moment where it seems like there’s some weird voice speaking to him or something like that (the blackouts never get explained clearly if I remember right).  What I do remember is that eventually there were deleted scenes released that showed that these blackouts were originally supposed to go somewhere where Ethan had some psychic, spiritual connection to the killer and he was blacking out because the killer was communicating with him.  So instead of taking the blackouts completely because the entire point of them got deleted, they kept them in because it was convenient to have Ethan black out so his son could go missing.  Sigh.

        • dreadguacamole

          Huh, that sucks. I thought they were a half-assed attempt to get you to think you might be the murderer.
           Oh well.

  • Steve McCoy

    It sounds like this game takes the logic of NES platformers and applies it to whatever genre this is. “OK, first it’s the train stage, then the snowy stage, then the awkward date boss…”

  • J-

    I’d rather play Candy Crush. I’d even rather play Candy Crush if Candy Crush cost $60.

  • huge_jacked_man

    I wish David Cage would fulfill his dream to take his shitty writing to TV rather than keep pretending he’s revolutionizing the videogame medium with this narrative-driven QTE garbage. Reviews for this are lukewarm so at least gaming writers are on to him – is it too late for him to patch in a lesbian love story?

    • dmikester

      You know, I don’t think I’ve seen it said before that he should go to TV as opposed to film, which is always what his games are compared to, but you’re totally right.  TV would be perfect for him, especially since he would have to be somewhat reined in by whatever channel he was working with.  It’s also a medium where you don’t necessarily need to have the endgame in mind when you start, which would help him a ton.  

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006233854747 Daavid R. Levinson

      If Cage was American rather than French, I’m guessing most of the appeal would be lost. 

  • doyourealize

    I’d like to refrain from saying anything about the game (although this, and most reviews, are unfortunate – I was looking forward to this) and instead speak as a high school English teacher and former English major.

    My college writing professor told us never to put a only single tear in a story. Single tears are cliche. They don’t happen. They’re corny. This is in direct contradiction to your experience in 9th grade, and I think my college writing professor was right to tell us to avoid the single tear.

    Even so, your high school English teacher had it right, too. Personal narrative assignment leave stacks of paper on teachers’ desks about grandparents and dogs dying, and parents getting divorced (although I’m not sure this is a reason for quitting…there’s lots of reasons for that). What both lessons are teaching is something more abstract than either of these directions: only include a single tear and never include a single tear. That lesson is “don’t try to make your reader cry”. Then you’re writing in an effort to make everything seem as sad as possible, and nothing is real. Students, especially in high school, won’t understand this. If you instruct them not to write to make someone cry, they’ll write equally sappy happy-go-lucky narratives. There’s no middle ground. Both lessons, while contradictory and ultimately wrong, are right for their time. And I think it’s telling that the lesson video games need is the high school lesson.

    I can’t speak for Beyond, but Lost Odyssey, an enjoyable game while you were playing, and an exercise in patience when you were watching, contained a scene in which a character you just met dies, and people spend the next  10 minutes bawling their eyes out – a video game moment that I was glad nobody was watching, as it was embarrassing enough to be alone with such schmaltz. The ending, what I consider to be the worst in video game history, was equally as happy. Everything is wonderful and everyone ignores the central conceit to the story, that the main characters will live, basically, forever. Without going off on a rant, and believe me I could, this game provides a nice illustration on the absence of the in between. Either everyone’s bawling or everyone’s cheering and there is nothing else.

    Video games stories have improved since then, but they’re still in high school, I think. Every once in a while you’ll get surprised with something poignant and moving, but these stand out because they’re so few and far between. While Beyond might be a disappointment, game like this are a necessary step.

    And yes, I am ignoring essays I need to grade right now.

    • JamesJournal

      Basically just tell the story than needs to be told, when it does, move on, and sweat the details later

    • a_scintillating_comment

      Well said. Just out of curiosity, could you point me to some of the games that, in your opinion, display something poignant and moving? I feel like I’ve experienced some myself, but not many jump instantly to mind. 

      Some moving moments for me came in Left 4 Dead, but they were more a result of me doing the story writing leg work. For example, when you stop to think about one of the covered bodies you share safe houses with–and what their story might have been. What was their name? Were they the Terry, who left notes and warnings to family members in previous safe houses? Did they think they’d actually make it to the coast? In all their years, did they ever imagine dying in some office building miles from home, with complete strangers in a zombie apocalypse?

      • doyourealize

        Shadow of the Colossus is the most obvious answer, and its predecessor Ico. Same goes for The Last of Us. All three actually trust the player (gasp!) to keep up, and the latter especially takes advantage of ambiguity, something video game writers don’t seem to have the time for. Portal and Portal 2 also have strong stories that trust the player. Braid is decent at this if taken from gameplay alone, but the written story strays too far into melodrama. That last stage, though, remains probably my most affecting moment in a game. Limbo‘s maybe too ambiguous, but still excellent. These might all seem like obvious answers, but there’s a reason for that.
        While Bioshock might also seem like a go-to response, I think that game’s more of a one-off. The game tells you how to feel, but then it tells you that it’s telling you how to feel. It’s interesting, but also easy to move on the next thing, and I don’t think it sticks with you like the others.

        • a_scintillating_comment

          Thanks, and agreed, on all games excepting Last Of Us, because I haven’t played it yet. I guess it does come down to trust.

        • dmikester

          This is a really interesting discussion, and it’s gotten me thinking about whether games that more or less tell you how to feel shouldn’t be counted as being particularly moving, mainly because it feels forced rather than earned.  I would say that games like Metal Gear Solid series and Mass Effect have both moved me quite a bit, but mainly because of how much I ended up caring about the characters (for example, Grey Fox in the original MGS).  But those both leave basically nothing ambiguous about their plot, and so it’s more that you care about the characters and admire the craft of the writing rather than feel some interest on the part of the developers in having the player be intelligent and figure the plot out for themselves.  

          Also, excellent list of games.  One that I would add that moved me just from gameplay alone, and not so much the story although it’s very good, is Okami.  The simple act of restoring the world’s natural beauty just by running through it is something that moved me throughout the whole experience; it’s rare to do something that purely satisfying in a game.

        • doyourealize

          Love the addition of Okami, @dmikester:disqus 

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bill-Rice/882440359 Bill Rice

        Silent Hill 2 for me. I still get chocked up thinking about some of the scenes in that game.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        There’s a brief little text adventure called Photopia, which might the first game to make me misty.

    • Captain_Apathy

      That scene in Lost Odyssey really was rather embarrassing to watch and ultimately a bit irritating.  And when you contrast that over-the-top character reaction with the lovely and poignant text-only vignettes scattered throughout, it’s startling to realize they were both in the same game.

      I can’t say anything about the end of the game, though, because the fourth disc glitched on me and I’ve never been able to finish it.

      • doyourealize

        The vignettes make the ending all the more disappointing. I remember reading somewhere that the game story and the vignettes were written as almost entirely separate entries. I don’t know how true that is, but it’s easily believable when experienced.

        The vignettes beautifully recognize the troubles of immortality and the loss of loved ones. The game pretty much ignores it. Not to spoil anything, but Sarah and Kaim say to themselves that the next thousand years will be so much better, simply because they’re happy right now. It’s like they haven’t realized, in 1,000 years, that everyone they know is going to die and, at some point, they’ll be alone. I wasn’t looking for some depressing end that made everyone kill themselves or something, but some recognition would have been nice.

  • johnnyfeathers

    I was just telling a friend about Omikron: The Nomad Soul, not realizing it was made by the same guy as this one.  At any rate, I’m pretty stoked to play that one again.  The game was bonkers, but also pretty cool.

  • Marty McFly

    Read that last line and was like: Daaaaamn. 

    Great review. 

    • Roswulf

      Fully agreed. Great job Joe. Any English Teacher would be proud!

  • ProfFarnsworth

    This may seem random, but I have been reading everyone’s comments as “Quantum Dream”.  Perhaps…I am not the best one for this discussion.

  • JamesJournal

    I was obsessed with the Boondocks/Calvin and Hobbes/Doonesbury in my middle school/high school years. My Dog didn’t die until I was 20, and my parents never got divorced or anything. I was more inclined to write straight comedy in high school.

    So far, this game’s basic presentation is better than Quantic Dream’s previous games. But actual interaction with the story is now more meaningless than ever. Being able to mess with the story is the whole fun of this kind of game.

  • The Guilty Party

    Typo: you said “moving the stick in the direction of a dot”, I think you meant to say “moving the stick in the direction of the plot”, because that’s how I read it the first time and it’s 10x more awesome. I checked. 

  • Rick Joyce

    The Gameological Society
    Child soldiers and butt touching.

  • Patiperro

    There must be many people, like myself, that are completely sick of playable movies.  Hopefully the pendulum will swing back towards simple, entertaining games soon.  Go make a film if that’s what you want to do.  In the meantime, I’ll be playing Iron Slug.

  • Eco1970

    Disqus blows massive chunks. This is in reply to someone who posted a query about which games have been enotionally affecting.

    It’s been a while since I played it all the way through last, but Grim Fandango fits your ‘genuinely affecting’. Glottis.
    Ico and SotC, and another acronymic game with similar letters, Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl, (along with the Portal games) also rate highly in my ‘made me go a bit emotional’ games.
    Beyond: Two Soups is something I’ll probably get, but the demo irrotated the crap out of me. How to make QTEs worse: hide the damn curs in the cutscenes. ‘D rather just know exactly what I need to press.

    I loved Nomad Soul and haven’t played Indigo Prophecy. I’ve never heard of it in fact. Farenheit was ok but also annoying in places.

    • Pun-Expected Dave

      Indigo Prophecy was the North American name for Fahrenheit. 

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Liked for awesome typo.

      Indigo Prophecy is Fahrenheit. They changed the name for US release because it was too similar to the name of a leftist documentary released at the time, with which they didn’t want to be associated.

  • Professor_Cuntburglar

    That anecdote at the beginning reminds me of one of my first film classes. The only major restriction we had (besides no nudity or stunts) was that we weren’t allowed to put guns in our short movies. The obvious reason for this is because, if they allowed guns every single dude would make an a boring Tarantino rip-off about two dudes trying to shoot each other in badass ways. Taking away guns forced us to come up with actual stories about people.

    Sometimes I think the video game industry could use a similar ban for a little while.

    • The_Helmaroc_King

      That sounds like a sensible restriction for film students. It reminds me of the kind of amateur films you see on YouTube, which tend towards action, comedy, or action comedy. Then again, those could just be the only YouTube videos that get “big”.

      The only user that I can remember offhand is Freddie Wong. He does decent SFX, a lot of which involve guns, guns, and a few more guns.

    • Tom

      Can we add post-apocalyptic worlds and DLC to the list too?

  • JohnnyLongtorso

    I think the moral of the story is: don’t let one person have total creative control over producing a game. Video games are, by nature, a collaborative effort. Anything beyond a simple indie game requires multiple people to make. When you have an (and I hate using this word because it’s so overused) auteur like David Cage running the show, the quality of the game suffers because it becomes secondary to whatever their pet obsession is. With Cage it’s overwrought melodrama. It’s the same with someone like Hideo Kojima (excessive cutscenes and often incomprehensible plot), Peter Molyneux (let’s think up a thousand things that would be magical to put in a game, then successfully implement maybe three), or Tim Schaefer (budget? what’s a budget?).

    • J-

       Hmm, I dunno: Everything I’ve heard about videogame development these days leads me to think that you can *rapidly* reach a point of diminishing returns with more development people. Especially given the playbook of Step 1.) Spend 5 years and 550 Fuckillion dollars developing a ‘AAA’ game with a development staff of 390 2.) Sell a lot of copies 3.)  . . . but fail to come anywhere near recouping initial money and fold the studio the following year.

      Super Meatboy was made by 2 guys. Fez was made by 1.5 guys. Alien Hominid/Castle Crashers/Battleblock was made by, what, like 20 guys?

      But to make the stunning fuckups that were Ass Creed 3 or Deadly Premonition or Aliens Colonial Marines? Or to implode BHG/38 Studios? Those particular achievements all required the labor of hundreds.

    • Tom

      I think games designed by one person can be fine, the key issue with games designed by Cage is how heavily he relies on story and how bad he is at telling it. The other designers you mentioned all makes games that are totally playable and enjoyable mainly because there isn’t so much pressure on one aspect of their games.
      Sure Kojimas games are full of overly long cutscenes that make no sense but at least there’s some great gameplay to even it out.
      Every Cage game has such a strong focus on plot and characterization that just isn’t there, his plot concepts are fine but he sorely needs a scriptwriter to help him make characters that actually come off as human beings.

  • Oyster

    So I guess that’d be what, 3 stars?

  • ghost_of

    does this one feature a scene with an incredibly offensive racist caricature of a black person like heavy rain did because in a perfect world no one would have ever given david cage money or praise ever again after seeing the scene with mad jack 

    • stepped_pyramids

      Oh my lord, have you ever seen or played Indigo Prophecy? There’s a guy in that straight out of a blaxploitation movie.

      • http://mentallyeel.org/ J.eel

        My collection of Motown albums. I wouldn’t trade them for CDs for all the gold in the world.

  • snazzlenuts

    So, with the more emotional PS4, tears would have been shooting out of the console, right?

    • Tom

      It comes with a hose that shoots David Cages tears all over your face.
      You can really feel the sadness.

  • J-

    *singsong, girly, highpitched* Games aren’t art! Games aren’t art! Games aren’t art and you can-not convince me oth-er-wise! La la la!

    GAMES AREN’T ART!

    *pirouhettes away, pink-tighted legs a-prance, waving my fairy star-wand as I go, giggling madly*

  • robthom

    Great review!
    Well written.

    I was commenting on an article the other day that was attempting to analyze why movies based on videogames are always awful.

    So I says that aside from the obvious hamstring that every hollywood bean counter is surely convinced that only 13 year olds (of all ages) play videogames (and they may have a point),
    that 90% of games that are acclaimed for their dramatic narratives are as sophisticated as an afterschool special.

    People keep saying last of us is groundbreaking storytelling, but that dialogue and those clumsy emotional appeals are only groan inducing as far as I can tell.

    I do have a fondness for those old school point and click interactive movies, which this game and its ilk seem to be an update of.
    But I only like the vintage variety for the sake of their vintage cheesiness.

    IMO one of the worst trends in modern videogame design is devs clumsily trying to ape the laziest and most obvious tropes of disposable hollywood film making.

    It doesn’t make a good movie and it makes and even worse game.