Beyond: Two Souls – Why My Disappointment in Heavy Rain Has Me Concerned
Can Quantic Dream deliver the way they did with Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy).
Who remembers Fahrenheit (that would be Indigo Prophecy to my friends in the U.S.)? I remember it, and more importantly, I remember liking it. Sure, the story didn’t really make all that much sense in places, but it didn’t seem to matter, because the whole thing was a bit ridiculous and didn’t take itself too seriously. Somehow, Quantic Dream and director/writer David Cage had managed to make a world in which it made complete sense that a down and out office worker could become a sort of super zombie. That a kick-ass detective would fall in love and shag said magical zombie whom she’d only met once (and was previously hunting). In fact, the only thing in this situation that didn’t seem logical was how she could be naked and aroused in such cold conditions. In Fahrenheit, suicide somehow became a logical solution to a broken coffee machine, and silly characterization became endearing.
Ever since this bizarre, mad game, which presented itself as an interactive film appeared in my console, I waited with anticipation for Quantic Dream to follow it up, with a bigger and better outing.
So imagine my excitement when Heavy Rain was announced. A new, thrilling ‘adult adventure’, showcasing some graphics better that anything I’d ever seen before. I was promised a deep, emotionally engaging storyline. There was talk about ‘mature storytelling’ in a medium overrun with what I remember being called ‘adult but not mature’ games.
When Heavy Rain finally came out, I rented a PS3 and took half a week off work just to play it. What I received, was, in my opinion, some of the worst writing in video games. Cliché ran free range over the rain soaked streets. The plot, at times, was so clearly obvious that there was little point in playing on. At other times, it made no sense at all, and contained plot holes a London bus could park in. Certain story points (Ethan’s blackouts for example) were introduced and never carried through. Others, were at least followed through but weren’t fleshed out properly, meaning they were of little consequence. What plot left, was a clichéd, convoluted mess.
Considering this was supposed to feature a strong, character centric story, the characterisation was horrible! Jayden was a cardboard photocopy of Mulder from the X-Files and was such a douche that I was actually joyful when I inadvertently caused his gruesome death. Scott Shelby at least seemed like a well performed character, but his blatantly obvious role in the tale was ill-advised and rendered most of his characterisation up to the revealing point completely nonsensical. Ethan was completely two-dimensional, but I at least enjoyed making him cut his own fingers off.
Then we have Madison Paige. Here we have the worst female character in video games, bar none.
As far as I can tell Madison exists for no other reason than to be sexually exploited. The game relishes in stripping her at any point it can, and she is put into sexually violent situations time and time again. I don’t buy into the whole ‘it’s what the player chooses’ thing either. I certainly didn’t go out of my way to unclothe Maddison when I played it, and yet I was subjected to a scene where she was chased around her apartment in her underwear by 2 masked men, a night club moment where she sexes herself up to gain some bad attention, this scene then leads to a forced strip tease. There were also morbid sexual undertones to the ‘Dr. Death’ attack scene. Then there is her oh-so-obvious sexual encounter with Ethan. By this point, I was so appalled by the amount of sexual degradation this character had been put through, I chose to avoid this scene. Now, although the choice was mine, I defiantly got the feeling it was the incorrect decision, and couldn’t help but feel as though the game was rather put out by my choice.
It is Maddison’s role in the game, and the way she is treated by the writers that would make me go as far as to say that Heavy Rain is not a ‘mature game’. Quantic Dream said they’re trying to make some sort of point with the way Maddison is written, about ‘the dangers that women face’. But David Cage obviously isn’t (or wasn’t at the time) mature enough to tackle such issues, and everything that happens to Madison is gratuitous and in bad taste. There’s also the fact that the female lead in Fahrenheit was sexualised often, for no real reason, which leads me believe that part of Maddison’s objectification is, in fact a personal tendency of David Cage.
This of course, is my opinion, and I’m well aware that many people herald Heavy Rain as a masterpiece of interactive fiction. To me, it’s a contrived, convoluted concoction of half-baked ideas. Suffice it to say; I was more than disappointed. Heavy Rain tasted so bad that I’ve been spitting out chunks of it ever since that first bite. Now, Quantic Dream are working on their new game Beyond: Two Souls. The game features enhanced visuals and performances from established actors, lead by Ellen Page. Obviously it looks beautiful, as did Heavy Rain. In general, nowadays I often find myself wowed by facial capture technology, and Beyond: Two Souls looks as though it’ll really push the boat out in this regard.
Beyond: Two Souls follows the life of Jodie from early childhood, through to adulthood, and again will feature a ‘mature, character driven storyline’… Obviously, I’ve heard that one before and it didn’t really work out for me. Therefore, I’m not looking forward to the game. I’m really not. But, there is a twinge of doubt in me. A ‘maybe…what if…?’
I stand by my opinion that Fahrenheit is a good game, and part of me still hopes that Quantic Dream can deliver again. I’ve always liked point and click adventure games, and I’m interested in the way Quantic Dream are trying to keep the genre alive by searching for new ways of approaching it. I also, although I hated his work on Heavy Rain, don’t hate David Cage. I like the fact he didn’t take himself seriously in Fahrenheit, and although he misfired with Heavy Rain, I approve of him searching for a means of expression and story-driven content through computer games. At the moment, my interest in Beyond: Two Souls borders on vague. It’s the sort of thing, where if an article about it pops up, I’ll scan it.
If there is one thing about it that does interest me, it’s the fact that one of the characters is a ghost. I don’t know what part he plays in the game or story (I think he possessed someone in the trailer) but the fact it’s supernatural sparks my interest. Not because I don’t like stuff set in the real world, but because I don’t think David Cage can write stuff set in the real world. The writing in Fahrenheit was pretty bad, and as I said the story didn’t really make sense. What saved it, was the absurd quality of it. The part that lifted it out of the real world and put a supernatural spin on it. Now I find myself wondering if Beyond: Two Souls could similarly benefit from a fantastical element. Maybe (although the gloomy visuals we’ve seen so far don’t suggest it) David Cage won’t take things too seriously. Maybe, this time in attempting to engage us emotionally, he’ll use an intriguing story and well thought through characters, rather than simply shoving concepts such as child murder and rape down our throats. Maybe, just maybe, he wont reduce the female lead to a titillation device.
Like I said, I’m not looking forward to this game. But I will. I’ll start looking forward to it because it’ll start to look good, and I bitterly hope that it is. The reason I’m not looking forward to looking forward to it, is because when I am looking forward to it, I’ll be double guessing every thought I have. I’ll want to get excited, but at the same time I’ll remain sceptical. This, I think is going to ruin the whole lead up for me, because I can defiantly be my own worst enemy, and I’m worried that my disappointment with Heavy Rain will stop me from enjoying Beyond: Two Souls. But you never know. Perhaps with Beyond: Two Souls, David Cage will achieve the sort of character driven narrative that he so wants to, and that I so want to see him deliver.