Beyond: Two Souls Is A Mess That Should Have Been Extraordinary
The following is a transcript of the above video.
Today I want to fucking smack David Cage. After producing Heavy Rain which, despite its apparent story faults, was the game of the year for me in 2010 and still remains one of the best PS3 exclusives around, he and his team brought us Beyond: Two Souls, a game that really had it all to be even better than what came before it, and easily one of the best games this year. In a year where gaming hasn’t been at its best at all, I am confident when I say that had Beyond: Two Souls been more focused and tried to be less clever with its narrative and more impactful, it could have easily beaten out most games this year for me and possibly stood as one of the best games of this generation – at least, with regards to its story if nothing else. Instead however, it ended up being a mess because of poor choices.
Before watching further, understand that there will be serious spoilers that could easily ruin the whole game for you, so if you haven’t played it yet and still want to, avoid proceeding. Let’s get going then.
Right off the bat, there are critical flaws with Beyond: Two Souls, all to do with narrative, that wouldn’t have been that hard to fix if I have to be blunt, but they make all the difference in the world in the end. The first is that Beyond: Two Souls, in its current state, is not a narrative. It’s a string of individual scenes. Some of those scenes are so damn phenomenal and engrossing, that they’re better than most other narratives I’ve experienced this year. And some of them are so fucking boring and alien to the whole theme of the game (CIA – I’m looking at you, you cunts in action) that they make me want to weep and throw down my controller and die. Essentially, David Cage has opted for a non-linear narrative where the scenes are all jumbled up in a random order and are not chronological, and this completely lets the game down.
I understand you don’t always have to do a linear narrative, and time jumps make a story seem more deep and can retain audience interest under the right conditions, but what David Cage has done here is not artistic and nor does it improve the narrative. In fact if you reversed this and put the scenes in the right order, it would actually improve the experience. Right now it’s just fucking random. I’ll tell you why. The very best scenes of this game are the ones involving Jodie as a young girl, and a few involving her on the run. We are experiencing this entire character’s life, but it’s almost impossible to get into her character and learn what she’s about. Why? Because every single damn time I was engrossed in a scene and really thinking “Wow, that was amazing!” it time jumps either back, forward, diagonally, left, right, up, down, back-forward-back-and sideways, and you spend half the time trying to figure out where in the story this is and have to basically adapt to a whole new character of Jodie again.
The story does not jump around chronologically, it jumps all over the place. You’ll jump to Jodie as a rebellious teenager in one moment, then fly back to when she’s shy and reserved as a child, then skyrocket forward to when she’s confident and sure of herself post-CIA. And then it jumps all the way back to the beginning when she’s a scared little kid again. It’s multiple personalities, and it’s almost impossible to understand her or see the character grow organically.
While playing I was pounding my head against the table thinking: why couldn’t you have just told this story in two timelines? Young Jodie and Older Jodie, and swap between the two? Then at least we can follow, and the game stays captivating. I’m sorry, David Cage, but you’re not Memento. Memento worked and is one of the best movies around that I can think of because the story itself, at the core, was simple. Beyond: Two Souls is complex – when it really should have been fucking simple. Beyond: Two Souls works best when it’s about Jodie and her life with Aiden and the struggles she faces. When it’s a personal story, a character study.
Why is this? Because at the heart of the matter, Jodie is an unrelatable character. She is something supernatural, and none of us ordinary people could understand how she feels and what it’s like to be her and have that link with Aiden. Think of Ellie in The Last Of Us. How could we know what it’s like to grow up in a world post-apocalypse – knowing nothing of modern civilization and ordinary living? So when you have characters like this, right, that can’t be related to on normal terms, you take the supernatural and you put it into situations we can relate to. For example, in Beyond: Two Souls, we are shown a scene where Jodie, as a young teenager, tries to go to a party and make friends, but they harshly bully her because she’s different. Bullying is something nearly all of us can relate to, so we can understand exactly how Jodie feels. This proves to be a brilliant scene, arguably the best in the game, as players can choose to take revenge on those kids or leave – which again, is something human that we can completely relate to and feel. This is exactly how the narrative should have continued in order to build our relationship with this character.
The randomisation of scenes was not necessary. Let me give you an example of how David Cage has fucked up with the way he’s presented the story. There is one part where you just see Jodie join the CIA and it’s a happy moment where she receives validation and respect, and then the very next scene is her running from them and they’re the bad guys out to get her! It’s a great scene on a train that is action packed and exciting, but it’s impossible to establish any significance to it. Another example of where the game is most guilty of fucking itself over, is in what should have been one of the most pivotal points of the game, but ends up being emotionless. When on the run, trying to survive, Jodie helps this group of homeless people and protects them from potential disaster, and they become like family. They’re grateful and call Jodie a miracle, showing her love and appreciation virtually for the first time ever in her life, and you can see Jodie smiling and feeling like she belongs. The whole game people have been using her or afraid of her or hating her, and while this scene should have been immense in the plot, it ends up just being meaningless and not affecting anything, because it comes at such a random fucking time with zero build up.
That’s essentially one of David Cage’s biggest problems here. He has entirely thrown aside the core idea of build-up and pay-off, and has expected the audience to roll with it. Here’s another key example of how this absolutely falls apart. The first time you meet CIA Agent Ryan, he is an absolute dick of the highest order to Jodie, taking her away from the only family she knows and giving her no sympathy whatsoever. After that, the game cuts to the future, where he and Jodie are about to go on a date, and she is affectionate over him. But wait, I thought, I hated this asshole just three minutes ago! How am I supposed to like him now? Why does Jodie like him? What possible redeeming quality does this thing have? It’s total narrative dissonance.
For a lot of the time while playing, I couldn’t understand why the game was not focusing on the link between Jodie and Aiden. During the scene where Jodie is about to go on a date with Ryan, you play as Aiden and can choose to ruin it for Jodie before and during the date by destroying and tampering with things around the house. Jodie, in a fit of emotional rage, yells at Aiden for being controlling and possessive and not letting her have a normal life. This scene, again, could have been excellent had the game just built up to it.
I could not be more serious when I say that David Cage could have focused on Jodie and Aiden and the psychologist Nathan Dawkins, who is played by Willam Defoe, and turned this game into an 11/10 game that was easily the best this year had to offer. Instead it’s nothing more than a string of ideas and concepts, without substance and making zero impact on me. Why couldn’t the CIA bullshit be cut completely out, and the game instead set up Nathan as the main villain? He already is that essentially, but it comes out of absolute nowhere when it could have been built up over the course of the game and been an incredible finale to this game. You have the fucking Green Goblin here as a talent but instead you barely feature him, go with the CIA, which are the worst parts of this game, and make a mockery of an ending.
What is it with games and being unable to keep it in their pants with a simple story? Why must everything be about saving the entire world? Fuck the apocalypse. Fuck making stories get so big you can’t focus on what matters. At the end of this game, I was just thinking to myself that it could have been perfect, they seriously had it down on paper, but the game did fuck all to earn it. Jodie severs the tie with Aiden and finally gets to have her normal life, but finds out it makes her damn miserable and she wants him back. I loved this idea, because I’m so sick of the cliche of people with special powers who just want to be normal. Fuck you. If I could shoot fire out of my hands I’d never want to be normal. I’d have even been happy with the way the game made Aiden still there, months later, watching over her, and she gets to reconnect with him. It’s nice. But they don’t just end it there, they do this bullshit setting up for a sequel kind of rubbish that you’d expect from a toilet Hollywood movie with a flash-forward of some apocalypse that is imminent, which is honestly pathetic.
I am not joking when I say that the entire last hour of this game dissolves into cliché land, with cliché dialogue and twists you see coming and can literally spell out before they happen. The CIA shit is so painful and predictable to the experience that it almost ruins this game on its own – that is, until the infrared apocalypse shit joins up with the CIA to actually ruin the game. The ending itself loses all significance because the game never focused on the link between Aiden and Jodie and never just embraced simplicity and went on to be an emotional character study. There is also a huge problem of there just being so much fat here. The narrative tries to be too many things at once, and in the end explores none of its themes truly in-depth. There was no need for the CIA, or Infraworld, or monstrous other spirits.
Another failing of the narrative is that it doesn’t actually need player input to come alive or advance. This is evident in the faulted design choice that David Cage has opted for where you essentially cannot fail in gameplay, and the game kind of progresses itself. Nothing spells insulting more than telling a player they are not necessary to the game. At one point during the game, Jodie was being attacked and I failed one or two quick time events and decided to roll with it, so I put my controller down and watched. I was absolutely astounded to see that the game carried on perfectly fine despite all the quick time events being failed and in the end the problem resolved itself when Aiden intervened and ended the threat. Without me touching a button. That’s when I realised that this was David Cage’s thing he just wanted me to look at and potentially fap over. That, I wasn’t experiencing a story, I was being shown one. You just do not do that. It makes the player feel unimportant. All they had to do here was add player death for failing one QTE too many, because that already makes a player feel necessary, and secondly make divergent paths more apparent when they are negative and as a result of failure in gameplay. After all, the illusion of thinking you control the events in the narrative is better than the reality that you don’t.
To end off this large rant, there are seriously some scenes in Beyond: Two Souls where you’ll be absolutely blown away and so damn captivated that you’ll be thinking Quantic Dream has created a masterpiece. Ellen Page is fantastic in most of these scenes. Then the bizarre and senseless time jumps will kick in and the story will hop all over the place and suddenly you’ll realise that David Cage is clearly wanking to his own “intellect” here, and not building up anything, focusing on the right things or respecting the audience. Do you know what David Cage did to this game? He did what Mr Bean did to that painting of whistlers mother. He took something that was perfect and fucked it up. What you’re left with is essentially a script that has some incredible ideas littered all over it, but with pathetic execution. An editor could have come in, changed the focus of this game, and turned it into a masterpiece. I’m dead serious.
I liken this to the story of one of my favourite movies, Good Will Hunting – an absolutely phenomenal movie that focuses on the relationship between a genius but directionless and juvenile youngster and his therapist. Initially, lead actors and writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck had this story penned as a thriller, about a genius who gets targeted by the FBI, but with outside help they were urged to turn it around and focus the story on the youngster and the psychologist – and the result was an award-winning, master-class of a film for anyone who needs inspiration or to be challenged. This is exactly what David Cage needed. Outside input to make him see what his story should have focused on – Jodie, Aiden and Nathan Dawkins.
Now I know that some people would say Cage tried something new here and we should go easy, but the reality is he didn’t do anything new. He made a mistake. He let his ego override logic. I am not saying this to be cruel. I am a fan of the man and his work. I love Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, and I believe we need people like David Cage in the industry to give it some damn life and innovation. But Cage needs to learn a lesson in humility after this and hopefully eat some humble pie, and bounce back with his next project.
If he does that, I have no doubt he’ll better Heavy Rain someday. But as it stands right now, Beyond: Two Souls is a mess rather than a masterpiece, and its narrative is its biggest failing.