Shortly after the somewhat random (and rather unoriginal) Kara demo got fanboys literally in tears over the nonpareil genius of David Cage and his Quantic Dream, a new game was debuted in Beyond: Two Souls. As I watched the trailer, I was extraordinarily puzzled by the ways of the human brain because perplexedly, what I witnessed reminded me of a very unrelated video game, or rather a game character–Sub-Zero from Mortal Kombat. My mind was stimulated, you see, so I pondered on it deeply, attempting to identify the reason for the unexpected association. Then, it finally dawned on me: Sub Zero is the exact amount of shits I give about this new game.
Yeah, that was a ridiculously lame stretch but it’s in the exact same vein as most of the high-brow, bullshit praise surrounding the works of QD and there really isn’t anything remarkable about any of them. Now, I bear no ill will toward the company or David Cage; it’s the unjustifiable glorification that bothers me because it does not allow for any of the much-needed criticism to get through and implore some progress. Because of this, as is becoming more evident from Beyond, QD still fail to see these massive problems with their games:
When it comes to plot in video games, there is a specific attitude in the industry that is probably very similar to how judges feel about performance numbers at the Special Olympics. When a result is described as “good”, what is actually meant is “good, considering”. In art, that’s the way someone would react to a painting, knowing that the artist had no arms or was an actual cat. One would expect analogous results there to what gamers still generally expect from developers in the story department.
“For this next scene, I shall shift my weight to the… right!”
With that in mind, I hereby get to the fucking point: no video games bank more on story to deliver entertainment than those by Quantic Dream and few have lower standards. Yet, countless reviews praise those games for taking themselves seriously, which automatically makes them the ‘Citizen Kanes’ of video games. Doing so basically shits on the genuinely talented and inspired attempts and holds the industry back to… well, where it is.
At the same time, I refuse to believe that any of those reviewers actually thought that the plots were any good in the general sense (not just “video game good”) because, hell, even Uwe Boll, the film-maker/debaucher-of-everything-gamers-hold-dear, has produced way more coherent stories than those by David Cage and QD so far.
Yes, they are reading. I didn’t say his films were realistic.
Before a rage-fueled fanboy suffers an imminent stroke, thus casting a dark shadow over this post, I will try to actually start supporting my argument with a quick synopsis of a shitty, low budget movie I once saw. I assure you that there is an important point to this:
- The movie has a bunch of crap actors and a plainly amateurish directing but a very intriguing start: a guy violently stabbing the shit out of someone in a public restroom, without realizing why. Oh yes. Sounds like perhaps a setup for a pretty decent paranormal thriller of some kind, doesn’t it? Keep reading.
- So the movie starts and the main guy (George or something) has to avoid a couple of your typical young, attractive and hip detectives, as they all attempt to figure out what happened. Confusing scenes follow, where George visits a bunch of seemingly random places, making one thing increasingly evident–crows (the birds) are somehow involved, as is the case in every self-respecting paranormal thriller.
- The crows, as we later find out, have something evil in common with a dark secret society, which at one point, wills George into a zombie (literally). At this point, it’s important to mention, I think, that the secret society is actually… make sure you are ready for this… a computer program. And no, the world itself is not a Matrix-like simulation, it’s the real world, so wrap your head around that!
- Now, regarding the reason for that murder… this is where it gets pretty clever: there is another evil secret society that possesses random people into doing that. Only this time, the random person happens to be special, as it goes, having been exposed to a radioactive top secret government box, in his youth, and unknowingly suffering from its’ powerful side effect that makes people know kung fu, but not just any kung fu, Neo-style aerial kung fu, which our hero uses to beat the shit out of the evil society. Forgot which one.
- But why possess random people into committing murders you ask? Who knows… Thinking back, this other secret society controlled the world, you see, so obviously, I guess, this possessing bathroom murder business was their preferred method of somehow locating a person because using their amazing powers to access the Internet or hire an investigator is just not evil enough. I’m still half-guessing here because there was a lot of other important stuff that needed explaining, like what exactly they were to gain from finding this person. They already allegedly owned everything and there was already some crazy-cold winter happening that is going to kill everyone, thanks to them, so what else really is there, if you think about it? What was the plan? To save nothing but snowy owls and then rule them? To bring back those furry Russian winter hats?
- The movie simply insisted that a random little girl possessed secrets that an evil society really wanted to know. Those secrets were never revealed, nor explained at all. Oh, and it’s also never explained how or why the main protagonist was turned into a walking corpse by a computer program secret society, while still being capable of doing aerial kung fu and getting horizontal with the female detective (yes, while he’s a walking corpse). Oh, and yeah, the detective fell deeply in love with him all of the sudden because, you know, she was a woman.
Be honest, this is how you imagine George at this point, isn’t it?
OK, he wasn’t really Meatloaf from an Uwe Boll movie but you probably didn’t think so because the whole thing sounds more like a work-in-progress script that Boll saw, before promptly turning the writer into bratwurst. In fact, it wasn’t a movie at all! I mean, who would finance that? Well, here is a twist for you of a Quantic Dream caliber (one that most saw coming after the first sentence): this is a plot from a David Cage game!
Those who played it, obviously knew but others have only played Heavy Rain and have only heard of that older game, titled Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy in US), which was “even better“. Well, there it is and the plot there is as retarded as the one in Heavy Rain, as demonstrated in this excellent analysis of its’ biggest plot holes. So what are we in for, in Beyond? All signs point to us being as confused after playing it as we are now.
Writing is different from plot in the same way that someone can just suck at telling a story–any story–or not. We all know that one person, who can describe a fist fight against a real-life latex-clad alien in the basement of Area 51 and make it sound like a script of a Mexican soap opera being read in the voice of the ‘guy on the couch‘ from ‘Half Baked’. Then, there is that one guy, who has a solid record of achieving the exact opposite.
Well, the same is true in the world of video games. Take Grand Theft Auto, for example. It can be said that the “story” part of things is usually pretty well done there but if you think about it, the actual stories those games tell are not anything new or particularly captivating, for the most part. After all, there are only so many plots one can fit into a setup, where the main protagonist goes completely ape shit all over a city between dialogs.
“Hi, I am Nico and I kill you now.”
What makes those stories good is the way they are told. The writing there is mostly witty, dialog is funny and clever, and the characters are believable and interesting, even when they are over-the-top. Quantic Dream games just don’t have any of that. I don’t have to go back in time to illustrate this either; I will just use the latest–the Beyond trailer, again. Let me just say first that I’m no Shakespeare myself but even I know crap when I see it and the disappointment I felt watching this trailer, was what actually inspired me to write this post. I mean, read this:
“…You speak English? I… uh… brought you that cup of coffee… OK… I found you by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Was there an accident? Did someone try to hurt you? Look, I want to help you but you’ve got to give me something… Anything… how about a name? Someone I could contact? You must have family, friends, someone who could tell me who you are? “
This is a cop talking, mind you, and he is doing so in a ‘desperate boyfriend’ tone. Part of it is the shitty voice acting, sure, but just think about the content there for a second. First, the guy asks if the woman speaks English. She doesn’t respond so he continues speaking English, telling her where he found her and asking her questions in the same exact tone as before. Okay…
He then notes: “you must have a family.” Where the fuck did that even come from? Who said she didn’t have anyone? Why not simply ask for any family or friends, you weird fuck? And if she could name someone who could tell him who she was, why wouldn’t she just tell him who she was? Unless of course he thinks she’s an amnesiac or extremely confused, in which case it would be more appropriate to shut the fuck up and get her medical help. I know this sounds like nitpicking but the whole scene feels more artificial than the over-enthusiastic gamer celebrities:
Get it? She is a famous actress AND a massive nerd, having played one of the most popular games ever. Mind. Blown.
If that scene happened in GTA, or was written by Rockstar, the cop would have possibly tried to trick the woman into answering, made a witty remark, pushed a phone toward her and made gestures, had a personality of a realistic cop or at least a realistic human being. In the Quantic Dream’s case, he sees a cup magically flying and breaking against a wall and leaves to take a shit. What’s the deal there? I’m sure he knows something but it’s all presented in such a way that, unless the game directly states it in plain English, nobody will know what the character is up to and that’s a sure sign of shit writing.
“I think… Yes. I need to poop.”
Now, I do realize how hard and different it probably is to write for a game and then direct it in a decent way but it’s not like Quantic Dream really care about the requirements of the medium. Their stories take no reasonable compromises in order to work in a game, it’s the other way around actually: the story will be the way it is and the game can fuck off, if it doesn’t like it.
For example, in Heavy Rain, you get to play as the killer you are supposed to be looking for. He or she is not possessed by an evil troll during the murders and does not have a split personality or anything, he or she just doesn’t mention this important hobby to the player, even though we have the ability to “read” the characters’ thoughts. In fact, the killer somehow continues to commit murders and do all the related tasks throughout the game, strictly when the player is not looking, while actively fucking investigating and helping locate the killer because, you know, otherwise the whole thing wouldn’t have worked, just like it doesn’t now.
Not the only example of Heavy Rain characters acting irrationally.
And in the “overlooked” Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, you actually keep switching between the killer and the detectives who are trying to bring him down, and you are aware of this fact all the way through. Think about that for a moment… actually, let me help you. There is a scene where you play as the killer, desperately trying to hide shit and look inconspicuous before the hipster cops get in; and right after that, you play as the suspicious cops, looking for suspicious shit and asking questions, ignoring the fact that you, the player, just saw where the suspicious shit was because you, the player, just fucking hid it.
You have to be quick here. Or slow. Or out of your damn mind.
With this approach, there should be no reason why the story is anything but at least slightly above Uwe Boll levels. And if you do choose an approach that makes for retarded situations in your video games, you deserve to be judged harshly in that area.
This will be short. I was even thinking about leaving this blank because, well, do I really need to explain why I feel like gameplay in Quantic Dream games sucks? Heavy Rain was one long quick time event with some walking and in Fahrenheit you do Simon Says the whole game. By the way, you get to play basketball in that game. The same way. By doing Simon Says… And guess what the gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls will be like… boom!
Don’t want to click? Let me just say that there is an awful lot of white icons all over everything. Why even include player input at all, unless you want to score some points with the critics by having your movie judged as a video game?
It can be quite effective.
Even if you are one of those people who have been able to convince themselves that David Cage is a good writer, you can’t deny that QD games have shit gameplay and I don’t care if you are David Cage himself.
Now you might think that I’m trolling because both Heavy Rain and Beyond look good. Even Fahrenheit was decent looking for a PS2 title. What I have a problem with is voice acting. Looking back, games like the original Fallout, Diablo and Legacy of Kain, to name a few, were already pretty comfortably in a non-laughable voice acting category over a decade ago and in 2010’s, we get a game, a supposed “interactive drama” with no gameplay as such, that is trying to get away with this?
Are you fucking kidding moi? And yes, I know Ellen Page is in Beyond and although I don’t consider her to be among the best actresses out there, I do believe that she might do a decent enough job. It’s the other people that bother me. I would much rather they save that Ellen Page fund and hire several decent actors who can speak in their native accent and still fit in.