Sunday, 27 October 2013

Why Beyond: Two Souls Is Bad To The Point Of Being Insulting

Earlier this year when gamers around the world were still in thrall to The Last Of Us, the then upcoming game titled 'Beyond: Two Souls' was making headlines as well, but not because of gamers salivating in anticipation of its release. On the contrary, the attention was due to the voice actor and body provider - Ellen Page - for the Beyond game's main character insisting that the studio behind The Last Of Us had 'illegally used her likeness' for one of their characters. Though with some squinting one could somewhat agree with this, nothing further seems to have happened after this claim and the attention died down. Until recently, when Beyond: Two Souls saw its release.

As for summarizing the story behind Beyond, as I'll just call it, there isn't a lot to say. That's not to say that it's a particularly brief game as it does clock in at a respectable number of hours. The main problem is that it can all be summarized in just a few brief sentences. The main character - Jodie - has some kind of entity connected to her and is also assaulted by invisible monsters as a child. Adults don't believe her except for a few. She alone can save the world from these invisible monsters, which she does, despite she taking care to not prepare for anything.

Where things get bad story-wise is in the actual fleshing out of the characters. Jodie is a whiny, ungrateful bitch. You'd think that she'd get some kind of sense of introspective and awareness, but she willingly and knowingly brings herself into the most dangerous situations. Worse, she knowingly and willingly endangers others without seemingly caring. Then there are the other characters. You don't need to know anything about them, because there is nothing to know. They are never given a personality, background story or motivation.

The most fleshed out support character is a professor at the paranormal investigations branch of the US government who, together with another employee, takes care of Jodie while she's staying at the place as a child until she's a teenager. He also loses his wife and child at one point. That's literally all we know. Why he'd then go crazy and risk the world for a chance to resurrect his wife and children, there's never any reason provided. It all just happens, because the story wills it too.

Jodie's main love interest, too, stays as bland as they come. We know his name, that he works for the CIA and... that quite literally is it. Same for all the other characters we meet. They're all two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs of stereotypes. There's never even a sliver of actual originality or any attempt to move past blatant copy and pasting from the Big Book Of Cliches. It even has the Self-Important General With Short-Sighted Ambitions. As we move onto Jodie's accompanying entity, things get pretty hazy too.

For some reason Jodie knows nothing about this entity, but yet somehow she's an expert on this thing called the 'Infraworld' which is never explained, but is apparently some kind of 'beyond' (hah) or alternative reality slash universe to which one can make a Passage (note the capital P, people!) using a Portal, the physics of which are never explained. We also find the souls of dead people there. And hostile entities. None of this is ever explained, what the place is, why we find souls and other entities there, or what the latter are.

Then there are the plot holes. Or, to be more precise, there are strings of story spanning awkwardly across the biggest plot hole ever seen by humankind. For one, there is the selective power of Aiden, as the entity accompanying Jodie is called. While Aiden can possess and kill people, as well as manipulate objects, the game only very selectively hands you those powers. It's never explained why you can not possess or kill certain people, or why you can destroy a window, but not topple the chair next to it, for example. Then there are the many scenes where Aiden could have saved Jodie from harm, but during which he is somehow absent and Jodie never calls for him either.

In the end this game smacks of self-glorifying story-telling, while ignoring secondary characters and the dynamic medium of games. In a book form many issues with this game wouldn't exist, but as it's not, we get another one of the major issues with this game: choice.

Throughout the game you'll be given lots of options during dialogues, during action scenes and other moments to do or do not something, to say one thing but not the other, and the generally act in a particular way such as open or evasive. During fights you can also dodge attacks using quick-time events and counter-attack. The fun part with all of these? None of it matters. It doesn't matter which dialogue option you pick as the cutscene will quickly guide you back to where it wants you to be. It doesn't matter whether you screw up quick-time events, as you'll be in the same state in the following cutscene regardless of whether you got hit zero times or all twenty times with a knife, bullets or worse.

To the game's ending none of it matters either. You still get the same options, even if you screwed up something, like capturing some entity half-way during the game. The ending makes it very clear that you, the gamer, are unimportant. It's all about Jodie slash Ellen Page. The Main Character whose Whims are to be satisfied instantly before she endangers more innocent bystanders. I do not know whether any of this was Ellen Page's idea, or that it was largely the script writer's idea, but fact remains that as the lead voice actress and face of the main character she would have signed off on it in the full knowledge of what it would be like.

Regardless of who decided to give this Beyond game this shape, to any gamer it is a borderline offensive game. Even a Final Fantasy game gives more choice and freedom than the fake choice in Beyond.

So does this make Beyond into a worse game than, say, Ride To Hell: Retribution, one of the worst abortions of the game industry this year? I'd say so. At least that game gave me some enjoyment despite it being terrible beyond words. At least it wasn't offensive in the way Beyond is. That game doesn't need a player to play it. It just needs itself, to gaze longingly at its handsome features in the mirror.

The narcissistic prick.


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