David Cage takes aim at big screen, misses small one

Jon Mercer
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I like David Cage, the famed French game director and head of Quantic Dream, I really do. I watched my wife discover the first video game that was truly her own, that she didn’t require me to play with her, in Cage’s PS2 era shocker “Indigo Prophecy.”

A screenshot from Quantic Dream’s latest release, “Beyond: Two Souls.” — Submitted image

We both played through the 2010 PS3 thriller “Heavy Rain.” I enjoy Cage’s games, I appreciate his affection for cinema and I understand his ambition to blur the lines between video games and movies. David Cage’s games are, for lack of any argument, art. With this past week’s release of his latest, “Beyond: Two Souls,” though, has Cage’s formula strayed too far from one in chase of the other? Is “Beyond” more movie than it is game?

Gamers are put in control (and I use that term loosely) of Jodie, played through performance capture by Ellen Page. The story is a nonlinear trek through

15 years of her life and experiences as a symbiotic host to a poltergeist named Aiden (hence the “Two Souls” subtitle). At times a terrifying presence that threatens all those around her, at times her only friend, Jodie is unable to explain Aiden’s presence in her world, let along control it.

During this time, she will be a rebellious teenager, a government experiment, a CIA specialist and finally a fugitive on the run like Bruce Banner from a government that wants her to be a living weapon.

It’s a cracker of a narrative, but honestly I found that it was the only aspect of “Beyond” that kept me coming back. Like a good novel, I was ravenous to see where each turn would take Jodie. It’d just be nice if they remembered to attach a game to this video game.

Quantic Dream has always taken a spartan approach to game design. It’s less about exploring the world, and more about following onscreen prompts to interact with it in moderate ways. Think of those old Laser-disc arcade titles from the 1980’s (“Dragon’s Lair” and its ilk), but much less punishing in difficulty.

The gameplay is pretty much limited to manoeuvring Jodie around the environment and following the aforementioned prompts. As gorgeous as the menu aesthetic is, one can’t deny that the entire game is a series of Quick Time Events. In the past I’ve raved about Quantic Dream and recommended wholeheartedly their software to gamers who I shouldn’t have.

This is a mistake I can no longer make, and this late in the PS3’s lifespan, this is no longer a game that can be hyped up as a must play even for 2013.

“Beyond” is a very specific sort of title that is going to appeal to those who can overlook the vacuous gameplay.

There are a handful of awesome sections where players take control of Aiden, including a stunning sequence at a birthday party that has the spectre avenging Jodie against a group of cruel teenagers.

While some of the acts players can perpetrate are pretty engaging, the outcome doesn’t change at all, so there’s a definite disconnect between the game and the story.

Like a dog being taken for a walk, gamers can sniff in any manner of directions, but you have to go where the master drags you.

So, what does this all mean? How should this affect your decision to buy or skip “Beyond: Two Souls”?

That’s all a matter of how much enjoyment you can take out of what essentially amounts to a mildly interactive movie.

If we look at it from a purely technical point of view, it’s the most accomplished title Quantic Dream has produced yet.

An absolute beast in the presentation department, led by motion captured performances by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe that are miles ahead of the melodrama and mistimed lip syncing in “Heavy Rain,” even if the motion capture could never capture how rubbery and emotive Dafoe’s face is.

The story is a lot of fun as well, a little bit weird and a whole lot interesting, even if a lot of the ancillary characters and subplots are ones we’ve seen a hundred times before.

The interactive segments can become trite as the game progresses. It’s easy to telegraph when struggles and surprises are going to pop out — not that this renders them any less striking to watch.

For what its worth, “Beyond: Two Souls” is a David Cage game — he takes aim at the big screen, and misses the small one.

It certainly didn’t hold my attention any better than Capcom’s completely bonkers “Asura’s Wrath.”

With “Beyond,” I think I as a gamer have finally reached the point where I’m ready to tell Cage to spread his wings and chase his dream, because it’s obvious that he’s interested in making games, but he’d love to make movies.

Platform: PlayStation3

Developer: Quantic Dream

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Release Date: Oct. 8, 2013

Rated: M for Mature.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: CIA, Quick Time Events

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