Thursday, 10 October 2013

Trials on Trial: Beyond: Two Souls

I could put aside my qualms about French Canadians as Americans and the world’s worst “legal” police procedurals of 2010’s Heavy Rain when it came to loading up the demo of Beyond: Two Souls, a similar game that presents itself more as an interactive movie than a traditional game. First of all you hired a real actress this time. I like Ellen Page and the motion capture seems top notch from the title screen alone, so let’s kick it off and…

…I’m playing as a little girl? Ok, it’s not her yet but I can see they are doing an origin or flashback sequence. So let’s play…

…erm, ok, watch instead, something that was the recurring sentiment throughout my trial. I was asked to follow the polite enough orderly, who remained as such no matter how many times I picked up a toy only to be told to knock it off and come along, repeatedly.

Now unless this is a home visit I can quickly see my little pink girly bedroom is merely a quick paint job in the always creepily mono-shaded ward. But apparently I’ve earned that much as even as a small child, I am the only one in this medical practice that can open doors. Apparently being polite comes with favors. To these people. But I shouldn’t complain, even as a work down the hall people around me are neither ignoring me nor jumping out of nearby windows screaming. I feel like things are going to be just fi…

Willem Dafoe? NOOOOO!

You can’t tell me a man on the edge of the uncanny valley OUTSIDE of motion capture is going to be thinking of my best interests. Unfazed, apparently mini-Page has seen worse, probably X-Men: The Last Stand. So much though she doesn’t even care when a large mechanical apparatus is put on her head and told by Dafoe it’s just like crown fit for a princess.

Finally close to conventional enough gameplay began because before you can say Paranormal Activity, I find myself throwing bric-a-brac up and down and around the fat lady in the next room. Now whatever the head apparatus is intended for, what it is not is a lie detector because I specifically remember Dafoe asking mini-Page to knock things about, not her ghostly companion. I can’t trust anyone in this game…

FLASHFORWARD! A pile of polygons resembling the real Ellen Page is now in my control, this time learning hand-to-hand combat techniques with vague nods and quick time events. Better yet, you can fail a twenty-second routine nine times in a row and still be considered ready for active duty on the barely passed tenth attempt.
FLASHFORWARD! Never mind those guys with super seriousness caked all over their faces, it’s a demo after all. Now I’m on a train and before you say Paranormal Activity 2 I’m yet again a disembodied prankster, bothering my fellow passengers. From a story structure perspective, I can clearly tell I’m on the run by this point in the script and as the immovable force of knocking over plastic cups I’m also clearly a threat to national security. Who are our top men on the job? The back mountain pass Highway patrol!

While it is hard to tell how much of my input is taking effect, Page is running from her pursuers between train carriages, all the while the storm rages outside. Wait a second, raging storm? Outside? Nighttime? ON A TRAIN!? Climb outside, dam you! The cinematic effect can only enhance this thrill ride. Not bothered by the high speeds, strong winds, shaking and slippery surfaces, the patrol pile onto Page like she was Arnold Schwarzenegger and like Commando she throws them off with ease, but not off the high speed, strong winds, shaking and slippery surface. If I was a member of the patrol I would find it jarring with someone that small taking out so many officers. But then again, they didn’t have the luxury of that twenty-second routine from before.

Ellen Page is like an unstoppable train herself, evading officers, swatting off large vicious hounds like flies and climbing high rocky slopes in enough time to catch her breath and to whip out her invisible plot connivance trigger for another sequence of the Incredible Machine meets the Exorcist. But I may be underestimating my incorporeal companion though, because not long after having stolen a motorbike, I found myself literally driving through a three car thick roadblock with nothing more than a shadowy bubble around me. Although that might have come in handy earlier in the train.

Yet if totaling an entire police department wasn’t enough to get the message, next up for the chopping block were actual well-armed, highly trained operatives. Hiding behind a nearby car, it was time for Ghost Dad to clean up once more. So what’s going to happen this time? Am I going to roll their trucks out of the way? Kick up the snow in their faces? Or maybe control the guards to play grab ass?

Holy sh...

Screw just pranking potential threats, let’s straight up murder people! While only a demo, I would still like some indication that these men are doing something more sinister than just doing their jobs. But there is no time, instead men are driven to suicide, helicopters crashed and cars dumped on heads. Forget Ghost Dad, this is straight up Carrie!

Once the blood and dust have settled, Ellen Page grabs the last man standing as warns that if she is not left alone she will kill everyone…

…by the end of this demo I thought I already did.

What struck me by the end of the trial though was a quick pop up of recognition from the Triberca Film Festival and I believed it. But like the time notable film critic Roger Ebert weighed in on the matter, I never really understood the film industry’s need to critique gaming. I could easily walk out of the nearest cinema and complain about the overly linear gameplay and lack of proper input that “game” just presented. Although after this demo, I didn’t even need to do that.

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