Beyond: Two Souls Review – Why I loved my trip into the Beyond

The critics haven’t treated Beyond: Two Souls very kindly and to be honest, I have no idea why. Beyond made me cry more than any other video game ever has and possibly more than most films have too. I’m a pretty emotional person, so it’s not hard for a film or TV show to make me cry. However when it comes to video games, it’s a different story. Very few video games can make me cry. Sure they can shock me, wow me and emotionally move me but for a game to make me (or anyone, really) cry, it’s really got to do something special.

Well Beyond does just that. Right from the start you’re sucked into the story of Jodie Holmes, a girl who was born with a connection to an entity beyond this realm. Jodie is trying to remember what happened to her and therefore the story is told in chronological disorder. One minute you’re Jodie as a child, the next, you’re her as an adult. Aiden, the spirit she’s connected to, is always there. Scenes also differ widely in length, some are only ten or fifteen minutes long, others go on for over an hour so; there’s a nice variety.

It may seem like a strange way to order a game but it works just as well as Pulp Fiction did for Quentin Tarantino. After all, it’s your job to put the pieces together and figure out who you (Jodie) are and who, or what, Aiden is.

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What really makes Beyond such an emotional experience is the great writing, acting and technology involved. The story is an unusual one, as it essentially about the supernatural, things that don’t really exist. Death is an interesting subject though and Beyond explores the many different forms and meanings of death. Somehow, David Cage has managed to write a very believable story about ghosts and another world without making it seem ridiculous or silly. Personally, the only time I found the writing to jar was when a very minor character said “It’s like an evil spirit has been sent here to punish us for our sins!” Yeah, that’s an awful line.

However the main actors all perform brilliantly, Ellen Page is typically great in everything she does but Beyond could arguably be one of her best roles. Right from her first line of speech you feel like you’re with Jodie and there’s no doubt that many female gamers will be able to relate to the many horrible things that Jodie has to go through. She isn’t written as a “tortured” character though, something which is refreshing for the industry. Jodie is about as real as female characters get. Willem Dafoe, the other big star, is equally engaging as the scientist trying to understand Jodie’s ability. The relationship the two build is truly warming and it’s great to see that develop as the game goes on.

Technically wise, it’s amazing. The PS3 is at the end of its life cycle and Beyond shows just how far the PS3 has come over a relatively short period of time. I can only imagine how great Cage’s games look when the PS4 has its swan-song. Of course with something so high-tech, there’s always going to be some niggles. For example the character models are near perfect, but props often look a bit flat and fake. When you think that a sponge or sandwich is motion-captured from just cardboard in real life it’s not really surprising and luckily it isn’t too distracting.

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The controls have changed a lot since Heavy Rain, instead of QTEs, Beyond uses a simplified system. Basically, when you’re engaged in a fight or are running for your life, you need to flick the right stick in the appropriate direction in order to perform the action successfully. The screen doesn’t tell you which direction you should go in, instead the game goes into slo-mo mode and you only have a set amount of time to react. Most of the time missing the odd command won’t make too much of a difference but at other times one miss can completely change the scenes outcome – so you’ll definitely be on your toes.

The controls definitely feel more natural than Heavy Rain’s did and personally I think it’s an improvement. However as you’re left to make your own decisions on which direction you should go it, judging the movement can be tough so it’s not always easy to get it right and you might end up messing up a situation you hadn’t intended to. This can be a little frustrating at times but it adds a challenge to the game which Heavy Rain often lacked, so it’s a positive change.

You can also switch to Aiden (almost) whenever you want by pressing triangle. You can then float through walls and interact with certain people and objects, depending on the situation. You can’t travel too far away from Jodie though because you’re connected. Controlling Aiden can be a bit of a pain, especially if trying to travel up or down, as it’s easy to find yourself a bit lost which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to do something quickly. It’s also quite difficult to heal people or to remember memories using Aiden, because you have to push and hold both sticks on a certain highlighted area for a set period of time. 

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Beyond isn’t perfect but it’s pretty damn close. I haven’t felt more connected to any other virtual character as I have Jodie and I genuinely cared about what happened to the other characters. As the reviews have proven, Beyond is a polarising experience, with some gamers just not “getting” it. I feel sorry for those people because they are losing out on an incredible one-of-a-kind experience which is bound to change the way you think about video games forever.

If you have a PS3 and don’t play Beyond – you’re missing out. See you on the other side.

9/10

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Tarantino is reflecting how we all feel about film violence

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By now I’m sure you’ve all seen that interview with director Quentin Tarantino in which he loses his cool and refuses to answer questions regarding the relation (or lack of) of film violence to real life violence. Whether you’re a fan or not and whether you thought he went overboard with his reaction or you sympathise with him, I think we can all agree on one thing – he’s simply reflecting our own frustrations.

Whenever there’s a national tragedy, films and video games are blamed and currently because of Sandy Hook, instead of people tackling the real issues – mental health and gun control (like Tarantino has stated on numerous occasions), it’s being blamed on entertainment. Let’s look at the evidence: there has never been any proof that violent cinema or video games causes or contributes to real life violent behaviour and yet it’s the first thing many journalists, parents and gun enthusiasts blame. America also has the highest amount of school shootings and yet they don’t blame their guns or healthcare system, they blame entertainment. Video games and violent films are watched worldwide, the rest of the world (for the most part) do not have anywhere near as many problems with violence as America does.

Tarantino has been making violent films for 20 years and over those twenty years he’s been asked the same questions time and time again. Many interviewers even try to push some sort of blame onto him, like his violent films are what has caused Sandy Hook – despite there being no link whatsoever. He simply says that firstly, it’s insulting to the people who have died in these shootings to spend time on the news talking about movies instead of how tragic the situation is. Secondly, he says that when there was violence in Shakespeare’s time, the playwrights were blamed. Both of these points are true and I don’t think you can blame Tarantino for not wanting to play along with journalists who sit there and simply point the finger. 

Ask yourself this, what was blamed for violence before books, films and video games? Nothing. Human nature has violent aspects, it’s like blaming rape on porn – rape has always been around and unfortunately it always will be but we can take steps to prevent it and help the victims. It’s the same situation with gun crime and in fact, there’s was a study in a 2009 paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics which showed that violent films actually help reduce crime and not increase it. Sometimes, we just need to live out our fantasies so we don’t do them in real life.

Writing about the opposite sex in video games; a Nathan Drake and Lara Croft comparison

Video games have changed, dramatically and at a very fast pace. Only a few years ago were we playing a pixelated character you didn’t really care about but now we have well developed characters with incredible stories. Unfortunately, this creates a few problems too. The industry has huge pressure on them to do something new, realistic and fan pleasing. Standards have gone up tenfold which means the players aren’t always happy.

The latest uproar comes from the Tumblr community. It’s about how Tomb Raider apparently promotes “rape culture”, you can see the post (and my rant at the end: here). They largely argue that male developers should not write a female character, ever. A statement which I find hugely offensive. It says that men don’t know women at all. A fair statement but what women knows what all women are like? She only knows her own personality inside-out but she couldn’t understand her polar opposite point of view. Every human being, whether the opposite sex or not, is complicated. Hell I think most people don’t even know themselves very well. My point is that if you say men can never write a female character, you’re also saying a woman can never write a male character.

So in that case, what about Amy Hennig? She is one of the most influential women in the gaming industry and is known for her writing of the Uncharted series. She created Nathan Drake, one of the most likeable video games characters in the world. So, if men can’t write Lara Croft then who the hell is this woman to write a male character!? Oh no, we’ve all been mistaken she’s done such a poor job because she wrote about the opposite sex. Furthermore, we should also slander all the books that have ever been written by a man about women and vice versa, I mean, they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about right?

I would be down-right offended if I was a male writer/developer and someone told me I couldn’t write about a woman. It’s sexist. End of. Women are not “better writers”, you get bad and good writers of every gender, race and background.

Now the issue of rape in video games. As far as I know, it’s an issue that has never really been tackled and from what I can gauge from the TR trailer, it doesn’t really look like it’s tackled here much either. Although, it’s only a clip, I could be wrong. However, we all know rape is horrible and it can be a very difficult issue to tackle. Many films and TV shows have tried and succeeded at tackling rape, you only need to watch any soap on British TV to see this. Some have failed too, naturally, but if TV shows can tackle such sensitive issues, games should be able to too. We want more adult games because video games are made by adults mostly for adults, we don’t want to be treated like children when it comes to playing a good, in depth story. For me, there’s no reason why rape shouldn’t be addressed as almost every other serious issue has been in games.

Some argue that the “rape” scene in TR is used to strengthen Lara and that in itself is wrong. Again, I don’t expect that particular scene to hold any significance over everything else that happens to Lara. She’s thrown about, captured, tied up, shot at, threatened…a lot of horrid things happen to the poor woman. That’s what makes her stronger. It’s perhaps a bit cliché but how do you make a character go from never firing a gun to becoming a bad ass? It would be unrealistic to say Lara was born a bad ass, this is an origins story after all. Let’s look at Nathan Drake again, the last game only just touches on his past and how he became the man he is today but it’s easy to tell he’s gone through some rough times. He’s very young, he’s by himself and almost gets killed when Sully finds him. He’s gone through trauma, it’s changed him, we’ve seen dark sides of Drake before and they are yet to be explained. Drake goes through shit too, he’s also threatened, thrown around, shot at, drugged, etc. He hasn’t had it easy. Characters need that emotional background to give them depth, we need to know how they got there, how they became the person they are.

Amy Hennig, creator of Uncharted

It’s insulting to say a female character can’t be put through trauma because it’s cruel if you’re then happy to say it’s okay for men to be put through that same trauma. When the Hitman controversy came out, many newspapers picked up on how horrible it was to see women get killed and taken out in such a violent way by Agent 47. That’s sexist because if those nuns were say, monks instead (i.e. male), they wouldn’t have a problem with it. We can’t cotton ball female characters in such a way if we also want them to be treated the same way as the male ones.

Oh and all the complaining about Lara’s “moaning” and heavy breathing? She’s exhausted, she’s hurt, I’m pretty sure I’d make similar noises given the situation, it’s an attempt to make it realistic, not sexualising it. Drake heavily breathes too and talks to himself, it’s not there for women to touch themselves over it.

The TR origin story may not be perfect. I don’t know, it’s not out yet, I’ll have to wait until next year to see. Maybe I will eat my words but for now we need to direct our anger at the real issues in video games, and to stop being so sexist ourselves.

Why I still love Resident Evil

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Ever since Resident Evil 5 came out, fans and non-fans have claimed that Resident Evil has changed. That it’s no longer Resident Evil at all. There’s too much action and not enough survival. I cannot disagree, it has changed but I believe that change is for the better.

Change can be good. Things have dramatically changed since the first Resident Evil on PSone, the graphics have improved, we have better story-tellers, technology has leapt forward and games are much longer than they used to be. Imagine if games companies kept using the same tactics over and over again, no one wants to play the same game twice. When a sequel comes out, we think “what’s different? What’s new?” Which is why games have to keep evolving. Look at Spyro, it was a failing game franchise, doing the same things but worse with each release and then Activision had a great, money making idea for Spyro and it’s popularity has sky-rocketed since. Spyro has been reborn, all due to one fantastic idea. 

It was a similar story with Resident Evil, even gamers now will tell you how great Resident Evil 4 is and how it’s the best in the series. It was different to the previous games, there was more action, more suspense but it still managed to hang onto that horror feel. However, Resident Evil 5 was not given as many praises even though it’s the best selling Resident Evil game of all time. Many felt the African setting wasn’t scary enough, it wasn’t dark enough and I agree but RE can’t keep doing the same thing.

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It seems that many fans would rather Resident Evil was constantly set in a mansion, walking down long, dark corridors, waiting for things to pop out at them, but hasn’t RE done this so much already? It’s old school and sometimes old school is good (see the DLC for RE5) but it can’t be done all the time, we would get bored. As much as I love Albert Wesker, if he was the villian in every RE game, I would get bored of him.

RE6 is trying out a lot of new things. It has three stories instead of one, which intertwine and though it will be hard to get right, it will be amazing if Capcom pull it off. There’s new characters, there’s old characters, friends are fighting with each other, new enemies, new inventory system, the list goes on. RE is a series that needs to be kept fresh or it will go as stale as a zombie rotting in Raccoon City. It may have moved away from it’s roots but most games need to in order to survive among the action-packed modern day games.

For me, Resident Evil is still Resident Evil, it has the characters I love, the zombies I like to shoot but with a new twist, something that keeps it fresh. Yes it may not be a traditional RE game any more but I played RE5 to death and if millions of people enjoy playing it as much as I do, who are you to argue otherwise?

Journalism standards in decline – the fault of journalists or the audience?

The Sunday Sport ‘journalism’ at its best…

Today, CVG has caused a hell of a hullabaloo with their article about the E3 booth babes of 2012 just after a week ago, Sarah Ditum wrote an article about how sexist the new Hitman trailer was (which I wrote about here). What adds insult to injury is the words that accompanied the booth babe pictures: “We here on CVG like to use a 10-point review system, but if you’re more simple-minded you could just settle with ‘would’ or ‘not with yours, mate'” The staff at CVG are starting to sound less like journalists and more like sexist pigs.

But whose fault is it? Just a quick scan of the comments will tell you most CVG readers seem to like these sorts of ‘articles’, so is the audience to blame? Perhaps the average teenage boy, young man, old geezer on the street wants to look at sexy ladies, giving the site hits and adding sales figures to the delightful Sunday Sport. However, lads mags are meant to be in decline so is this really want readers want? After all, CVG is a video games website, surely readers go there to read about video games, not the women who dress up to endorse them. If they want to look at sexy ladies, that’s what the copious amount of porn sites are for.

Why do they still have booth babes at these events anyway? It could be argued that most journalists are male, as are most video games developers so someone, somewhere in the PR department thought they could persuade journalists to talk positively about their game by pushing a cheerleader with a push-up bra in front of them. “Sex sells” people say but does it? It’s an old fashion view, that tactic might have worked in the past but now more and more men are thinking, hang on, this is getting a bit ridiculous.

You could say the same about all the celebrity news and nonsense that is constantly written about in cheap magazines – many complain about this type of journalism but these magazines sell, a reflection of the kind of society we’re currently living in. Perhaps we’re no longer bothered about ‘hard news’, we’re more interested in who Katie Price is now sleeping with…

I hope to be a games journalist someday and I would love to go to events like E3 but I would hope the booth babes saga was starting to fade out by then. This video by the BBC showed how uncomfortable women in technology felt at the CES convention because of all the booth babes. I would feel the same. It was bad enough during Eurogamer last year, some stalls did indeed have booth babes and as I was out with a group of mostly male friends, I felt uncomfortable. Some made jokes, some stared and I just wanted to play video games. It’s actually rather upsetting to be a woman and to be put in that situation. You might laugh at me and tell me I’m stupid but that is how some women feel and if you want more women in our industry like so many articles are going on about at the moment, companies and journalists need to change their attitudes.

My opinion on the Hitman sex nuns

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When I first saw the teaser picture for the new Hitman trailer I was excited. I’m not a Hitman fan but female assassins? Sounds awesome. However, when the trailer was released yesterday, a lot of people were not happy. Sarah Ditum was just one of those people and her piece on CVG explains her gripes with it.

Now I’m a bit fickle when it comes to sexism in games, probably because there’s a very thin line between what’s funny, what’s sexy and what’s just plain gratuitous. For example, many would argue Bayonetta is sexist but it’s not. It’s done in a funny way and doesn’t take itself seriously – that’s when characters like her are acceptable. It’s also why they get away with it in fighting games. But Hitman is a game that does take itself seriously and nun in tight PVC? Really Hitman? For a start that’s unrealistic, PVC and being an assassin…have the men who created this ever worn PVC? Didn’t think so. It’s the same with those ridiculous stilettos. 

In fact the ridiculousness is probably worse than the actual sexism. I like to play as sexy female characters in games, don’t get me wrong but make them believable, make them smart and don’t make them look like ex-porn stars. A few game-loving celebrities on Twitter such as Charlie Brooker and Robert Florence have said they’re going to boycott the game. Brooker went as far as to call it a “piece of shit game” and if anyone sends him a copy he will “throw it out the window”. Strong words. So it’s not just a few women who are a tiny bit upset by this, grown men themselves are tired of games PR nights being held in strip clubs and seeing female characters become nothing more than a bit of eye-candy. 

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Unfortunately, Hitman will still sell millions of copies. It’s a much anticipated game and few gamers aren’t going to decide not to buy it just over that one trailer. The problem is though, this will continue to happen until we do something about it and as we know, the majority of games journos are male and many of them do not have a problem with sexism in games. Hell, some females journos don’t either but this needs to change. All we can do, is tell games companies times have changed and we want the industry to change. Besides, I don’t about you but seeing male, over-muscled men is just as boring as seeing another big-boobed lady in games. So it’s not even about sexism, it’s about realism and I’m pretty sure the next-gen will demand realism. 

Why is there a huge lack of split-screen games?

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This past week has been spent with my boyfriend at his house. We both love to game and so, in the weeks before, we tried to find a new co-op game we could play together. We wanted something new that neither of us had played before so we could explore a new story together. However, we looked everywhere, on the backs of every box, and not one of them had split-screen co-op.

But, almost every single game had online co-op. Mass Effect 3 and Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City for example would have been perfect with split-screen co-op. Why then do they choose to do it online over local? The most obvious answer is that almost everyone has the internet now and with online gaming growing every minute, perhaps online gaming has become more popular than playing with someone in the same room as you. However, where’s the evidence to prove we don’t play with our “real” friends anymore? When I moved to university, I made gaming friends and we would buy (and still do) a game on the principle it’s local multiplayer – no one wants to come round and watch just one person game at a time. But there is a huge lack in these games and it’s becoming even more common to not have local multiplayer it seems to me games companies are missing out on a huge market. Families, students, couples…these are all the sorts of people that love to play games together and I feel that devs are missing out on targeting these groups.

It doesn’t make much sense to leave it out either. An online server costs money to run and maintain, and sometimes those servers eventually get shut down when they’re not so popular anymore to save money. A local version of this would cost them next to nothing in comparison, it would be so easy to implement so why don’t they? It seems we are being punished for having real life friends or playing with our families and that doesn’t seem right.

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Local co-op can make a crap game good in some cases. Okay, some would argue the polar opposite but hear me out. My boyfriend and I finally found a game with local co-op during our week together. Neither of us had played it before and it was under a tenner so it was perfect. It was called Hunted: The Demon’s Forge and it had been given average reviews but we thought we’d give it a go. It was good fun but I think the experience wouldn’t be as fun if you were playing it alone.

There’s no evidence to suggest gamers have gotten more anti-social in the past few years, in fact the Wii has proven we love to play games together, so please developers, don’t leave us without local co-op when you include an online version.