Choke on your koopy sandwich you miserable bastard.
David Cage is the biggest charlatan in the games industry. His continued persistence and existence in this field is the most baffling mystery to date, and perhaps the biggest example of executives being wowed by flash over substance. He is a man with an idea of what games should be, which is “bad movies.” His adherents are the sort to claim that his work doesn’t get enough respect, and very quickly devolve into petulance and slurs when new players grow frustrated with aspects of the David Cage experience, such as:
- Requiring the overlooking of massive plot holes and hanging threads to progress in the story.
- Dialogue stilted to the degree of “Hollywood Cop.”
- Quicktime events in lieu of having actual things to do.
- Awkward, sometimes interactive poligonal softcore sex.
- One which was actually a quicktime event.
- Having to read the backmatter posted on an unrelated games website in a preview to understand who a character we were just introduced to, only to see die in a dream sequence and then immediately cut away from, is.
I wish I was joking with that last one, but that wasn’t something that I simply observed, that happened to me, personally.
The sound of a million pedants excitedly going MM-MMM, hands raised, waiting to educate us all on how this is actually a good game.
It would seem to many that he’s coasting on what seemed to be his first major success, the intro to his second effort at with Quantic Dream, Indigo Prophecy in North America, Fahrenheit elsewhere. Aside from a questionable voiced intro, of which the bizarre rhythms of Cage’s writing hum quietly through, Indigo Prophecy’s introduction is actually really cool. With the aid of 24-like picture in picture, you aid your initial player character, a man who has come out of a bout of amnesia in a diner bathroom with a knife in his hand and a corpse at his feet, in cleaning up his crime scene before anyone notices. Tensions begin ramping up, as a cop soon enters the diner, as the picture-in-picture shows you. The music swells, sounding more and more like a pressurized pulse. Mop up the blood, ditch the weapon, file the corpse in a stall, wash your hands, finish your meal, leave a tip, get out and then RUN.
It’s honestly great.
[flaccid slapping sounds]
Too bad the rest of the game is twaddling around with inept PCs before the whole thing falls off a cliff, there’s a telekinesis battle on top of an orphanage with a member of the Maya/Illuminati and one of the multiple endings sees your undead hero shooting a kamehameha wave at the living personification of the internet, who was secretly behind it all, whatever it is, ushering in a golden age. I wish I could explain it, but I can’t, because it doesn’t actually make sense. David Cage isn’t interested in making sense.
David Cage is interested in EMOTION.
If ever you’ve seen the man talk, you know that David Cage loves Emotion. Not actually as a thing that people have or feel, but as a thing that he can aspire to create in his studio out of code and celebrities to forcibly insert into people. This man wields Emotion as a ward-word, with the sort of a shield hand that I can only assume he has honed in developer meetings with producers and publishing executives asking what just what in this fuck this puckish Frenchman with the enigmatic smile has shown them. Emotion, he would most likely tell them in the manner of a great Steve Jobsian visionary of late capitalism, his smile not betraying there’s actually not a goddamned coherent thought in his head. It doesn’t matter, as long as it makes you feel. Even if all it’s making you feel is contempt.
Wipe that smile off your face, you look like a smug kiwi fruit.
It also doesn’t help that what this man sees as emotional is baffling and practically alien. Cage, who himself is a father, writes interactions between parents and children that aren’t simply inept, but seethe with a low-key frustration and hostility that is downright chilling. It’s easy to believe why this man hangs on Emotion like he does, because I’m not certain if he knows what they are, but he wants to understand. After all, this is a man that claimed in front of that great model of Big Upcoming Work in Electronic Games, a spinning old man head, that the power of the Playstation 4 would allow developers to create “emotions you’ve never felt before.” That a shepherd’s crook didn’t immediately lance out and yank him offstage by his idiot neck is proof Vaudeville is truly dead.
No, seriously, he did it, he did the cliche joke thing, for real.
Hacks are nothing new to games, and they will continue to be a problem for as long as their games sell. Cage has proven particularly difficult to extricate, as his games exude this ethereal wow factor that has the effect of duping people who really should know better. There’s also the people that don’t expect better out of the stories they play in games, because they exhibit more sophistication in their telling than the mistranslated text boxes of days past. Then there’s just the fact that some people actually are wowed by this shit, proving that games are capable of sustaining the same fans as individuals who pay to see movies based on Dan Brown novels in theatres. And the thing is, the people who played his games and enjoyed them are willing to go to bat for his work, at least if they’ve maybe only played one of his games before. They’ll stand for him, “there’s some cool stuff” they’ll say in that high, apologetic register of someone who wants to make a point, but doesn’t want to make it a federal case or anything. But what’s really baffling is that he also has his superfans, and I quite literally don’t know what it is they’re seeing in his work. David Cage neither makes good games, nor good movies that are games. His games suck because they’re all wandering around and disconnected quicktime events in lieu of actual intrigue or excitement; his movies suck because they’re incomprehensible accolade vehicles, Lynch Films gone banal, flimsy domestic dramas that momentarily break into Matrix kung fu battles and segue into the hamfistedly fantastic, Amir Shervan movies that somehow manage our industry’s equivalent of Oscar nominations. Put them together, you’re fed into swirling vortex of nonsense and stupidity, of claw-hand controller gestures being rewarded by images of digital women using the toilet. This is the modern Quantic Dream, and this is the pursuit of David Cage.
But then there was that time before that, when Quantic Dream tried to make something that was much more akin to a typical game, with free-roaming exploration, fast travel, inventory, and both shooting and hand to hand combat.
And it was so much worse. So, so, so much worse.
There's a gold man waiting in the sky. He'd like to come an meet us but he thinks he'd blow ou[hideous sounds of a Dreamcast choking on a hung disk]
This game is called Omikron: The Nomad Soul. People will try to tell you it’s some forgotten classic. It isn’t. What it actually represents is the fact that before the unauthorized nude model of Ellen Page that “just happened” to be in Beyond: Two Souls, before the baffling and maudlin child murder plot of Heavy Rain, before the neck-breaking gear shift in quality of Indigo Prophecy, we had proof that David Cage isn’t simply a bad developer, but also a bad person.
And good fucking lord, what proof it is.
G: Insipid from the Get Go
Zardoz is a movie I have a complex relationship with. It’s awful. It’s also fascinating. It’s dumb. It’s also sophisticated. It features a giant flying stone head, and also, questions about human existence. One thing, though: weak beginning, one made out of necessity, or at least the filmmakers thought after presenting their work before a test audience and getting a bunch of question marks back. Their solution was to make an opening in which a god of the film simply walks towards the camera, explaining the state of the world and of what you’re about to see. It’s a speed bump out the front of the starting gate, like the bored narration of Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, except vaguely Shakespearian. It sucks and is awful.
Booooooooo! Freebird! [Vuvuzeala blast]
Omikron also uses this intro, except instead of a god, it’s a player character, the unfortunately named Kayl, a cop from the city of Omikron (Country? World? Who cares.) He then explains that you are the Nomad Soul, and that you must come with him, inhabiting his body to prevent a great cataclysm involving missing souls and demons and whatnot. He then tells you to be careful with his body, as it might be only one to you, but it’s the only one he has. How a cop knows this and also how he can breach the boundary between worlds doesn’t matter; what does is that you are immediately shitkicked by a demon upon dropping into the world in an unavoidable scene. So much for being careful with his body. You’re the guy who sucks, and also gets wilded on by demons.
From there, things just get worse. Because this is a game written by an individual who thinks making something with an otherworldly disconnect from our real world is instantly compelling. Much like a person that looks at the comic art of Moebius or Jack Kirby and immediately asks “wow, what were they on,” Cage sees throwing anything weird in the face of the player as confronting them with something that will challenge their perceptions of the world. It doesn’t, it’s just annoying, like trip sitting a douchebag taking his first hit of salvia. This is why coffee is called koyl, beer is called Kloops and sandwiches are made out of small lizards called koopys. Koopy sandwich. Eat the koopy sandwich. Put in your stupid mouth and work your idiot jaw you son of a bitch.
So you’re loosed in this place, free to interact with civilians who know nothing, tell strangers you’re a Nomad Soul, and have sex with Kayl’s wife in a scene that someone obviously thought would be hot, and instead just feels like you got pulled into a peepshow booth by someone with clammy hands. Nobody cares if you tell them you’re a phantom traveler from a parallel universe, they just tell you to go to the crypto-dyna-shrink or whatever the hell psychiatrists are called in this thing. There’s a cafeteria you can visit. You can tell it’s otherworldly because people eat through their necks. This isn’t a future tech thing, mind, this is just a poor animation. There’s also a sex shop. Dildos hang from the ceiling by strings in a wide open environment that has no shelves, proving that this development team has a firm grasp of what really goes on in these sort of places. Maybe I’m overthinking things; maybe this is a sex shop in the sense that it’s proving ground and repair shop for sex. Maybe this dev team is a bunch of folks who didn’t know what they signed on to, under the direction of a highly influential tubeworm.
Nothing in this game is cool or inspiring. The closest thing to an interesting design is cyber-god Bowie, which is interesting in the same way the design of the Diva from Fifth Element is, I guess, and it’s always cool to see tricks with alpha channels adding interesting transparent elements to a model. Too bad ‘interesting, I guess’ is about the highest this game scores in terms of visuals. The demons look like enemies from Spectre VR formed into a voltron of disjointed polygons and textures that I guess form coherence from sheer visual confusion. The other gods, especially the old ones you come across in statuary, just look like a bunch of boring idiots. This is because they are, and the only purpose they have in game is to serve as glorified keys and to periodically disgorge torrents of dialogue at you that mean and accomplish nothing.
This game also has really cool font choices, too. So you can look forward to reading stuff that looks like that a lot.
In fact, a lot of things in this game are just big stupid keys. There’s a legendary sword you learn about around an hour before the end of the game, which you need to defeat the final boss. Except you don’t use it in the fight, you need it to open the portal to the final battle, and use it in a cutscene. This thing the game builds up to is immediately discarded to progress along the conveyor belt of Things That Happen that form this game’s narrative as means of opening a green glowy door. Less memorable things, too, but always talked about by one of the game’s varying mystical no-nothing talking heads or text logs as some Big Thing that you almost invariably end up slotting the pointed end of into some sort of hole to open a portal somewhere. Nothing builds to any payoff. At no moment is there the catharsis in games that comes from accomplishing a task or getting a new tool or ability, only the panic that comes from finally bumbling into forward progress with no save point in sight.
Or currency to use them, in some cases.
See, there’s a lot of insipid aesthetic design in this game, but it would be neglectful not to mention that this game is rife with insipid design choices. Did you know you can store your inventory, status and map UI in the game’s Resident Evil storage box? Did you know you can delete it? That’s a thing that sure makes me feel emotions, specifically frustration and incredulity. You know what that detail is, that little thing? That’s something a dev put in because they thought it was neat, because they had never seen it before. That they could do it was entirely the qualifier for it being in there, but clearly nobody actually asked the question “should this even be in here in the first place?” You can break your game at will, isn’t that neat? Don’t worry, though, you can reload save. You know, if you have enough MAGIC RINGS, the game’s currency special made for two things: saving games and using the hint system. It requires one MAGIC RING to save your game for you; no dice if you have none. To get a hint, it costs five MAGIC RINGS. Are these hints useful?
No. They are not.
They’re the opposite of useful, in that they don’t tell you anything and also cost you five saves at a save point. There are no autosaves to be found anywhere. The game is hard in a way that is distinctly unfair, with enemies capable of shooting you beyond your vision range from within the fog and hand to hand encounters with opponents who are massively overpowering, often with no warning that either are incoming, and without the ability to use the healing items you collect in the open world segments when underway. Take all of that, and put it all into a game where saving is not a function, but a finite resource, and you really begin to see the rancid beneath the otherworldly weirdness. You will see this game’s Game Over screen, and of course it’s long winded too, and often not even because it was actually your fault.
It should thus tweak you that David Cage is the guy who once said “game overs are a failure of game designers.”
C: You Got Bowie, and This is What You Did With Him
At least I wasn't in Zoolander 2.
You know David Bowie is in this game, because he’s right there on the cover. In fact, it’s kind of apt to say that only David Bowie is in this game, because him being around is the only time this thing feels like it comes to life. Sure, he’s still speaking abject nonsense, but he does it with his Bowie charisma and voice, so that’s a step up from whatever else the confused and shell-shocked sounding voice cast has to offer.
Which isn’t to say I blame them for sounding like that, you work with what you’re given.
Moreover, Bowie’s influence extends to this game’s soundtrack, as he actually recorded original tracks for the game. They’re quite good, and have an ethereal quality that fits with the mood the game is reaching for.
And you can miss some of them entirely. See, there’s actually multiple Bowies in this game, cyber-god Bowie, and otherworld rockstar Bowie. So just Bowie, then. Anyway, Bowie classic is in a band called the Dreamers, composed of him and other graphically rendered math that oscillates to his voice in a vague approximation of dancing. This band has a concert within the game world, at an out of the way club. I can’t remember any sort of cause I was given to find this club. Like most people, I bumbled around until I figured this game was more some weird mess-around thing like Sea Man and returned it to the rental joint. Point is, I found it, I didn’t know how I found it, I cannot recall how I found it, and all I can remember about the experience is that I did a bunch of bullshit to hear a new Bowie song set to a bunch of models awkwardly gyrating in a garbage club, and then it was over. Nothing about the experience was memorable, and because of it, the game’s concentrated field of mediocrity rendered my opinion of that sequence simply “the song was cool, but I don’t remember it.”
You can also miss it entirely. What emotion does that make you feel?
In lieu of texture work that looks like things, consider trying just stretching lines and smearing colours across the model's vertices until it appears to be done.
When I talk about professional wrestling, I have a tendency to describe Hulk Hogan in parasitic terms, and with good reason. Hulk Hogan is an individual whose modus operandi throughout his time with the AWA, WWF/E, WCW and finally TNA was to latch onto the person in charge and use his charisma and star power to suborn them into being His Guy. The man is kudzu with ego-control issues. Can’t upset Hulk, because no Hulk, no show, so make sure to give Hulk everything he asks for, and also nothing he doesn’t, which he may or may not warn you about beforehand. He may also change his mind, at which point you must make things better, or else no Hulk and no show. This godawful wire mother apparatus with an orange malignant narcissist has killed careers and tanked promotions, all at the behest and prosperity of Hulkamania, at least up to the point he went on a racist tirade on camera in a damn sex tape, and let’s hope it keeps him away forever now.
I happen to see similar patterns in David Cage. Similar, but distinctly different. See, Cage has a sweet tooth for celebrity talent, one that I suspect stems from his early work on the Timecop SNES game, which was terrible, but did feature a Mortal Kombat-style digitized Jean Claude Van Damme. It’s clear the man is swinging a grappling hook, and his target is any star that flies low enough for him to skitch onto. This is because the celebrities aren’t there because they’re needed to the gameplay or the experience, they’re there for Cage to be associated with. Bowie’s much touted role in this game boils down to title themes, missable in-game performances and ponderous plot dumps. Absolutely nothing about him being in the game is integral, because it doesn’t feel so. He’s just there for prestige.
In case you think I’m off base about David Cage and his view of celebrities as resources, here is an unrelated picture of him with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, talking about Beyond: Two Souls.
It is the role of actors to be expressive. If you’ve ever seen a talk by a famous performer, you know that these are people who are not shy about their opinions about directors they’ve worked with. Actors praise directors with coherent visions, who work creatively and efficiently, and who work with the actors both on and off set to create craft, rather than just telling them what to do and then making them do it exactly as prescribed.
That last bit right there? That’s the part that I think is being expressed in these very expressive faces. On the right is a man who is creatively fulfilled, who had top quality talent bring his vision to life. To his left, the top quality talent, telling us everything we need to know about the experience of working with him. Because they didn’t know before, but they do now- their involvement wasn’t anything more than publicity for the work an individual who shouldn’t be anywhere close to where he is.
They were an asshole’s stepladder, and right there, I think it’s really sinking in, at its full and terrible enormity.
A: Maybe You Should Have Just Made One Game Instead of Three, Dummy
Battle theme. You're welcome.
Any praise Sonic: Unleashed may have received was purely because it wasn’t Sonic ‘06; Sonic Team was so deep into debacle territory with ‘06, that a game that had fast-unto-uncontrollable running segments and slow, dull and monotonous melee fighting segments seemed to be a step up. But now that things are in a comparatively better place, what with some actually good Sonic games having occurred since then and now, we can look back and go, “yeah, actually Sonic: Unleashed was a bad game, because it was two poorly made games instead of one focused project.”
Omikron tried to be three games, not two. The results were not pretty.
The main space the game occupies is that of an open world adventure game, complete with inventory management and key items, things to be taken to be inserted into slots a and b, so the switch at c can be properly thrown. An open world adventure game is a hell of an undertaking, a game that would require some major streamlining and specialization to make flow properly. None of this is present in this game. Instead, you are presented with the sort of stringent and rigid puzzling present in early examples of games in the adventure genre. Thing is, in games like King’s Quest, where the state of being “walking dead,” having missed a crucial item and being beyond the point of being able to get it, they were only a double digit number of screens. Those key items required were somewhere, even if they weren’t apparent, and there was only a few places where they actually could be. They weren’t cities big enough to warrant a fast travel system to get around in, which is the case in Omikron. This is a game where items needed to progress in the plot are locked in desks which neither look like desks nor imply that they can be interacted with, let alone unlocked. This is a game where entrances to buildings are unclear to the point that you begin to doubt if you can actually enter them. You can, but there’s sure a lot of wall textures that look an awful lot like doors, or at least this game’s idea of what doors look like.
This is the game's cyan district. You can tell, because it's not blue.
The point is, this game doesn’t even get doors right. Not even from like a more advanced design theory perspective, stuff like “guide with light” and whatnot. They didn’t make the doors look like doors. This is a problem, because doors hide things behind them, like “story progress” and “gameplay content.” Very often you’ll jump because something you didn’t think was a door was a door and it slides open very suddenly and noisily. Irritation is an emotion, though I feel it too often to consider the newness of it.
When free roaming, there is no combat. There is however the ability to take damage via falls, drowning and being run over by cars. Sliders, they’re called sliders, and your menu device is called your Sneak, because control schemes are too sensible and could do with the confusion of having a button marked “sneak” access your inventory. Luckily, this is the mode where you can easily access your inventory, and thus can just pump yourself full of blue health bar energy if too many taxis ghostride over you. You can even buy food and drink and meds to keep yourself in tip top shape. In case you were wondering, the currency also has a dumb name. Seteks.
Unfortunately, this is also the one out of the three game modes that don’t actually have combat. The ones that do don’t allow you to open your inventory. If you wanted to know how to render health kits in a game with action elements useless, there you go. You did it Dave, you did the impossible.
The hand to hand combat was praised for its depth. In practice, the game is doing its best attempt at a Virtua Fighter or Tekken, with chain combos and some grappling inside of 3D arenas. However, the best attempt this game is capable of is a game where only a few techniques are viable, namely because the AI has two states in its machine, “stun locked” and “beast mode.” Akin to how in Godfrey Ho movies everyone who doesn’t state their disbelief in ninjas is a ninja, most people in Omikron are also ninjas. This is bad, because you’re not a badass in this game, you’re some disembodied shmuck piloting a rental body in Easy Operation mode. Even the demons are also martial artists, who arise with hellish energies to battle the Nomad Soul with Satanic Shorin-ryu. If left to their own devices, they’ll do their damnedest to make the melee look actually cool, by kickboxing you to death quickly and acrobatically, sometimes before the dialogue from the fight’s intro cutscene has ended. So, you know, be on your guard. Luckily, all of these various threats have difficulty dealing with well spaced sweeps and standing side kicks. Demons are easily defeated by hooking their ankle and making them fall on their ass 8 times. They get discouraged when they’re sore.
You can basically do anything you want in life, but you can't convince me that this doesn't resemble a Superman 64 screenshot.
But at least the melee combat looks and moves smoothly. There’s that! The shooting, though? No. Not even at all.
The closest example to the shooting experience found in Omikron is something so obscure, that I doubt why I’m even using it in the first place, but here goes: Battlezone II, the PC classic, had a disappointing N64 release. The shooting in Omikron is a lot like a more refined version of the shooting in that game, complete with a similar inadequate pew-pew pulse blaster you get as your default weapon. The particle effects are also similar in their oddness. This is in no way an endorsement of any sort. The level design could be described as Goldeneye-like, with entirely negative connotations. The term “box canyon” comes to mind, but not the actual geographical feature, literal canyons made out of boxes. The texture work does nobody any favors; the game doesn’t benefit because they look neither good nor interesting; the player doesn’t benefit because they make the areas tremendously samey, to the point of confusion. This confusion is further exacerbated because of the enemy placement in these sections, specifically in their tendency to activate in groups and come from multiple angles at once. This makes you turn around a lot, and when you turn around a lot in a section that is all bluish-asphalt and white walls, you backtrack a bunch for no reason. Also note that since you can’t open your inventory in the shooting segments, you also can’t heal yourself with inventory items, and are thus limited to whatever traditional walk-over-to-heal health packs are available in a given level. This can be anywhere from “just enough” to “actually none.” You can’t save in shooting sections, but don’t worry, because if you die, you’ll just respawn, consuming one ring.
Back at the beginning of the shooting section. The enemies respawn, too, but it’s okay, because the ammo and health does too.
The game offers you a multitude of weapons with different ammo types, but also gives you a default ranged weapon with infinite ammo. This is nice! What isn’t nice is that there’s very little reason to actually bother with the other, more interesting weapons, since in-level ammo is limited and you’re SOL if you forget to stock up on Megazooka shots before bumbling into the gun zone. Yes, there is a gun called the Megazooka. Yes, that does sound like something a cartoon poking fun at videogames would come up with, not an actual videogame. There’s also the fact that all guns are useless against demonic enemies, instead requiring the immensely phallic sounding Power Rod, which is of course shaped like a claw. A claw which has one of the blades of it very visibly missing a backface on one of its polygons. The property of the Power Rod is that it is the default gun, except it works on demons. It’s a tossup as to which of them is a worse model. It’s also the weapon you’ll fight the final boss Astaroth with, despite the legendary weapon needed to defeat him being a sword, which you will do so by circle strafing to hit the small target on his back.
Please note that this is neither a rod, nor does it appear very powerful at all.
There’s also a vague stats system, including levels of combat experience that can be raised by fighting a lot. This doesn’t matter, as you’ll eventually be forced to ditch your body for a new one, either because of a death or the plot, which means you’ll of course have to start all over in the new body. Even the aspect of grinding for XP is pointless, because right before the final boss, you have to get into a mandatory body, and the only thing you can with that body is battle the final boss. This game is deeply nihilistic. It’s not at all trying to be.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with ambitious projects, but there’s a distinct difference between being Noah and building an Ark and you being a person attempting to make headlines by recreating Noah’s Ark. Just for starters, the former actually had God on his side, and divine providence has ways of making logs and rope into a functioning boat for two of every animal. There’s deeper designs in every project that in its time seemed impossible in its scope, yet is remembered for its execution. It’s not higher power for ambitious games, (or I mean I guess? I’m not the Videogame Padre or nothing) it’s development of ideas between developers, taking concepts and not simply blowing them up to be “That, But BIGGER,” but working to make them fit for what the game needs to do. Omikron very clearly had none of that happening, because at the end of the day, the game is a big, open world haphazardly thrown together, where important items can be lost in the obscurity of the world itself or deleted forever from the game’s storage system. No decisions were made to ease the player into the experience Quantic Dream was striving for in their work here, because it’s clear that the people in charge just assumed that everyone would operate within their same frame of mind, not realizing that game flow is a catherding nightmare that is still better off attempted-and-failed than taken with a laissez faire approach.
Arrogance is what it feels like. Not simply the inability to step aside and see that an open world game where every puzzle only has one solution is a really, really bad idea, but the fact that it’s very apparent that anyone in charge of anything just assumed that everyone would grasp the game like they did. That this weirdness that doesn’t explain itself at all would be compelling enough to want to explore, despite all frustrations of meandering objectives, sludgy world navigation, button mash fighting and shooting sections that are about as enticing as a glass-covered speedbump. You travel from one area with blue fog to another area with blue fog via awful taxi to go to a futuristic pawn shop and have a conversation with an old timey Inscrutable Asian racist stock character to get the next piece of digital magpie treasure needed to flip the lever on this monstrous auteur’s Viewmaster. Then you go and play trash Goldeneye for 8 minutes, possibly dying enough to prevent you from saving your game when you’re done. Then you do sidekick reps on some idiot’s kidneys while baffling music plays. Then when you try and figure out what it is you’re doing in this game, as well as with your life, you wonder if there could be aliens in this game.
There are. Do they matter in any way?
No. They do not.
T: The Only Thing That Matters in This Game is That You Are the Hero, and Also a Bad Person
Die for my landscaping needs, peasant. Nomad Soul coming through.
Rebirth is a triumphant theme. The idea of a Nomad Soul, beyond mortality, able to reincarnate infinitely into others, is a powerful core fantasy. The idea of being empowered to the point that not even death can stop you in your goals could give hope to even the most lost human soul and be a sword and shield to turn the tide in impossible times. David Cage immediately pisses on this joyous and glorious idea by saddling you with the responsibility of knowing that you are in charge of another person’s body each time you take physical form, and that your fuckups cost someone else their life. Also, demons can steal your soul, meaning an instant Game Over. Don’t feel too free, folks, you wouldn’t want to have fun in this videogame.
But then there’s the part where you learn what this game wants you to do over the course of its various tasks.
That’s where it gets really reprehensible.
First, the way this game handles its reincarnation mechanic is nothing but grief from the get go. The game establishes that when the body of the Nomad Soul dies, the Soul will possess the next body to come in contact with the corpse. Just zhoop, right on in there, the good Samaritan getting no say in the matter. They were just going to check your pulse and your breath, and now you own them for as long as you like, possibly unto death. Probably unto death. This is a very cool thing to saddle your players with, especially in a game that likes to to portray its world as alive and actions within having real consequence. Does David Cage know people who have to make actual life and death decisions play games to unwind? Does he think stress is an uncommon feeling among people who play games?
Then things just get worse. See, you can’t just reincarnate into any old person in the city, which is a limitation that is so at odds with the game’s other design choices, I’m getting a headache thinking about it. This means you have to give some indication as to which body you can jump into when you gain the Reincarnation spell (this game has a magic system, and even has an MP stat; I don’t know why.) Omikron chooses to do this by having you press the action key in front of a suitable body. Chances are good doing this will produce a message of “Nothing happened” or “I don’t understand,” but that’s mostly because everything in this game has bad bounding. If you’ve identified a suitable body, your character will then proceed to make a leering comment about the suitability of the body for purposes at hand.
And that’s fucked up.
Never mind the implications of the power to just leap into someone else’s driver’s seat at will; that this game introduces that as being hand in hand with the knowledge that the player character, who is supposed to be you, the person in the chair with the controller, sees human bodies as potential property. The Nomad Soul stakes bodies like you’d stake a bank, commenting on the fitness of potential corporeal forms with an implied lipsmack. You think I’m going overboard with this, and I very well could be reading too much in.
Thing is, game confirms what I’m saying in a very blatant way.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: How many dead innocents does it take to move a boulder?
Two, according to Omikron: The Nomad Soul.
So late game there’s this part where you go to a weird alien farmstead to open a tomb which may possibly contain a talking mummy (there’s a talking mummy in this game) or may not, fuck if I can remember which dumb cave contains which mummy. Point is, there’s a big rock in the way, and blue alien bumpkin tells you only one of the weird animate dinosaur sponges they herd there at the Double Zeeglax Ranch are strong enough to push it. You jump up on Neon Dino-ROAR XL and he throws you off in a moist fury, despite clearly being saddled. Blue bumpkin tells you that dinosaur sponges respect no human, but unfortunately your reincarnation spell doesn’t work on blue assholes because of contrivances. What do you do?
He Did the Dew too hard and paid the ultimate price.
You drown your guy in the poison filth the dino sponges eat. Slam dunk your head into the caesium rod coolant runoff cask, just do it you fuck, it’ll get you high. So then when your first sacrificial lamb kicks off, twitching and gurgling on glowstick green septic material, blue bumpkin runs over and touches the body, causing the Nomad Fuck to lance directly into his mortal instruments. He is now yours to control and discard at will. In fact, you have to do just that within the next 20 minutes or so, depending on how good you are at shooting, as he can’t beat the game, an ancient hero you have to hijack can.
It was worth painfully ending the life of a bystander for PONY RIDE.
But clearly when you beat the game, you must get a cinematic of all the people you possessed and discarded coming back to life, right?
No. You do not.
Mediocrity is an element as common as hydrogen, yet we fear it in ourselves in some ways more than actual mortal peril. This is because that in so many forms of industry and in so many forms of entertainment, you’re only as good as your last big thing. This is what gets me about David Cage, because for seemingly everyone, that’s the rule. Except for him. While for many reasons 1999’s Omikron broke ground and had cause to ride its own hype train- it was a very ambitious project for its time, and it did actually ship -in retrospect, this is a game that should have sunk Quantic Dream and Cage, and possibly even damaged the viability of the open world game as a genre. A meandering fever dream set to visuals evocative of a print from a Vincent Di Fate imitator that would be sold out of a Thomas Kincaid gallery, this game abused the musical efforts of a famous performer by mooshing his work into a patty with poorly-advised avant garde squawking, then rode off his image, his fame. The game barely functions; you can still buy it for PC, but for reasons beyond what I’ve discussed here, I’d advise against it as it is prone to crashing on modern systems. It’s a rat’s nest of coding and scripted triggers, nothing flows, everything tangles, and it just sucks all over. It’s only use is educational, as a historic document chronicling what happens when you implement fairly common gameplay mechanics extraordinarily badly.
...he’s still here. Despite it all, the man’s smoke machine still has juice in it and he’s kept his mirrors well polished. Despite it all, the man can still get funding for his projects and a spot on the big stage. The living proof that there is no meritocracy under capitalism is that an individual as utterly committed to his own masturbatory whims spun as visions of future entertainment innovation makes games like this, and the response is money raining from the ceiling. When I was new to Bad Movies as an interest, and just learning about the movie industry in general, I read the stat that for the money spent on 1 Battlefield Earth, 50 films like Pi could have potentially been made. When I think about Quantic Dream games, the big budget, the tech, the talent, the fanfare, all I can think of is “how many good games could this have funded instead?”
Then I get mad. Emotions, you see.
So see you all in Detroit, I guess.