Backstory: Many moons ago before I was into video games, I had a friend (emphasis on had. He was a hot mess, and I haven’t talked to him in years) who prided himself on finding the prefect game for every person (read, woman. It was one of his pickup techniques). He listened to what I liked in other media, and he pronounced that the best game for me was Heavy Rain by David Cage. I didn’t have a PS3 so it wasn’t an option, but I watched the beginning of a Let’s Play, and, let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. It was slow and plodding, and the *spoiler for a seven-year-old game* death of Ethan’s son felt cheap and unearned. I know it was meant to have the player bond with the protagonist, but because I knew little to nothing about the either of them or the rest of the family, plus it was set up so ludicrously, I just felt annoyed. I’ll get to that later when I discuss the game itself. I dismissed the game from my mind and moved on with my life.
Fast-forward to a few months ago. I decided to watch The Super Best Friends play Omikron: The Nomad Soul, the first and worst* of the Cage games. I don’t remember why I decided to watch it, but watch it I did. A quick primer on the Best Friends: they started out as Two Best Friends (Matt and Pat) for Machinima, and they’re huge. They’ve expanded to Super Best Friends which included Liam and Woolie, but is now just Woolie after Liam decided he needed a break from Let’s Playing. They’re Canadian, and Woolie’s family is from Jamaica. This is important because there are very few black Let’s Players. I didn’t like Woolie when he first stared joining Matt & Pat because he didn’t really seem to add anything to the gang, but he’s really blossomed, and his and Pat’s Let’s Play of Dark Souls II really sold me on him being added to the team.
The guys are rude, crude, and often juvenile. They have some questionable material, but they are also really fucking hilarious. It’s usually best when it’s just two of them because of my Theory of Guys**, but sometimes, the three of them can be pure gold. I think Pat mentioned the Omikron Let’s Play in another playthrough, and I was immediately intrigued. I’ve tried to play Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit), widely-praised as an innovative game (Cage’s second game), but after an hour or so, I got frustrated by how stupid it was and gave up. It starts with–you know what? We’ll get to that in a bit. For now, we’re talking Omikron: The Nomad Soul.
When I started the Let’s Play, I was anticipating the game would be terrible and the banter funny. I love Let’s Plays of awful games. For example. I was obsessed with Quick Looks/Let’s Look Ats of Ride to Hell: Retribution, which is widely regarded as one of the worst games of all time. It was so bad, it was yanked from Steam, and you can no longer buy the PC version. I watched all the videos on it I could find, and I was seriously tempted to buy it to play it, but I waited too long, damn it. Anyway, I thought it’d be more of the same with the guys and Omikron. Another note: this is the last of the David Cage games that the guys played, even though it was the first chronologically. That means the guys knew all of Cage’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, which they made fun of relentlessly.
Matt*** joked that all the women would be short-haired, white, slim brunettes because that’s what ALL the women in all David Cage games are. Seriously. Most of the women who speak in David Cage games are slim but busty, have angular faces, and have short or shoulder-length dark brown hair. In fact, I’m pretty sure David Cage (and yes, he’s David Cage. Not David and not Cage. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know) wanted Ellen Page for Beyond Two Souls because she’s the physical manifestation of his MPG**** fantasies. It’s creepy how obsessed he is with this type of women, and I’ll talk more later about his even creepier ideas of how women think/behave later on.
I ended up watching the whole playthrough because the guys really outdid themselves with the hilarity as they played. Woolie was reading straight from a walkthrough by around a third of the playthrough. Even the walkthrough wasn’t always helpful, however, because the game is so obtuse, and not in a good way. The main gist of the story is that you’re a video game player who gets sucked into the body of someone–you know what? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. Life doesn’t matter. That’s how watching playthroughs of David Cage games makes me feel–it saps me of my will to live. Anyhoo, you have to switch bodies periodically, thus, the nomad soul part of the title. David Cage is really in love with the idea of multiple protagonists, and this is the prototype for his future games.
Immediately, we are presented with the player being in the body of a cop and his wife inviting him to make sweet, sweet love to him. The guys joke about how awkward and uncomfortable this is in a manner that really isn’t joking. I felt the same way. It was icky and squicky, which is very common for David Cage games. All his (male) protagonists get their rocks off during undeserved sex (more on that later), which is creeptastic on so many levels. In this game, sure the wife of the cop thinks you’re her hubby, but you know you’re not. I think you have the option of saying no (I don’t remember), but just the fact that this scene is in the game is gross. It shows early on that David Cage views women primarily as objects to be fucked and abused, and it’s a feeling that only grew as I watched the other games.
There is an actual stripper in this game, and there’s a sex shop. It’s also very gross. It’s like a teenage boy tittering behind his hand about BOOBIES!!! It makes me roll my eyes and grit my teeth in frustration because boobs do not the woman make. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some boobs. Who doesn’t? But it’s not my defining character. There’s a joke (which isn’t really a joke) that you can tell when a man has written a female character because she’s focused on her breasts. “I looked in the mirror and noticed how perky my boobs are.” Women don’t think about their tits on the regular. We just don’t unless there’s something wrong with them or we need them for our actual jobs. I’ll speak for my myself. I think mine are too big, and I do think worry sometimes when I go out of the house with only a tank top on (and pants, of course) that I’ll look slutty. It’s hard to avoid when you have big tits–on the real. Other than that, though, I don’t think about them. Why should I? I’ve lived with them all my life.
Anyhoo, I was howling at the guys several times during the playthrough. Matt was on the sticks, but then he got frustrated during the fighting, so he handed off the sticks to Woolie who beat the demon in one try. The panicked note in Matt’s voice as he screamed at Woolie to do it made me cry from laughing so hard. Then, there was a boss that was riDONKulous, and Matt handed the sticks off to Pat, who promptly died. (This is how they played the rest of the game. Matt on the sticks for exploring. Woolie for fighting, and Pat for boss fights.) Even with the walkthrough, Pat couldn’t beat the boss. He was getting madder and madder, but he was slowly learning the fight. Then, the boss killed him in a mysterious manner, and Pat’s meltdown had me roaring. They got so loosey-goosey as they played; they reached pure id, and the results were magical. Another time, they couldn’t find a way out of a room. I think Woolie was on the sticks at that point, and he was getting increasingly frustrated. Pat was being a dick as he normally is, and then Woolie completely lost it. He was legit angry, and it was the funniest moment of the playthrough. Another good part is the running gag of Matt declaring they had to be close to finishing the game, why were they playing it, etc.? At one point while Pat and Woolie were fighting, Matt plaintively said, “I love you guys” in a sad, ‘say goodbye to my family’ way, and I was done.
David Bowie is in the game, and they riffed on that quite a bit as well. The game is broken; the ending is bonkers; the plot makes no sense at all, but you know what? It’s the best of the David Cage games, which is sad because it’s the first. I’ll get to that waaaaay later, possibly in part two of this post. I hadn’t planned on this being two posts, but I have plenty to say about David Cage, the auteur, the artiste, the film director.
That’s one thing you need to know about David Cage. He wants so desperately to be a film director, and he prides himself (I’m sure) on his plots. His gameplay is subpar, mostly consisting of quick time events (QTE). You don’t play the games to, well, play the games. There are long stretches of you just walking/running around and cutscenes. So. Many. Cutscenes. He also relies heavily on stereotypes. There’s a black woman in Omikron who is cringe-worthy. Thick booty, dressed ‘ghetto’. Woolie had plenty to say about that, all in a sarcastic joking manner.
Let’s move on to Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit). DEEP sigh. I had heard such good things about this game, but my time playing it ended with me metaphorically throwing my controller across the room. It starts with a tutorial staring an animated David Cage. Yes, he put himself in the tutorial because he’s that egotistical. I’m sure he mo-capped himself in order to do it, and I knew I was in for a bad time right from the start. The tutorial has him explaining the ‘game mechanics’ while using a crash test dummy named Bob (or whatever he named it) to show what you’re supposed to do. It’s eye-rollingly stupid, and not easy to do, actually. Then, you’re thrust into the game, and you can control three characters. Lucas Kane, the protagonist. Carla the cop, and her partner, Tyler, the black cop (you know he’s black because rap music plays when you control him, and there’s a scene in which he has to play basketball. I shit you not). I think you can control Lucas’s brother, Father Markus Kane (a priest) briefly, but I don’t remember or care.
The stereotypes are fast and furious in this game. Beyond Tyler, there’s a jaw-droppingly racist portrayal of an Asian man who owns a bookstore, replete with ‘so sollees’ and ching-chong music (maybe the music was just in my head, but it might as well have been n the game), and Tyler’s girlfriend is the typical whiny, clingy ‘if you love me, you’ll quit the force’ type. I’ll get to Carla in a minute, and she’s the biggest stereotype of all.
Another thing that David Cage is fond of is the mundane things in life. He’ll have the player shave, brush their teeth, and, of course, the ubiquitous shower scene. David Cage loves his shower scenes and asses, mostly female, but also male. I can understand wanting to show every day life things, but it doesn’t make for good gameplay. Again, David Cage wants to make movies, and you can tell by the way his games are shot, but what works in a movie doesn’t work in a game. Also, he would make shitty movies, but that’s neither here nor there.
Woolie couldn’t believe how racist the portrayal of Tyler was, nor that of the Asian man. I am not exaggerating about the latter. Every stereotype you can think of for an Asian person was present (not to mention the voice was most emphatically not that of an Asian man), and I literally cringed as I was watching him. Looking at the wiki, his name is Takeo, and he’s supposedly Japanese. I got way more of a Chinese vibe, but whatever. That’s quibbling at this point.
This is one of David Cage’s problems in general. He doesn’t know how real human beings work, outside of a very narrow subset (white, male, straight, depressed, etc.). I was trying to find an article I read by Adam Serwer (at least, I thought it was by him) about how Zack Snyder is the uncanny valley of humans as he directs. He looks at people and thinks he knows what makes them run, and kinda gets in the general ballpark, but misses the essence of human emotions. I can’t find the article, but I would posit the same is true of David Cage. He approximates what he thinks different people act like, but he can’t get it right because he’s a raging narcissist who can only think like David Cage.
Ok. This is long, and I’m tired, so I’m ending it here for now. We haven’t even gotten through the second of four games, and I’m done. We’ll pick it up in the next post. Until then, stare deeply into your navel and hope for inspiration a la David Cage.
*Technically worst and thematically messiest, though not the worst in portrayal of characters by far.
**The more guys you add to a group, the more juvenile and bro-ey the group gets. It’s why I don’t do Twitch chats in general.
***I think it was Matt. I’m remembering to the best of my ability, but I may get some of the details wrong now and again.
****Manic Pixie Girlfriend.