Opening the game for the first time, the first two options presented are "New Movie" and "Tutorial". I clicked the latter to be taken into a film studio with a crudely modeled, mocapped rendition of the game's self-proclaimed director, David Cage. Cage talks you through the games controls. He wants to give you cinematic angles but isn't satisfied with RE style fixed camera angles.
It's difficult to say if this was intended all along or if the team simply didn't have the resources to establish workable camera angles in each shot, but the end result is having to micromanage your own camera angles, awkwardly rotating the camera around to locate your objective. Pushing the right stick in (or holding down left + right mouse buttons) reveals an uncomfortable concession; the ability to use regular third person follow cam. Pushing the left stick (from memory) does the same with first person view, though you're restricted from moving in this view. These aren't toggle switches though, you have to be actively pushing the right stick in while using that same stick to control. They really don't want you to use these cameras unless absolutely necessary.
The game starts in the restroom of a NYC diner in the middle of heavy snow. You watch as a man slumped over a toilet seat, arms covered in blood, pupils rolled to the back of his head, jolts himself up as though being puppeteered, and stumbles over towards another man washing his hands and stabs him multiple times. The environment switches from the restroom to a dark, sinister cavern several times, the killer still visible. The knife wielder awakes from his trance, shocked and distraught. You take control of him, walk around the bathroom and as you approach certain objects, animated icons prompt you to move your right stick in the specified direction to interact with them.
The screen splits in half but you retain control of the unwilling killer. On the adjacent screen an aging street cop seated at the diner begins to stir from his own kind of trance and begins making his way to the bathroom. You can wash the blood from yourself, hide the knife & even mop some of the blood, but you've made a mess and your best bet is to leave immediately. As you exit the diner, the waitress calls you up about the bill. You pay & leave as the cop finds the body in the adjacent screen. A timer appears and you have moments to find the subway station.
This opening scene shows where the game excels. It gives a sense of agency and urgency, putting you into a circumstance with a clear objective, a set of tools around you and under pressure forces you to analyse the situation and make the best decision you can.
Action scenes show what one might describe as a misstep, or maybe just a stepping stone to a better experience. Yes, QTEs. The most egregious QTEs I have seen. In these long, coreographed action sequences, you are forced to either rapidly press the L and R buttons or follow a series of Simon Says button prompts, which present themselves as semi-transparent, massive graphics directly ontop of the scene. I'm reluctant to call this shoe-horned mini-game overlayed on a scene a total failure, as there is a slight tonal and rhythmic connection between the two. I felt alarm and resolve as I was pressing these buttons. I wanted what my character wanted and I pressed these buttons really hard. But yeah it's pretty fucking disparate. Colourful Simon Says toys sitting ontop of a Matrix-like fight scene.
This psychological murder mystery devolves into a nonsense supernatural/sci-fi apocalyptic action thriller in its second act. I say devolved, but actually I had fun with the second act, which was better paced and dropped all pretensions of subtelty and nuance - the writing and voice acting which simply do not support these.
Looking at this game 10 years later, it's easy to criticise and it has certainly not aged well. But its ambitions should still be applauded and I'm very interested to play some more Quantic Dream / David Cage titles.