Gaming Below Presents
Before we get into this, I want to thank the people behind Heavy Rain. Because of you, I am now absolutely terrified at the idea of taking my little girl to the mall at any point in her life. Particularly if there’s a clown, though my hatred of clowns is well documented. Thank you David Cage, for saving me and my wallet from a potential lifetime of misery. I really don’t think I can step into a mall with Olivia now without being absolutely terrified she’d be go missing or be abducted by a serial killer. David Cage, you have changed my life. Which is of course, the point. While there’s alot that people just aren’t going to get about it, this is what Heavy Rain does best, it establishes a powerful emotional connection to the player.
Oh, and there’s tits too, but that’s another story.
At any rate, what you get out of Heavy Rain is going to depend greatly upon what you expect going in, and what you hope to come away with. Truth be told, everything about Heavy Rain eschews alot of what we’ve come to expect as basic gameplay conventions in the modern era of gaming. The majority of the actual gameplay is a series of elaborate quick time events, which is the sort of thing that seems to either inspire ambivalence or seething hatred. Beyond that, the pace is slow, ( I prefer the term Methodical ) the voice acting and writing is erratic, it has that badly dubbed European thriller import film feel to it entirely too much, and occasionally there are plot lines that just don’t seem to go anywhere.
Assuming we get past all that however, we’re left with one of the more memorable examples of pure interactive storytelling in gaming.
Heavy Rain is the product of French game developer Quantic Dream, written and directed by David Cage. Before this, their most recent work was a game called Fahrenheit ( Europe ) or Indigo Prophecy ( In the United States ). Released on the PS2, Xbox and later PC, Indigo Prophecy still stands on my list of top ten most memorable intros, where after watching a cutscene of a man stabbing someone to death in a bathroom, you take control of the murderer who only just woke up and realized what was happening.
The power of choice given here characterizes the games developed by Cage. How do you react? Do you hide the murder weapon? Do you wash up? Clean up the scene? Or do you just freak out and get the hell out of dodge as it were? Many games have taken us into different escapist fantasies in our lives, but few have ever placed a character into a role so effectively as this, and Heavy Rain is much the same flavor.
Note: I had thought I was clever, cleaned up, hid weapon, hid body, etc etc, until I walked out of the diner and got called out by the waitress for not paying my bill, giving her and the COP SITTING AT THE COUNTER a great view of my face. Loved that game.
That said, Indigo had its fair share of pants on head retarded things going on. The majority of the story had you as the aforementioned murderer trying to understand what happened to you to make you commit this terrible crime. You also spent your time controlling the police detectives assigned to the same case. Things tended to go off the rails the farther in you got, as we go from borderline supernatural elements to outright Matrix Esque conspiracies and zombie erotica.
….there’s a sentence I never thought I’d see myself write…
ANYWAY…Heavy Rain is largely concerned with Ethan Mars, whose child Sean has been abducted by the “Origami Killer”, a serial killer who kills children for reasons that are not readily apparent at the outset. Similar to Indigo, you play as multiple protagonists, the missing child’s father Ethan, who after losing a child already two years prior has been on something of a downward spiral; FBI Profiler Norman Jayden who’s investigating the crimes as well while trying to fend off the shakes from his lingering drug addiction, Private Detective Scott Shelby who’s hired by the victims families to investigate, and journalist Madison Paige an inexplicable insomniac who’s got that female reporter knack for being at the wrong place at exactly the right time.
The production values are somewhat all over the place. The voice acting and dialogue combine to be at times adequate to unintentionally funny at others, ( Everyone seems to pronounce Origami as “Oar-ee-Gah-MEEE” as if they were trying to do a bad Boston accent ), but thankfully the mystery itself is still compelling enough that I was rarely taken out of the experience. Much of the gameplay here is guiding one of your four protagonists, investigating areas you’re in for clues and items of interest. An early scene has Scott Shelby visit a mother of a previous Origami Killer victim. How you handle her depends on if you get any information from her, whether you’re sympathetic, or sarcastic, etc.
Action scenes are handled in pure quicktime event fashion, but they’re implemented well enough that you tend to know when they’re coming, and as such, there’s little repetition involved, which is the primary reason why most QTE’s seem to make people so angry. Once you get used to the game, there’s a reasonable expectation to get through them the first run through. There are a few scenes here and there where the FBI profiler investigates scenes for evidence and goes over evidence with his ARI system, a very Minority Report sort of system, but I found these sequences too few and far between for my tastes.
I should say this now. This is the sort of game that alot of people just aren’t going to ‘get’. The prologue of the game is basically you playing Ethan in his idyllic life before it all went down the crapper, doing such exciting things as watching TV, hitting on his wife, or playing helicopter with his kids. These are things that all serve a purpose in the context of setting up the story and who these people are in it, but for that stereotypical FPS fan who goes into a seizure if he doesn’t drink the blood of a high borne virgin every five minutes, it’s ALOT to sit through for the better part of an hour.
Also, many of you will freak out about the naked man ass in the prologue. Look just fucking deal with it. It’s a European game, they’re not as squeamish as the United States. Remember, there’s tits too, just be patient.
Let’s see what the judges have to say. Joining Loque and British, european art snob.
British: I rather liked it. Though I admit I found myself replaying small episodes of the game at a time to see how much I could torture the protagonists. Ending was a bit predictable, I wouldn’t call it a twist as much as a lay down in the middle of the road and just give up.
European art snob: What’s a ‘video game’?
British: …Loque, wake up.
Loque: zzzwaahh, what’s going on, what’d I miss?
British: That bastard over there! He said you’re shit in Modern Warfare!
European Art Snob: What? Wait, no!!!
Oh bloody hell. I need to start checking that guy for weapons. Ah well, I’m glad I got the French snob and not the Italian one now.
So Heavy Rain’s not without its issues. The controls are a bit of getting used to if you haven’t played Fahrenheit already, some plot-lines seem to go nowhere ( This may be because I’ve only finished one play-through thus far however ), and perhaps my biggest annoyance; It’s a Playstation3 exclusive.
No really, this irritates the proverbial shit out of me. The vast majority of PS3 owners I know are really of the aforementioned drooling FPS type, and they’re just NOT the audience for this game. With a game like this, it needs to hit as many people as possible, and you’re just not going to see that on a sole console. That they couldn’t work out whatever legal bollocks was required to get this thing ported to the PC is frankly, a crime.
I call this a crime because Heavy Rain NEEDS to do well, because while there are plenty of missed steps to be found if you look hard enough, there just aren’t any experiences like it right now, and this is the kind of thing we need to see more of. That said, between Bioware’s latest offerings and now this, it’s a very good time to be a fan of interactive storytelling, as opposed to Square Enix.
Not very good with Origami it turns out