Reviews: Heavy Rain
A misfire attempt at Games as Art
Heavy Rain was hyped by its auteur, David Cage, as being the game that would elevate the medium into a true artform, a game that would be as respected as the greatest works in cinema. I think it would be safe to say it failed in those ambitions. These games live or die by their writing, not their presentation, and the game's true issues aren't related to the lack of interactivity, but the poor writing. Beyond a number of Plot Holes, it manipulates the player's feelings rather than provide genuine Emotional Torque and logical conclusions to its mystery. There are, in my eyes, 4 truly massive issues with the plot: 1: The Reveal of the killer is complete nonsense. The character in question has only a few moments that can be taken as Foreshadowing, and even with these moments, you have to assume that the killer was actively putting themselves at the risk of dying or sabotaging their own killings multiple times over. 2: Ethan's blackouts go nowhere. Admitting, this is the result of cut content, but given that cut content was that they were caused by supernatural elements, they make even less sense. Cage's previous game, Fahrenheit, was thrashed for pushing supernatural elements to the front of what had been a realistic murder plot, and the fact that the same mistake was nearly made twice here is staggering. 3: The police's motive for chasing Ethan as the killer is flimsy at best. The game's timeline make it pretty clear he had been in a coma when the killings started, and the evidence given toward Ethan's guilt is circumstantial or at the words of his spiteful ex-wife (who seems to be this way simply for drama's sake - a recurring problem with Cage's writing). Worse, the game insists that these are major reasons he could be the killer, and it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. 4: Madison. The game never passes down a chance to degrade her. Multiple near-rape scenes, a sexy dance, a forced striptease at gunpoint, and a (optional but encouraged) sex scene with another character that defines Coitus Ensues. Some of this could have been redeemed had she displayed any effects from these events, but she doesn't. Not only does this mean she is a Flat Character in a cast with Character Development, but she seems to be in here simply because our auteur is into these scenarios. Why Princess Peach or Lara Croft continue to be targeted as "problematic" female characters is beyond me when Madison is such an outstanding example of one. She could be removed from the plot at minimal loss. It's sad really. The game has scenes that truly work as intended and the base plot could make for something great, but the blatant Plot Holes and naked manipulation of the player's emotions means that is does not have it where it counts, especially in a post-Walking Dead world.
Heavy Rain would have made a great movie, or perhaps a TV miniseries. As a game? Not so much. It follows the same format featured in Indigo Prophecy, of adventure-style sequences where you interact with the environment and other characters for the slow bits, and Quick Time Events to deal with the action-heavy bits. And it's a workable frame for the story, but it's not really a game. It's interactive fiction, and the problem is that the pace is too slow for the first half and a lot of the action sequences really damage what little build up the plodding pace provides. I'll call out the fight Madison has at the beginning of her sequence. It could have been an interesting, and more importantly, dynamic introduction to her character. All of a sudden she's being attacked, and taking over control of her immediately puts the player in a position to sympathize with her. And then, no, it was all just a dream. A few minutes of exciting gameplay and interesting character development all thrown out the window because the designers remembered that people need to stay awake through this. The absolute worst part is that it fails as something to be viewed, as well. The problem with the Quick Time Event bits is that you've got lots of button and analog inputs flashing on the screen, right on top of the action. Sometimes you can't even really see what's going on, which makes it rather useless as something watchable. Not to mention the previously-mentioned pacing issues. I absolutely can't recommend this. The story is good, but nothing you haven't seen done well in movies like Se7en or Saw. The gameplay is crap because of the awkward controls and Quick Time Events. And the Replay Value is lost because nobody in their right mind will want to plod through the first half of the game to see the second half, meaning that discussing the game with friends becomes awkward. I consider myself a collector of games, and I didn't even bother to keep this one. I traded it in. It's worth a rental, maybe, or picking it up used when it drops to about twenty bucks. However, buying it brand new is pure folly.
And I don't mean that in terms of gameplay (such as it is), which I love and could play endlessly. I mean the writing. I want to love this game; there are things about I do love. The music, most of the voice acting, the father-son themes…all that is great. And there are some aspects (Jason and Shaun acting much younger than 10, for example) I'm willing to accept as just plain old artistic license. But then, there are many more aspects that make me wonder... how in the heck could an adult possibly be this ignorant? Didn't anybody else read all of this, or edit it, or anything at all? I simply can't be expected to believe that a kid could survive 72 hours in water, or that a full SWAT team and a helicopter don't have the energy to continue chasing after one guy. Or that a character would assume that a silent ninja killed a guy in about 8 seconds in a tiny shop and left, rather than that the only other person who was there with her might have snuck off behind her back. This game has so many obvious plot holes that would have been so simple to fix, and yet nobody did. So I can't fully immerse myself in the story, or this game as a whole, and that's a shame.
It could have been fun
To please my brother, I let him convince me to buy and play this game. First off, the beginning is terrible and has little to do with the actual game except annoy you. The controls are irritating and overcomplicated. You have to hold TWO buttons to walk (for being a race against the clock, the characters seem to be against the principle of running), there is no way to adjust the camera to a comfortable angle, and you spend so much time looking for the reaction commands you can't focus on the rare but exciting action sequences. The only characters that were fun playing were Scott and Norman, and you hardly played as them at all. Ethan's sequences are generally boring (as well as Madison's; in just one example you have to walk to the bathroom, open the cabinet, go through each bottle until you find disinfectant and painkiller, then walk back, and apply it all, very slowly) Since he's so tied to the script there's nothing you can do except play right into the OK's hands, though any slight change would have made him more enjoyable. Because her back story was cut, Madison's sole purpose is to provide the option of one of the most poorly timed sex scenes in video game history, IMO. On a side note- whatever happened to Ethan's ex-wife? And while we're on the topic of storylines being cut, Ethan's flashbacks probably would have made his story make sense had they been explained. The programmer's said they wanted to ground the game in reality, but I'm not buying that with Norman's ARI (one of the few things that was flawlessly awesome about this whole experience) I won't complain about the story itself because I'd love an actual movie of this, but in practice as a game it should have been done better. On a final note, if you're reading this to decide whether or not to play Heavy Rain, my suggestion is to play L.A. Noire. It's LIKE Heavy Rain (especially the final cases for Homicide and Arson), but better. So. Much. Better.
Some ideas are done really well, but overall, I don't like it
The video game industry has been trying to make games that feel like movies for a long time. Cutscenes stretch back as far as the original Ninja Gaiden series on the NES, and in recent times, games like Uncharted have blended movie-like production values with fun gameplay. Heavy Rain is the "make games movie-like" idea taken to its logical extreme, and an interesting experiment. And I do have to give them credit for it. What grabs my attention is how the individual locations you visit come to life. There's tremendous detail put into making each location feel like a real place populated with lots of people, and making them feel very believable. In the shopping mall, the people walk around realistically, and I wanted to explore the individual stores (I couldn't really do that). In the park, when my character's son was playing, the kids were running around realistically and playing around, and again, it felt like a real place. In a police station, you can see and hear a lot of cops doing paperwork, witness some interrogations, see people sitting in holding cells, and so on. Every location just feels alive. To be honest, this type of amazing detail is something I've wanted to see in a video game for a long time, and we finally got it. Unfortuantely, the gameplay is where it all falls apart for me. The game locks you into each location - building, room, front yard, etc., until you've done what the story wants you to do, which usually isn't much. There's a lot to see and visit, but only when the story lets you, and you cannot explore. And as we all know, the action scenes are all of the Press X To Not Die variety. I think that if Heavy Rain had a design like, say, Silent Hill, in which you walk around with more freedom, examine things and see your characters' thoughts on them, and actually control your character directly during action moments, it would be a better game. I'd like the freedom to drive my car and visit other places and investigate. I'd like to actually fight. Ironically, point-and-click games have more feedom than this. Movie-like camera angles can still be used to create a cinematic feel, as the first four Silent Hill games have taught us. It's a shame that the gameplay itself doesn't appeal to me, as I think this game could have been something special.
Hey, everyone remember Interactive Movies? Remember how much they all sucked? Well, Heavy Rain...doesn't! This isn't so much a game as it is an experience. The actual gameplay consists of QTEs, pushing R2 to walk, and swinging around the Six Axis. The first three chapters waste all this on microwaving dinners, or drawing pictures, or watching your kid get his dumb ass ran over. After that, however, the story picks up substantially, with the rest of the protagonists quickly jumping into the thick of things. Shelby is all about kicking ass and taking names. Jayden is the rookie FBI agent teamed up with an amoral sociopath. And Madison...doesn't do much of anything until the second half. Even Ethan, the dad with a hobo beard, starts taking a few dozen levels in Badass about two hours in. All of this is set to a depressing, and yet strangely hopeful, tale of redemption. Unless, of course, you want to play it for straight angst. That works, too. The real beauty, however, is in just how meticulously Quantic has structured the game's storyline. The whole thing about the story changing to match your actions isn't Blatant Lies like in Fable. Even if it's only an illusion, the game makes your everyday decisions seem important. Even those boring early chapters work in this way, showing a person's life before and after enormous tragedy. About three or four hours in, the game becomes more meticulous in its branching. Anyone Can Die becomes the Status Quo. Character motivations are thrown into question. Ethan's Saw-esque trials become more and more insidious. The final scene is almost totally different depending on who survived, who arrived at the right spot, and how the final battle goes. Everything just feels important, and in a video game, that's just about the best you can hope for. Heavy Rain is a slow game, taking time to build itself up. Those leery of QTEs really need not worry. The penalty for failure is pretty light most of the time, and it's actually fun to go through the various scenarios just to see what it'll change. If you have a PS 3, give this a go. Like I said, it's an experience, one that demands your attention and won't let go until the very last body has fallen.