Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 3:06PM
Heavy Rain’s story was spoiled for me. Prior to these recent months, I was a gaming news hound and listened to a gaggle [that’s a word right?] of gaming podcast which only resulted in having a game I was looking forward to being spoiled. For your future edification of reading the latter paragraphs I won’t spoil Heavy Rain for you, but give you the perspective of playing a story-based game from someone who knows what the ultimate twist is. I’m sure there are thousands of reviews out there that succinctly explain the mechanics of one of this year’s best single player experiences, but probably not many that would say: If it weren’t for the story being spoiled for me, I probably would have never finished Heavy Rain.
I have to appreciate the mind of a person who is able to convince investors and talent that their idea is worth exploration [see also: The Inception Review]. Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain director, David Cage, is no stranger to introducing the industry and gamers-alike to foreign gaming concepts that question what constitutes the very constructs of what makes a game...a game. If Indigo Prophecy was the raw coal in this experimental manner of gaming -- where the player is given multiple decisions per situation, then Heavy Rain is the unpolished diamond.
Everything you’ve heard and read about Heavy Rain is true. The controls are cumbersome and in tense situations [which there are plenty of] this easily glossed over style of play turns into the biggest thorn. The quicktime events make and break the game simultaneously. Because Heavy Rain wants to mimic cinema and real-life decision making this ultimately makes recommending the game difficult. The player has to accept an example of this type: You approach a door. An arrow pointing down appears below the door knob, another arrow above your head, a third arrow in the lower-part of the door. You press the arrow closest to the knob and are treated to a character spewing curses and kicking you out, when ‘clearly’ the correct decision was the arrow above your head ... you would have knocked instead of barging in.
Though there are several moments where the quicktime events are as vague as the main characters’ accents, there is a feeling of elation when you manage to slide down a hill safely pressing the L1 and R1 buttons in rapid succession. The direction of the plot and situations where you are forced to make a decision and press buttons in order to kill, escape and investigate rely on your quick mind and swift fingers. And yes, decision making does rely on guessing much like most real-life occurrences. In a sequence where you are fighting for your life depends on lightening fast eye movement and your fingers to correspond with what direction the thumbstick needs to be tilted, this can take any player out of the ‘interactive drama’ which Cage and Quantic Dreams touts is the experience you are supposed to be having. Cage, your interactive drama has these sharp-edged game moments stuck inside.
You will be detached from moments in Heavy Rain. Especially if the story is spoiled for you. While you were focused on turning your hand into an eagle’s claw in order to hold down 4 buttons to move your life-like character out of harms way, what you didn’t notice was the dialog and rapid eye movement of sheer terror depicted on the face of your character. Messed up? Killed off your character? Just start from the last save point. Technically, this does take away from the ‘interactive drama’ and I’m okay with that. Heavy Rain is a game. A unique, flawed and incredibly detailed game that should have never been promoted as anything but.
What would have made the interactive drama more resolute would have been the option of never being able to go back. Ever. If a character dies they are dead forever not because the player refused to open his or her previous save. Though I could see how this could peev a customer who just payed $40-to-$60 bucks to NOT have absolute control over the eventual outcome of a game they’d have to start from square one in order to experience differently.
For the handful of you who also have had the story of Heavy Rain spoiled, but are holding off on playing -- I totally encourage going against that feeling. You will notice more details than someone whose brain is still pure. Since you know who the Oragami Killer [or killers] is then you’ll be much keener on the finer points of the investigation. You’ll wonder as to why certain characters are going out of their way to help or hurt each other. I dare say, you’ll be more invested in the story because now its about why instead of how.
Since we are on the subject of characters in Heavy Rain, having the story spoiled may influence a player to prevent one of the many outcomes which adds another layer to the psychology of play. Personally, once the ‘Jayson!’ fiasco infected the internet, I was more prone to pressing the ‘Jayson’ button. This took away from the tension manufactured, but at this point, the uncanny valley had already been thoroughly and comically ravaged and burned to the ground.
The one thing not spoiled for me, nor is this widely known, is the setting of Heavy Rain. Sure there is a scene next to the highway that shows I-95 accompanied by a New Jersey sign, we are supposed to assume that Heavy Rain takes place in a miscellaneous East Coast American city. This is the game’s biggest detriment. Not the quicktime events or the by-the-numbers murder mystery script -- these are actually quite tolerable thanks to the voice talent of Scott Shelby and Lauren with the supporting cast fleshing out the extraneous portions of the story. Had Heavy Rain’s setting been in France the odd manners of speech wouldn’t be such a glaring issue. Madison, Ethan, and Jayden are voiced to the best of their abilities and switching to a different language doesn’t seem to help as the motion captured mouths are set to English.
Visually the characters and environments in Heavy Rain are both impressive and hilariously realized. During the loading screens you can see the fine detail that went into sculpting the faces of our four main characters. There is still so much to be said about a game that handles cutscenes and gameplay all within the same engine. This is the first game I’ve seen where both African American characters and the elderly look as if they were modelled from said people. Black people aren’t color swapped from a white character model nor do they have these ostentatious features that would look hilarious on any character of a different ethnicity. The wrinkles and folds in an elderly person’s face don’t look like lines drawn with magic marker to emphasize age, they look like indentations. The characters in Heavy Rain look like they have veins under they’re skin which is so strange and refreshing to see.
Unfortunately, the closer we get to the home town of the uncanny valley the more we want to catch a flight out pronto. Heavy Rain characters have unexpressive eyes and weird facial twitches like constant eye blinking and furrowed brows when nothing furrow-worthy is occurring. When talking portions of a scene are playing out, the player sees their mouths move like a dog licking peanut butter off of its gums. Odd, because there are scenes where the modelling and voice acting are pitch perfect, but they are few and far between. Jayson!
The music is a bit one-note, but it totally encapsulates what I love about crime novels, Hitchcock and Heavy Rain. The ambiance of a thriller movie mixed with psychological game play. “Should I take my bra off to get more info out of this scumbag?”, “Am I so distraught that I would treat my son like crap?” These are questions you will ask yourself as a character in-game that no other game comes close to getting correctly. After playing through Heavy Rain, I thought, “Yes it was spoiled for me and yes its flawed, but I’d love to see another.” Unfortunately, that day may never come not even in downloadible content format. Heavy Rain’s concept is something that should be debated by people much more academic than myself and hopefully the engine will be farmed out to other companies to use, but I am both saddened and elated that there won’t be a sequel. Heavy Rain, much like Indigo Prophecy, is an experience that pushes most gamers away and is only meant for a certain few to enjoy. Even within that small audience, your experiences will vary -- this is what makes gaming worth it.
I Give Heavy Rain,
I Give Heavy Rain,
The “Tay Zonday Step Away From The Mic To Breath” Award.