Home > Gaming, Opinions (Gaming) > Gaming: Heavy Rain mostly succeeds

Gaming: Heavy Rain mostly succeeds

Heavy Rain

FBI agent Norman Jayden has a strange augmented reality scanning device that locates clues for him. It's the only major sci-fi element in an otherwise contemporary setting, but has the benefit of making crime scene investigation more visually interesting and less tedious.

Heavy Rain is built around a few things that games shouldn’t necessarily be doing. At every point it tries to ape movies in its camera angles, story and the method of storytelling, when a lot of gaming’s strengths are that it’s a very different medium to the passive nature of movies. Its interface is always at the fore, with a series of almost randomly chosen button prompts to interact with things that keeps you aware of the controller at all times, never letting it melt away into the background. At points it’s basically one big quicktime event, a gameplay device employed to make the player feel they’re doing something when really the developer just wants to make a big cinematic action scene, fobbing the player off with minimal input. Thankfully, for the most part Heavy Rain actually uses all this to good effect.

Quantic Dream’s previous game, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy in the US), did some of the same things as Heavy Rain, with a fantastic opening sequence and cinematic presentation that really drew you in. However, the game is legendary for completely going off the rails later on, to the point that a lot of people recommend skipping the entire end of the game and just making up your own because the actual ending could never satisfy. Heavy Rain doesn’t go anywhere near as mad and stays pretty consistent right up to the end, even if the branching plot (and Quantic Dream’s attempts to be clever) mean there are a few plot holes along the way.

The plot centres around the Origami Killer, a serial killer who abducts children and leaves their drowned bodies to be found a few days later. You play as four separate characters investigating the latest abduction, FBI agent Norman Jayden, private investigator Scott Shelby, investigative journalist Madison Paige and Ethan Mars, father of one of the victims. Part of the game’s strength is that the characters can die during their investigations and the game just continues on (there are no failure screens or game overs), although it’s not quite as flexible as it appears and the deaths can only happen at very specific points. Still, incorporating failure is something few games do so Quantic Dream deserve praise for this level of implementation.

Heavy Rain

Like in Fahrenheit, the game makes good use of multiple camera angles.

The game’s control scheme is a big part of why the game works. Everything in the game is interacted with in the same way, with button prompts (or stick gestures) appearing over objects when you’re near them. There’s no set button for specific interactions so you never know exactly what you’ll have to do to interact, but that’s why it generally works well. With no set interaction or specific controls everything is approached in the same way, making preparing a meal for Ethan’s son as involving as investigating a crime scene, and taking a shower as involving as navigating a dangerous obstacle course. To an extent it means the game isn’t split between something like action, investigation and dialogue, there are no parts that seem like downtime because everything is interacted with in the same way.

It’s not all perfect, of course. Sometimes the game is actually far more linear than it appears, with scenarios where there will only be one thing you can really interact with (other that pointless things like sitting on chairs) but the game still lets you wander and gives the illusion of choice, and even in some of the dangerous quicktime battles you can still win even if you mess up all the prompts (or just put the controller down), the only variation in outcome being a few extra bruises. It’s at points like that where it feels like Quantic Dream really did want to be making a movie, and they only present you with the barest level of interactivity to make it seem like a game.

There are even points where the characters keep secrets from you. At one point you jump through all sorts of hoops to learn a piece of information, only to have it whispered to your character and then not revealed to you for another few scenes. It’s not uncommon in movies where you’re merely watching a character, but I can’t think of many times where that happens in a game because in a game you are the character, not an observer disconnected from them, and as such I found it quite jarring.

Heavy Rain

As the lone female playable character, Madison gets herself in a lot of sexual scenarios. Fights in her underwear, a shower scene that pans lovingly around her body (especially when compared to Ethan's brief shower), forced to strip for a sleazy club owner, and so on. It doesn't help that it takes a while for her to do anything other than have bad dreams and support one of the other characters.

As mentioned a few paragraphs above, Heavy Rain‘s plot has some problems, even putting aside the plot holes. To prolong the mystery of the Origami Killer’s identity the game sends the characters chasing a series of red herrings, serial killer after serial killer who actually has little or no connection to the serial killer they’re looking for, and to an extent this section of the plot is just treading water for every character except one. What that character goes through though is very powerful and was uncomfortable for me to have to subject them to, and it’s not often a game makes me feel like that.

That’s ultimately what Heavy Rain boils down to. As a game there are others that do things better and the story doesn’t hold up compared to the kind of movie it emulates, but as an experience it tackles  subjects other games simply don’t and for the most part it does them effectively. Even if it ultimately isn’t the future of gaming it still includes elements and themes that gaming in general could do with integrating a little more, to help move them away from solely focusing on shooting, driving and action and into areas that deal a little more with emotion, giving the mainstream games industry a little more of the range that other media includes almost by default. It will be a while before we see if Heavy Rain will be the crest of a wave of such games, but even if it just a quirky dead end that only Quantic Dream ever tackles I’m still glad the game exists.

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