TGL’s Shane Willoughby Confronts Love, Life and Loss in Heavy Rain.
It’s not exactly easy to define a game like Heavy Rain. Many gaming purists will argue that it isn’t a videogame at all and although there could arguably be some tact to such claims, the fact that Heavy Rain doesn’t fit the pre-cast form of the often times insular and narrow minded contemporary videogame template is exactly what makes this game as beautiful as it is. Heavy Rain is a stunning experience, an enigmatic title that will ask you to focus your own moral ambiguities for the good of the central protagonists. Heavy Rain asks questions, personal questions and as with life, the direction you take to answer said questions just might not be the right ones.
Heavy Rain is what you would call an ‘interactive drama’. Quantic Dreams attempt to define what you’re playing with your very first bronze trophy award ‘Thank You For Supporting Interactive Drama’. They give you the strings but it’s up to you just how you decide to control the puppets. The game is played from the perspective of four leading characters, the marionettes in this drama, each of whom have their own part to play in the quest to uncover the mysterious and callous nature of the unforgiving Origami Killer. Though the premise of ‘find the murderer’ seems like a pedestrian and straight forward one, what unfurls is actually quite a convoluted and elaborate story that never drifts away from the characters and their roles. Ethan Mars is an architect and family man whose life gets turned up side down when his son Jason is killed in a car accident. His second son Shaun is kidnapped by the Origami Killer. Madison Paige is a journalist plagued by insomnia and nightmares but soon finds herself entangled in the race to find the Killer. Norman Jayden is an FBI investigator, hot on the case of the killer. And finally there’s Scott Shelly, a private investigator who like everyone else is trying to determine the identity of the Origami killer. Each character has their own personality and their own idiosyncrasies and it isn’t long before their stories begin to interconnect and correspondence to each others.
Heavy Rain is driven by its story and thankfully it’s a very well integrated and pre convinced one. To say that it’s anything less than engrossing would be an insult. I certainty haven’t played a game in a very long time that had such a tangible, evocative and consuming story line. This is an adult game and it makes no apologies for it. Quantic Dreams never backed down from possible taboos or videogame sensitivities and these elements, for example male and female nudity and extensive heavy swearing, really add polish to the game’s already involving and engaging storyline and characters.
Interaction with the games story comes in the form of a non-traditional control scheme, one which shuns conventional models for a stylized and sophisticated scheme which is as intriguing as it is best befitting of the game. Holding down R2 button allows you walk around this world. The Left analog stick gives your character direction. This isn’t exactly inventive, but it works just fine. The core interaction in the game lies in the series of button prompts, quick time events and right analog movements embedded in the game. The PS3’s often ignored Sixaxis functionality is also used and to great effect. There’s no mindless button bashing in Heavy Rain, only direct, creative and comprehensive button play. Those of you well versed with the seasoned Playstation Dual Shock will genuinely have to look down at your pad to ‘think’ about how you’re going to make your fingers adjust to certain positions. It’s like playing a game of twister with your fingers as the game asks you to perform tasks which you have probably never performed in a videogame before like apply lipstick, change a babies diaper, unclip a woman’s bra or shave your stubble. Heavy Rain finds an innate instinctive and delicately interesting balance between tense and epic set pieces and menial pedestrian everyday tasks. And it’s the everyday tasks, the drinking from a juice carton, tying a tie, answering the telephone, or playing on a merry go round that makes you sit up and think ‘WOW’.
This game is driven by its story and its organic and manipulative integrity. Everything you do in this game has a consequence, often times it’s a simple progression from one part of the game to another, but in other instances, you the player, will genuinely feel like you’ve done yourself and you character a dis-service by allowing yourself to perform certain actions. You genuinely wish you could go back and make it right and you can, but not until you start a brand new game. This world doesn’t wait for you; it keeps going, dead, injured or alive. The potential for replay-ability is staggering. I cannot wait to go back and say no to situations where I said yes previously, to pull a trigger when I didn’t pull it before or to not kiss where I kissed in the first play through. You really want the best for your characters and the storywriters over at Quantic Dreams should be commended. I literally couldn’t put this game down from start to finish. It’s like your favourite TV show; you just NEED to know what happens next. It also helps that the game itself looks great. Performances are for the most part, involved and believable although at times the actors and the animations slip into cumbersome territories. I’m thinking in particular of one rather intimidate scene where the animation is particularly clumsy and flawed. Voiceovers are good, as too are the performances of the game’s many secondary sub plot characters.
Now that pick up and play FPS and shooter games like Modern Warfare and Gears of War garner more attention than any other, games like Heavy Rain are quite literally destined to drown. Since gamers are so consumed by the plethora of online shooters and HD mindless gore fests which seem to get churned out on a weekly basis, games that make you think need not apply. Heavy Rain needs to succeed. We need to bring it as close to the fore as we can. It’s such a beautiful piece of work, brimming with memorable set pieces and tangible emotional moments unlike any other game. If you want to play a game that wears its heart closely on its sleeve, it has to be Heavy Rain. You’ll learn a lot about the game’s characters but you also might learn something about yourself too.
TGL Score 9/10
Format: Playstation 3
Release date: February 26th
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dreams