Looking Back at: Heavy Rain
2013 has been an excellent year for video games so far with plenty more anticipated titles on the way. However no matter how many great games come out in one year I find myself coming back to certain games long after they’re released. These aren’t necessarily games that I feel everyone should play, but something about them stays with me long after playing them; that merits at least a discussion from me. This week, I’m going to look back on one of my favourite games from 2010, Quantic Dream’s PS3 exclusive, Heavy Rain.
It’s rare to see a big-budget game that pushes any sort of boundaries, but Heavy Rain is a Triple A title that walks the line between being a movie and being a game. For starters the gameplay is practically nonexistent; almost all of it taking the form of quick time events. The QTEs themselves are cleverly designed to correspond with what the characters are doing thus actually conveying a sense of control as opposed to random button presses. Unlike QTEs from other games, including Quantic Dream’s previous game Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit for you Europeans), the player is not required to pass them for the game to continue. Failing a button press will result in a slightly different outcome and failing an entire sequence can have severe consequences. The story always moves forward until you reach the end and there’s a consequence for every action. It’s more of an interactive movie than a game, albeit the best of its kind.
The story follows a character named Ethan Mars, a man who tragically loses one of his two sons in the game’s prologue. Two years later, Ethan’s wife has left him and his relationship with his other son, Shaun, is distant at best. Things get even worse when Shaun gets kidnapped by the Origami killer, a serial murderer who drowns children and leaves an Origami figure in their hand. In order to save Shaun, Ethan must go through several trials that test both his physical and mental strength. These trials are easily the best part of the game, with the highlight being the lizard trial in which the player has to force Ethan to cut off one of his fingers. This one particular scene is a triumph in every aspect of game design and is one of the many moments worth the price of purchase.
The player also takes control of three other characters. Norman Jayden, a FBI profiler with high-tech gadgets and an addiction to a drug called triptocaine, Madison Paige, a young journalist who is fighting her insomnia and Scott Shelby, a private investigator who is also on the killer’s trail. While Ethan, Scott and Jayden have very enjoyable segments, Madison as a character and a protagonist is weak. She contributes little to the story and could have been removed from the game completely and the plot would hardly suffer. Even worse is that she often ends up as a damsel in distress; the only saving grace being that she is able to escape these situations on her own. Madison spends the rest of the game nursing Ethan back to health, limiting her role to more of a support character than someone who actually drives the story forward. Luckily, the rest of the game more than makes up for this shortcoming with several plot twists and plenty of memorable moments.
The actually identity of the killer is build up as a big mystery, there are naturally a few red herrings but unfortunately they are very easy to detect. There’s a big twist towards the end of the game, and while it’s not poorly executed by any means the narrative is a bit manipulative in making sure that you’re not going to see it coming. The rest of the story has ups and downs but other than an optional sex scene which is completely out-of-place and a few minor plotholes, the story is relatively well done. There are several points where certain characters can die and if this occurs the story continues without them. Even when certain characters are removed from the story, the narrative remains cohesive and that itself is impressive. The big finale can play out multiple ways but it’s especially awesome when all four characters are present for it. The game features multiple endings, making encouraging multiple playthroughs.
While it’s not perfect, Heavy Rain has it where it counts but for me it’s how the game is able to juggle four narratives so well, switching between them to keep things fresh. I think what makes Heavy Rain so special for me is how much effort was put into it. Even the game fails it at least manages to entertain. It’s full of stupid moments but plenty of emotional ones as well. Heavy Rain didn’t make me cry like other games have, but it left me in awe.