I am going to piss off many fans of Heavy Rain today.
Its not my fault. I really wanted to like this game. I really went into this one with an open mind and felt this was something that I could enjoy.
Heavy Rain came out back in 2010 and received near universal praise, getting high ranking scores upon its release and even being named PlayStation’s Game of the Year in 2010 by numerous sources, despite some glaring bugs. It was even included in a list of 1001 video games you must play before you die. That has to stand for something, right?
Today, I’m Cracking the Case on Heavy Rain by Quantic Dream for the PlayStation 3.
What This Game Does Right
This game looks gorgeous.
While the graphics may be a little dated compared to what can be seen on the PS4 and XBox One nowadays, it stands out for its time. Its like you are watching a computer animated movie. Many of the characters in the game look more realistic than people made for movies from Pixar or Dreamworks and its even comparable to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
While not to the point where it looks photo realistic, the game carries with it some of the best graphics offered from the PlayStation 3 at its time of release. That alone is pretty impressive.
This game has an interesting plot hook
This game starts incredibly slow, but once I got past the prologue, I knew there was some interesting events starting up. Between Ethan Mars randomly finding himself in the middle of the street with an origami bird in his hand, the detective fighting an abusive client of a hooker and the FBI agent looking through a crime scene with futuristic technology, you know big things are afoot.
The goal of the game is to figure out just who the Origami Killer is and to stop him from killing again. Its much like the motivation seen in movies like Se7en and Saw. Both revolved around stopping a killer from doing his dirty work and in the end, became great parts of movie history. Many people have given great praise to this game for its gripping story. Its too bad at the time of writing this, I still haven’t seen much of the game’s plot.
But lets be frank, there’s a reason I haven’t made it much further into the game than I did.
What This Game Does Wrong
This game fails at basic elements of storytelling
I am not saying that Heavy Rain has a bad story. Its too early in my playthrough of the game for me to tell you that. I can however say that this game fails to hook you right from the start of the gameplay.
If this game is going to consider itself an interactive drama, than it needs to live by the rules of drama to truly be successful.
The game’s prologue should serve as a hook, something to grab your interest right from the start. Instead, the first amount of tension and interest I found in this story was about three scenes in, where (SPOILER ALERT) the main character Ethan Mars’ son Jason dies after getting hit by a car.
Allow me to painstakingly take you through the beginning of Heavy Rain. You wake up, you sit up in your bed, then get up from your bed slowly. You walk around the room and pick up a note left by your wife, learning your name is Ethan. You the open the door, walk into the shower, brush your teeth, first up and down, then left to right. After that, you shave, making sure to apply the right amount of pressure so you don’t cut yourself. You use your shower and dry yourself with a towel; first your hair, then your body. After that, you go back to your closet, open it, get dressed, then go downstairs, go into your office and draw a building.
The estimated run time for this is about eight minutes of actual gameplay. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.
The point I am trying to make here is that you are not trying to play a game so you can re-live what should be the normal morning routine of your average male going to work if you worked in your own house. Because lord knows the tedium of actually driving to work and getting stuck in rush hour traffic would have just added to this masterpiece.
This is called padding. If I wanted to go through all this crap, I would play The Sims. At least time flows faster there and is not actually in real time.
Really, if they wanted to make the start of this game more interesting, they should have not treated the story chronologically. They should have started the game with the detective interrogating the hooker about the Origami killer, move onto the scene with the cop at the murder scene, then come back to Ethan Mars picking up his son Shawn from school and flash back to the scene at the mall where Jason dies.
That flow of events would at least keep you entertained. After all, the whole reason we play video games is for entertainment, not to be bored watching the average morning routine of John Everyman.
A similar game that did this whole sequence of events right is Shenmue. Here’s a game that took exploration to a whole new peak for its time, forcing you to do everything for Ryu Hazuki in his day-to-day life.
The huge difference in Shenmue though is that it gives you motivation right off the get-go. At the very start of the game, you witness your father get murdered. Now, you are trying to find the man who committed his murder and find answers to why it happened. That is an interesting start to the game, not John Everyman waking up and reading notes.
This game makes you do everything
Fast-forwarding a handful of scenes into the game, your main character needs to pick up his son Shawn from school. To do this, I need to open up the back door of the car to let Shawn into the vehicle. Then I have to walk around to the other side of the car, open the driver’s side door, do up my seat belt, adjust my mirror, start the ignition, put the car into gear and step on the accelerator. Then, the car goes down the street and back to your house.
Why? Why do I need to do all these things? In any other game, this would be a simple cutscene where I could just whisk by the entire thing with the press of the start button. Here, its almost a damn ordeal you have to pass to move the story along.
And realistically, any sane person would have your mirrors adjusted to the way you want them to be well before you reach your trip’s destination. Its one of the first damn things you do when you leave the house. Hell, most people don’t even do it because why would you have to change it if you are the only person driving your vehicle?
I am all for video games increasing the amount of interactivity that is available for the player. Far too often there is too much of a segregation between gameplay and a game’s custscenes, giving you cases where your character suddenly develops cutscene superpowers they cannot do normally in a game. THIS however borders on new levels of tedium and exhaustion.
For this example, lets look to one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, Chrono Trigger. The game starts with Crono’s Mom shouting for him to wake up, opening the blinds and heading back downstairs. Crono gets out of bed, does a little fist pump and then you are given full-control to move around and do whatever you want. That’s it.
If we were to apply the Heavy Rain engine to this game, we would see Crono wake up in the morning, open his blinds, make his bed, go to the bathroom, get dressed, comb his Goku-like hair for 3 hours straight, brush his teeth, go downstairs, feed his cat, have a conversation with his mom, set out two plates, two forks, two knives, two spoons, two cups, get the milk out of the fridge, pour it, put the milk back into the fridge, sit down, eat breakfast, then do a little fist pump and go out the door. Its all completely useless to the actual flow of the story. By the time Crono is done going to the bathroom, Lavos would have risen from the Earth and ended this misery for all of us.
Do I care that I get to shake my controller so my character can brush his teeth? No.
Do I care that I can shake my controller to shake a carton of orange juice to make sure its not all pulpy and gross? No, I’d just buy non-pulp orange juice like any sane person would.
The fact is, no one cares. Really, what does it add to the whole experience that is Heavy Rain’s story, which I’ve heard so many wonderful things about?
In Chrono Trigger, all I care about is getting out of the house, walking into some random forest and bashing in the heads of monsters so I can build my levels up, summon lightning and kill bigger monsters.
In Heavy Rain, there are lots of tedious actions seen as revolutionary because you do it all with the PlayStation Move or with the PS3’s fancy motion controls through the system’s dual shock controllers. Its a gimmick that probably won a lot of people over when the game first came out because they like fancy technical crap like that.
This game is very glitchy
Right out of the gate, I ran into issues with bugs. That’s even after waiting the two hours it took to download over a GB worth of updates for this game.
In the prologue, when the mother and two kids pulled into the driveway and walked into the house, my game froze. Not only that, but my game didn’t save before it froze.
Remember that whole chain of events that started the game? The one I described for you in painstaking detail a moment ago? Now I have to live through it all AGAIN.
This is not the only time I ran into this issue. In the scene where the detective goes to interrogate the hooker and has the attack in the hall, my game wouldn’t allow me to do anything to get the inhaler, forcing me to reboot the game.
Also, in the scene where I’m introduced to the detective with the fancy technology at the crime scene, my game froze once again. Whether this is an issue with the game disc or just problems that all gamers have run into, I don’t know. But that ended it for me.
This basically made an already tedious game a chore of glitchy proportions.
I don’t know what to tell you for my final thoughts on this one. I am sure there is some appeal to be found if I delve a bit further into the story, making for an interesting gameplay experience.
Personally though, I’ve had enough. Why should I have to force myself to continue playing to find merit in what’s supposed to be PlayStation’s Game of the Year for 2010. Must have been a really crappy year if that was the case.
The key elements of a narrative are to hook your readers right from the get-go. Dan Brown didn’t become a millionaire author overnight just by forcing his readers to watch Robert Langdon fiddle with how straight he can tie his tie. If the key aspects of this game is to play like an interactive drama, then it should follow the rules of drama and actually try to catch the attention of viewers or gamers right from the get-go.
For that reason alone, I would put this game back on the shelf. With thousands of games at my disposal to play, it would take some patience or a few drinks to look past the nonsense of shaking orange juice in the fridge. Maybe I’ll mix some non-pulp concentrate orange juice with some vodka… See if that gets me to the point where I can play this game again.
NEXT WEEK: We return to the XBox 360 to explore Tales of Vesperia.