Grumpy Gurevitz: Heavy Lair

At last! My style of gameplay is fashionable!

Has Dragon’s Lair come of age? That’s the question I ask myself when playing the Heavy Rain Demo. Now demos always send us mixed messages. With one voice they invite us to “try”, nay, “trial the game”. “See how it plays”. “See if you like it”. At the same time they issue a statement saying that “the demo is not reflective of the finished product”. So which is it? Is it an opportunity to see what the game will be like, and hence a way of working out if it’s for me; or is it just an early tech demo?

Well rhetorical questions are great. Especially for columnists. Lucky for me, I’m a columnist. Demos nowadays, at least ones released a few weeks before commercial release on PSN/XBL, are definitely reflective of the finished product. If they are not, the publishers are pretty dumb to release half baked demos. Not least as web hacks like me might write about them. Hence it’s with this perspective that I have to ask (another rhetorical question there), has Dragon’s Lair come of age?

Dragon’s Lair was famous for being a game where the player essentially flicked a joystick and hit a button at the right time to trigger the next animation. When I load up Heavy Rain, the first thing that kicked in within 30 seconds of playing the demo was that, this game represents the evolution of that gaming experience. Yes, I’m aware that the game will offer me choices and those choices will allow me to change how the narrative will develop and eventually resolve. That’s great (it’s not unique, but it’s great) and when done well it can really change the overall narrative and story experience when compared to regular games.

Dragon's Lair and its genre was clearly popular as Space Ace was a similar game from the same developer.

However when we examine the actual gameplay, it involves me playing Pappara the Rappa just to squeeze through a gap in the wall or climb a muddy bank. I don’t want to play a rhythm action game or a game which is essentially 100% made up of Quick Time Events. It’s annoying, it’s quite stressful and the controller is not best suited to it.

I have read that the developers of Heavy Rain do not feel that the term ‘videogame’ is right for the type of work they create. I agree. Interactive narrative or animation would be best. Perhaps interactive movie, which would make it sound more a Blue Ray V3.00. Either way, its not really a game. Which is why, as I have to experience it via the the traditional videogame controller, this is not going to work for me.

Whilst playing the demo I found myself holding down three, maybe four buttons at once. Not because I wanted to but because I had to, to make the story progress. The timing of the button presses did not have a dramatic impact upon the performance of my character, but were a gateway keeping the cinematic from progressing.

For sure, all games have button presses in them. However the execution of the button commands normally result in a change to the performance of the character I’m controlling. This is true of both third person adventures games or an FPS. In Heavy Rain, many of the button presses are just there, well, I don’t know why they are there. The fight sequences are great, no better than the ones woven into Uncharted 2 mind you, but are great. However there are many instances of superfluous QTE sections of ‘gameplay’.

God of War - the undisputed master of the Quick Time Event

This is really an interactive movie, with regular narrative path choices which intersect the story. However those intersections do not appear regularly enough to allow the player to feel they are ‘playing’ and hence the developers have felt the need to put regular points of interaction in the game to remind us that it is a videogame.

I’d rather they had not. I would have rather they had been brave and just let the film play, pausing it once in a while to get my input. For those who have not played the demo – let me illustrate why I sound this frustrated.

Opening a car door should be easy. You walk up to it and you click X. Simple. But no, in Heavy Rain you have to yank down on the (right I think) analogue controller and the swing to the right or something. If you get the angle wrong, you keep doing it till it’s right. Otherwise that door is not going to open. I assume it’s meant to replicate the movement of the hand and arm. But it doesn’t! My real hand and arm are a hell of a lot easier to control, additionally clicking X is even easier, and opening a car door is not meant to be a challenge in itself, or something which I can get a best time in doing!

So, has Dragon’s Lair come of age? No. The graphics have got better, and the game is far cleverer in the way in which it promises to change outcomes and narrative based on player choices. However, the actual gameplay and skill involved is the same, but with more buttons and controllers for the developers to throw at you.

N-no! Not another scene coming up revolving around a pointless QTE. Why can't I just open a door like normal videogame characters?!

Had it really come of age perhaps, just perhaps, the developers would have allowed the story to be told, only leaving the plot split points to be chosen by you. Perhaps this is a game which would better suit Natal or the pointing tech of a Wii or the upcoming Sony motion controller. That way areas of interest on the screen could be highlighted and then the AI would take over the movement and interaction. I think games like that are called graphic adventures or ‘point and clicks’. Heck they could still have intense QTE scenes for the fights. That would result in a ‘sit up and forward’ film rather than the normal ‘sit back and relax’ format we are used to.

Anyway what do I know? I haven’t played the game, have I. Only a demo. And those are never representative of the finished product.

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Written by Steven G

Steven Gurevitz is the CEO of 2002 Studios Media LTD and a founder of gaming accessory company Asiiya. 2002 Studios started off as a music production company, but produces a range of content from videos to videogames. The company specialises in localizing content for global brands.

He also owns the Urban Sound Label, a small niche e-label. He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor and co-owner CriticalGamer.co.uk. He enjoys FPS, Third person ‘free world’, narrative driven and portable gaming.
He is a freelance music tech writer, having co-written the Music Technology Workbook and is a regular contributor to CriticalGamer.co.uk.

3 comments

  1. half_empty80 /

    Seems a bit odd to publish a feature on a two-week=old demo on the release date of the full game. Having said that there are some good points here. I’m looking forward to a Critical Review.

  2. Steven G /

    The review will (one hopes) review the game for what it is, rather than what it means for gaming. This is simply a discussion piece, highlighting that part of the gameplay experience is not as revolutionary as everyone is making out. Don’t get me wrong, parts are, but the actual ACT of interacting with it, really is not.

    Discuss!

    But at the same time, enjoy, or hate the game for what it is. Not what it promises to be.

  3. KrazyFace /

    Disscuss? Okay, well I think you’re right when you say that this kind of interaction with a game is better suited to the Wii controls or the up-comming Natal. I don’t want to turn this into a Natal debate but I really think games like Heavy Rain were made for it, though I’d wager MS will not be taking it’s chances with these kind of games.

    I’ve played the demo too and got the feeling of Farenheit right away from it, which is a good thing coz I liked Farenheit a lot. I just hope HR won’t go all ‘spooky’ on me the same way.

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