Heavy Rain: Flood of genius or a wet dog?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

While Ian, whose contribution I have put here first, does not offer any plot spoilers – I do. So I strongly advise you not to carry on reading after Ian’s said his piece unless you’ve played Heavy Rain through at least once, if you intend to at all. So first, the part that’s safe to read:

I went into Heavy Rain with a fairly good idea of what to expect, having previously played Fahrenheit (known as Indigo Prophecy in some areas of the world). I expected an interactive experience less concerned with challenging me as a player, and more with simply getting me involved. I also expected a twist about three quarters of the way through so out of left field and nonsensical, that it would be comparable to an episode of Columbo where Peter Falk travels back in time to try and kill his younger fictional self, but thankfully this was not the case.

To say that during my first play through of the story it was compelling would be an understatement. At one point, thinking only a few hours had past, I turned and saw a pile of bones by my foot and realized that they used to be my dog. It’s hard to really point to one thing that makes it just so enjoyable to press on but a superb soundtrack, sometimes stunning graphics and decent plot are probably good ones to mention.

There are some problems though. Some voice acting is incredibly cheesy and for some reason all the children sound like they’ve got colds (I say some reason but maybe the game title is a hint). Having to hold a button to move and some clunky steering can also cause a bit of annoyance at times.

A lot of how much you would enjoy your first play through would be dependant on making sure none of the plot is spoiled. I would go so far as to say that if you knew the killer’s identity or a few other things before starting then it wouldn’t even be worth it. Under that kind of circumstance where someone does spoil the plot for you then you are probably (consult a lawyer to be sure) legally allowed to hit them.

Once you know the full story and whodunnit, so many plot holes rear their heads that you’d think the game had a bad case of termites but this was after the fact, so it didn’t make my first play through any less satisfying. Just try not to think about it too hard after you’re done and get straight into a second play through to see how much you can mess with the story and you’ll be fine.

Heavy Rain is probably sub-par. As a game. At least when compared to RPG or FPS games that come out by the dozen every other day (slight exaggeration). On its own as a metaphorical bridge between film and game it stands out as something special. Heavy Rain is a first rate interactive experience. It is unique. Ian

Remember, the following has spoilers.

“The review [of Heavy Rain on Critical Gamer] will (one hopes) review the game for what it is, rather than what it means for gaming”. So said our own Steven G in a recent comment on the site. He was right, of course; that’s the only way a good review of any game can or should be written, so that’s the way I wrote it. Considered in isolation, I like Heavy Rain; but bearing in mind David Cage’s self – confidence and ambition for the title, my feelings are rather less positive.

I stand by every last word of the review, except the statement ‘overall the script is very good’, which after some further thought, I now realise I should have rephrased ‘the script is excellent by videogame standards, but has plot holes you could drive a Jean Claude Van Damme movie through’.

GamesRadar has already done an excellent job of pointing out most of the gaping plot holes, and I won’t repeat here what they so effectively pointed out there. Incredibly however, despite listing no less than fifteen plot holes, there are still issues not mentioned or not fully explored in that article. The blackouts that Ethan experiences after the accident, for example. If these are so severe and unpredictable, why the hell does he take Shaun out of the house alone? Why does he drive with his son in the car? Are these really the actions of a father as loving as we are led to believe Ethan is?

Then there’s the issue of the endings. If you get one of the happy endings yes, yes, it’s lovely that Shaun’s daddy doesn’t hang himself or get shot to pieces, and that little Shaun himself doesn’t drown and ooh, what a lovely big house they get (presumably from police compensation…). But what. About. The blackouts? You presume that perhaps they were more due to Ethan’s guilt over the death of Jason, and you presume that perhaps saving the life of Shaun has eradicated the issue; but you are told nothing. And if the blackouts are still an issue, what reason do you have to think that he’ll never take his son somewhere by himself again?

Then there’s the poison in the Rat trial. Ethan is told that if he drinks it he’ll be given enough information to find Shaun, and enough time to rescue him and say goodbye… but then he’ll die, having sacrificed his life for his son’s. However, if you choose to drink the poison and then find and rescue Shaun – and don’t get shot in the process – you get to live happily ever after. A reward for being prepared to sacrifice himself? Then why is the following suggested soon after:

Perhaps the killer just wants to make sure Ethan really goes through with it and then kill him, as suggested by the fact that he points a gun at Ethan if he makes it that far? Well, this doesn’t really make sense. Saw – sorry, I mean Scott – sets up logistically nightmarish, hilariously expensive ‘trials’ to test the love of various fathers. It emerges that he does this because his own father’s inaction and lack of fatherly love doomed Scott’s brother to death by drowning during his childhood. It seems fair to say that each father of each kidnapped boy is, in Scott’s eyes, an image of his own dad. The most likely conclusion to draw from this (says the psychoanalysis expert, with one psychology A level to lean on) is that when he finally finds a man willing and able to go through hell to save his son he would let them both live, finally find himself able to forgive his own father, and most likely kill himself over the guilt for all the murders which he would finally allow himself to face.

There may be very strong arguments against everything I said in the last paragraph, but surely nobody can disagree with me over that stupid ARI shades/glove combo? It would sit much more comfortably in Harry Potter than Saw. I think that a better name for the game, in all respects, would have been ‘Norman’s Magic Glasses’. Seriously, I could write a whole article just spitting venom about that ‘technology’ which is apparently just a year away.

Don’t worry, I’ve taken several deep breaths and calmed down. The question now is, what have the plot holes got to do with Heavy Rain’s importance for videogames in general? Quite a lot, actually. Heavy Rain is presented as an argument that games can tell an intricate, mature story just as well as a movie. Issues with the character models and acting aside (which I already discussed in the review), the sloppiness and inconsistency of the plot means Heavy Rain crashes to the ground in flames in this respect. When you choose your difficulty you aren’t presented with choices of ‘easy’, ‘hard’, etc; you’re asked how familiar you are with the controller. This suggests to me that Cage hopes – probably believes – that Heavy Rain will attract people who have previously shown no interest in videogames. If any such person did play Heavy Rain, they would likely sneer at the immature approach to plot (not to mention sometimes dodgy acting, and mostly inexpressive actors) and never risk respecting a videogame again. Anyway, Cage is late to the party; ‘interactive drama’ has been done with more interactivity and greater intelligence by the Bioshock and Deus Ex games.

I really like Heavy Rain; but I really like Quincy too.

Thanks to Ian for the videos.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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