Posted by: Paul | July 28, 2010

Heavy Rain

I tend to only play one game at a time, so with the length and depth of Red Dead Redemption out of the way, next on my list is Heavy Rain. I eagerly awaited the release of this in February, but it had sold out when I went to buy it initially so I picked it up when I was in the middle of other things and it’s languished in the queue for a while.

Many years ago, when PCs started to have CD drives installed, there was a lot of fuss made about ‘interactive movies’. The increased capacity and access speed that CDs offered made it possible to include long segments of full motion video footage in games, and certain producers tried to come up with ideas making it possible for you to feel interactively involved in a movie-like story for the first time. The X-Files made a game, horror novelist Clive Barker did it with Nightbreed, and of course if you go back even earlier to the time of laserdisc-playing arcade games, the whole sub-genre was kicked off by Dragons Lair, followed closely by Space Ace and Super Don Quixote.

In most of these games, you’re watching a series of videos and cartoons, and making a movement or action with the controls at certain points to have an effect on the action – striking with a sword, or dodging a ball of flame. On a superficial level, Heavy Rain is very similar in ethos to those early attempts at interaction within an impressively rendered narrative. Of course, with almost 30 years of game development in between, the formula has been refined.

Heavy Rain is a noirish thriller revolving around the fictional story of the Origami Killer, a serial killer who kidnaps young boys whose bodies turn up a few days later drowned in rainwater and displayed with an orchid and an origami figure. It’s told from the perspective of four characters, all of whom you control in turn – the father of a kidnapped boy, an FBI investigator assigned to the case, an journalist following the story and a private eye investigating the killings independently.

It’s presented in a very movie-like format. Incredibly high quality imagery, broken up into distinct scenes, and during each one you have a modicum of control over the decisions and actions of each character. Different decision – different outcome. There is no right and wrong. This appeals to me a great deal, as at times I’m all fingers and thumbs and some outcomes depend on reaction time – if you slip, just like in real life, it can change the way things happen.

Heavy Rain is also something of an experiment in the emotional impact of games. I’m not sure if it’s just because I’m a parent, but watching Ethan Mars panic as his son wanders off on his own in a crowded shopping centre was very affecting – you’re then handed control and charged with trying to find him. What’s a Dad to do?

At times the digital acting is spot on, at times it can be painful to watch for all the wrong reasons – gaping pauses in dialogue, people bumping into you without an acknowledgement – neither immersive nor true to life. But when it gets things right, Heavy Rain is like no other game I’ve ever played before. It manipulates the emotions, tugs on the heartstrings, thrills and panics like nothing I’ve ever seen. Last night I shot a suspect accidentally – totally didn’t mean to do it, I was just engrossed and made the wrong move. Undoubtedly it will change the game. It’s a rare game that will make me go back and play it again straight away, but the pull of ‘what if I’d done things differently?’ is utterly irresistable. Congratulations, David Cage and Quantic Dream – more please. And soon.

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