So I Recently Finished Heavy Rain…
Yes okay, it’s a three-year-old game now and not exactly relevant. Or isn’t it? Let’s think about this for a second: Heavy Rain was a ground-breaking entry into gaming that attempted to mix the interactive elements of videogames with the cinematic storytelling of movies, in order to create something unique and different. Sure, Fahrenheit / Indigo Prophecy came first, but Heavy Rain is the one that really broke from the niche and hit the core market with some gusto.
And later this year, we’re getting the next game from Quantic Dream, Beyond: Two Souls. Perhaps dissecting Heavy Rain can give us a better idea of what to expect from Beyond?
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Okay maybe I’m reaching with that, but hey, some relevance is better than no relevance and mostly, I just want to talk about Heavy Rain.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure that this was enough to warrant an entire article but after speaking to a few friends and getting their blessings, I decided to go for it. Here’s hoping it’s an entertaining enough topic, even though it’s three years too late. Granted, I only actually managed to get a chance to play Heavy Rain a few weeks ago, through the good graces of someone close to me who was kind enough to share their PlayStation 3 for a few weeks. This allowed me the opportunity I’d been awaiting since the game’s release — the only game that I’ve ever actually wanted a PS3 for — and now that I’ve finally played it and finished it… well, I guess I can say I finally understand why Jim Sterling doesn’t think much of David Cage.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. It’s a great game and a truly unique experience. Specifically drug-addicted FBI Inspector Norman Jayden’s arc in the story that followed four different characters, really felt like nothing I’d played before in a game. The other three characters were pretty well-written as well, with your private investigator who had a good heart but bad lungs, your journalist who felt herself a strong female figure but wasn’t afraid to use what she had available to her (feminists, I’ll leave her depiction and justification of character up to you) and your grieving father who had lost one son and now had to deal with the potential loss of another.
The basic premise of the game, quite simply, was: “How far would you go to save someone you love?”
And I can say for sure that I really went fucking far. Just a quick warning before we go any further, this article contains spoilers. Lots of them. It’s basically going to kill the game for you if you’ve not played it yet, that’s how many spoilers there will be. After three years, this ought not to be an issue for most but if it is for you, then you’ve been warned. Come back when you’ve finished the game.
One last time: Massive spoilers ahead.
Are you sure? Okay, moving on then. I’ve always considered myself to be a ‘do the right thing’ type of person in games. The quintessential good guy, the Paragon, the benevolent hero, whatever you’d like to call it. I’m that guy the boy scouts put up posters of in their hopes of being more like, in games. It’s very rare that I do things differently and yet in Heavy Rain, when I was asked to shoot a man in cold blood, I didn’t even fucking hesitate. I shot him without so much as a second thought, and in the game my character at the time, Ethan, echoed my sentiments by holding the gun up to that person’s head, exclaiming, “I’m a father too,” and then quickly pulling the trigger before feeling disgusted with himself. I felt that as my character did. Of course, I was more than just imagining myself in his position, I was thinking of those people I value more than life, and what I would do to keep them safe.
That was brilliantly done, and some other points in this game echo that exceptional storytelling and writing, but with the twist of having you play through these scenes, which gives you a level of engagement with the characters that you don’t typically feel from a standard movie. After all, that man’s life was in my hands, and depended on whether I hit R2 to pull the trigger or R1 to put away the gun and walk away. That was my call. And it felt like my call.
Remind me again, which movie gives you that level of control of the story?
So while I am with those who argue that mechanics and systems are better than stories in games, there are some outliers, exceptions to this rule, that just work and cannot be done differently regardless of how much you want it to be done differently. Heavy Rain wanted to tell me a story that I could dictate, and it did so splendidly.
However, and this comes to what I really wanted to talk about, I take issue with David Cage’s ability to be consistent. I think that David Cage, like George Lucas, is a man with some brilliant ideas who just needs to be tied to a leash to prevent him from running all over the place and pissing on everything. Either that or he needs to be slapped in the face with a comically large fish. Because while he did amazing things for me during some of those morally questionable parts, he absolutely let me down with the game’s big plot twist.
I’d always known that Scott Shelby was the Origami Killer because, as a consumer of more than just games, I’d listened to it discussed in podcasts and seen videos and so on, where the spoiler was revealed, just like I know the fate of Red Dead Redemption’s character even though I’ve not yet finished that game. So I played through the game hoping to get some understanding of why he chose to do the things he did, what his motivations were and how he managed to stay so well hidden. However, the game constantly fumbled on itself and if you were paying attention, it was pretty easy to figure out who the killer was once you settled for it being a main character. After all, Scott was the only character of the game with a squeaky clean personality and no discernible character flaws other than asthma during rainy periods.
The asthma itself was never explained but you eventually figure it out, since it was during a particularly rainy period that he lost his brother as a child. However, the other parts that they make a concerted attempt to explain to you are what left me the most confused. In their attempts to fill a few blanks, they created a whole lot more. One particular scene involved me playing as Scott and visiting a watchmaker to follow a lead. During this time, I was in the front of the shop exploring and an accompanying character told me to go and check on the watchmaker, whom I then discovered dead in a back-room. I had control over Scott for this entire sequence, and yet later on when revealing this plot-filling segment, the game had the audacity to show me how Scott killed that watchmaker in an attempt to cover his tracks.
What, while I was controlling him the entire time?
It never alluded to Scott being schizophrenic, having multiple personality disorders, blacking out or anything of the sort. There was nothing about Scott having an accomplice, a twin, and for the love of all things holy, why the fuck was he even investigating shit in the first place? To throw the trail? Okay, but then why were his ‘Thoughts’ always so focused and humble? If he was consciously doing what he did, why did he never show it to the player, and why are there such glaring plot holes? What the actual fuck, Quantic Dream? In that final sequence, the game’s most positively balanced character flipped and became a villain, with seemingly no real motivation for his sudden flip other than, “Lol you caught me, now prepare to die.” And in the end, you actually end up killing him, or at least that was my ending — he fell into an industrial shredder and was pulverised. Meanwhile, the person who was accompanying him throughout his investigation goes and spits on his grave, which is near the grave of a lead he followed earlier on, with all the surprise of a newborn baby.
Now, in a few months Beyond: Two Souls is going to release, and it’s mostly had the intrigue of everyone around. I’ll grant that Heavy Rain was trying to be a murder mystery and so there was a certain extent to which the game was allowed to get away with its half-assed big twist and lack of decent continuity, but that’s not going to be the case with the science-fiction thriller Beyond. Already at E3, we saw some disturbing gameplay footage of what looked like cover-shooting mechanics. Nobody was impressed by that. Nobody will, again, be impressed by another story so full of plot holes that it’s practically leaking onto the floor by the end.
But then Heavy Rain won a lot of awards when it came out and I can understand why. I mean, big plot twist aside, it’s still a great game. I just can’t help but feel a little bitter about it now, because after all, did Mass Effect 3 not suffer the world’s wrath at allegedly dropping the ball right at the end? Perhaps that series’ criticisms speaks more of the level of engagement of fans than anything else, though, and the PS3-exclusive Heavy Rain just did enough right and a negligible amount wrong, that it didn’t matter to the audience that got to enjoy it back then.
I don’t know, I still think we need to keep a weather eye on that David Cage… lest he ruin another game with a silly plot twist.