Thursday, March 04, 2010

Heavy Rain

With the ridiculous amount of hype being given to Heavy Rain before it's release, and the seemingly limitless ego of David Cage, I was looking forward to playing the game. I was looking forward to it, though, mostly for the seemingly endless opportunities for mockery it would provide. Surely this was the perfect setup for a disaster, and I was looking forward to poking fun at the final product.

I can't do that, though.

The reason I can't make fun of Heavy Rain is that it provided me with some of the most gripping and riveting moments I've ever had in the 25+ years I've been playing games.Yes, it's uneven, and yes, it's occasionally ridiculous, but great games overcome their flaws, and Heavy Rain does.

Here are a few things you might want to consider if you haven't played the game. Don't worry-there are no spoilers.

First, know that this is less of a game and more of an interactive story that you experience through dialogue and Quick Time Events. Yes, you move the character you're controlling, but every action besides walking/running uses a QTE.

I don't like QTEs--at all--but they don't make this game any less brilliant. Quite cleverly, there are so many simple, mundane movements associated with QTE that they subtlely create an identification with the character you're controlling. It's a level of environmental interaction that involves you more deeply, and since they form the basis of all action in the game, those button presses and stick movements become a kind of symbolic language to enter the game world.
It's also interesting because, unless you choose the lowest difficulty, you'll fail some of the QTEs, and unlike other games, instead of just reloading, the story continues, and your failure has affected the story arc. It's much more intense and much more personal, and it feels much more like a real world.

What makes Heavy Rain special is the emotional resonance of the story. If you've ever been responsible for a child, either as a parent or a sibling, this game will make you feel shaky--the verisimilitude, much of the time, is stunning. There were many moments where I was more involved with my character than I've ever been in a game. I was the main character at times.

The story unfolds from the perspective of multiple central characters, four of them, and it's messy at times. There are a few side stories that seem tacked on. Parts of the plot don't make sense. In this sense, though, Heavy Rain reminds me of The Big Sleep, a classic Bogart film where the writers even admitted they didn't know who committed one of the murders. The film was so good that it didn't matter if there were loose ends, and it really doesn't matter in Heavy Rain, either.

In a larger sense, though, the story is wonderful. It's moving and it's challenging. You are forced to make difficult decisions, and those decisions can have painful consequences. If you play it honestly, the game asks hard questions about who you are and what you believe. There is a level of emotional depth in this game that just doesn't exist elsewhere.

This story isn't "gamey", either. It's mostly quite logical from minute to minute. There are no "trap the beaver and use him to turn a mechanical wheel to raise a rope that unlocks the jail cell" puzzles. There were only two scenes that I felt like were standard game fare--well, maybe three. The rest were fascinating and involving, and some of the decisions were nothing short of agonizing.

That felt good, to play a game that made me agonize about my decisions. It's quite a welcome difference from "kill everything you see."

I played Indigo Prophecy (Quantic Dreams's previous game), and enjoyed it, but I remember almost nothing. I guarantee I will remember many scenes from Heavy Rain two decades from now, and several will stay with me for the rest of my life. They just felt absolutely real.

There are certainly nits that can be picked. There are two or three scenes that just fail, and they particularly stand out because so many of the other scenes are so brilliant. There so many threads to the story that, at times, it almost felt diluted. I also felt like the endings (there are quite a few), unfortunately, aren't as strong as much of the game. The first ending I saw contained a moment so incredibly wrong that it was a huge disappointment, because so much of the rest of the game (while not necessarily likely) was quite plausible. I've seen two more endings since then, and both were better, but none of them resonate with me as much as earlier sections of the story did.

If the endings had been as good as the rest of the experience, I don't even know what I'd write, because the game is still unforgettable. For me, it was a singular experience, one in which I was deeply involved the whole time I played.

Well done, Mr. Cage. Scoreboard to you.

Site Meter