Well, I realize that this is a bit late, but sometimes it takes a while to get around to a game. If you take a glance around my apartment, you may spot a handful of origami swans resting on various bookshelves and tables. Who knew I’d actually learn how to finally make one of those things playing a video game. The origami swan is of course the logo and icon for Heavy Rain, a PlayStation 3 game that is different from any other kind of game you’ve played. Heavy Rain is a psychological thriller about a father who will do anything to save his son from a serial killer. The user plays as four different characters throughout the game; an emotionally scarred father, a drug addicted FBI agent, a classic film noir private eye, and a narcoleptic good Samaritan. Each of these characters are emotionally driven, fighting off criminals, the authorities, and inner demons all the way to the surprising and epic conclusion.
This water tastes different
It’s best to think of this game as an interactive movie crossed with a choose your own adventure book. Just imagine watching a movie, and on your second viewing, characters suddenly make different decisions, opening up entirely different scenes and locations, and perhaps if they died the first round, they make it out alive the second round. That unpredictability is one of the major perks of this game. Going back, I played the same scene 4 different ways. I killed someone the first time, I talked them down the second time, I got shot the third time, and I got someone else killed on the fourth time. Some games offer a different experience on your second play, but usually that’s just based on if you want to be a good guy or a bad guy, as seen in games like Fable, BioShock, and Oblivion. Now, the main plot points of Heavy Rain are the same. You will still interact with the same characters, in the end it’s the same villain who is responsible, but the journey can truly be unique each time.
I’ve gone on and on about how amazing I thought the story of BioShock was, but this is a whole new level of writing. It takes a lot of skill to keep a consistent, and engaging story line, without creating plot holes and contradictions. This plot is solid throughout while providing twists that rival BioShock.
What really keep me engaged was the believability of the characters Now, I have to pause and address the uncanny valley – the name given to that creepy factor of attempted realistic human characters.
It’s a weird phenomenon where the closer we get to creating realistic people the further we seem to fall into this creepy area. You especially notice this in movies such as Polar Express, and Beowulf, the latter definitely showing some major improvements in animation. Each time we seem to get a little closer to creating a realistic 3D human that could fool the audience, but yet there are these subtleties that we can’t always put our finger on, that reveal its computer generated origins. The uncanny valley is definitely apparent in Heavy Rain. Motion capture just can’t fully capture the subtlety and the emotion in a human face, but for a motion captured game, it is still very impressive and ignorable after you are immersed.
Alright, enough of the lesson. So as I said, the characters are believable. In the first chapter, I was nervous and stressed as the father was chasing an absent minded wandering son in a crowded mall. Part of that is due to the characters, but a huge part of it has to do with the full orchestra playing intensely stressful themes throughout the game. You’ll feel your heart pounding during the action scenes that require quick responses from the user to survive. This game was ‘filmed’ much like a movie, meaning that while you are walking around your environment, camera angles automatically change in a very deliberate and directed way. This is especially apparent during the action scenes. The director of the game took the time to set up his cameras just right.
There are two major components that hold the experience back for traditional gamers. First off, are the controls. I have never heard of a third person game that requires you to hold R2 to walk forward. While holding R2, your character automatically walks forward, and if you have to turn around, sometimes it takes a while for the character to respond. The triangle, circle, X, and square buttons are your action buttons as well as the right thumb stick, oddly. You will have to do combination of button smashing, awkward button holding (sometimes 5 at a time), thumb stick motions, and even some good old fashioned controller jerking.
Secondly, there are so many small and sometimes unnecessary actions a character must do. This is immediately apparent in the first 10 minutes of game play. You get out of bed, glance at a photo, take a shower, dry yourself off, shave, brush your teeth, check yourself in the mirror, urinate, and get dressed. I understand why someone would argue this would be a great feature to have in a game, after all, since the game is so close to a movie, it is not uncommon to see the hero adjusting his tie, sitting in his living room, or drinking orange juice. But for the average gamer, we want progress, we want story, we want info, we want action! This game would have completely failed if it were all action, but there were a few hundred moments, optional or not, that could have been cut.
If I had to redo Heavy Rain, I’d make it a movie or miniseries, but its about 8-12 hours long, and I wouldn’t want any scenes to be cut. This story can’t possibly have a sequel, but I would love to play another action thriller just like it. It just needs to be a new kind of medium in between movies and games. If movies could become interactive this way, how cool would that be? Each time you watch you get something different. I’d also like to have this filmed in live action cutscenes outside of the core gameplay, and control the outcome with a DVD remote instead of a controller. But I think establishing a genre for this type of game is important, that way it isn’t misleading. Hell, let’s invent one. Interactive Narrative Adventures (INA). Throw that in there with FPS, RTS, and RPG. We can even add games like Alan Wake to the INA category.
Score the downpour
It’s difficult for me to recommend Heavy Rain to everyone. You’ll need to be a fan of thrillers and be very patient, too. It’s not a skill-based game, there’s no aiming, there’s no cross hair accuracy, it just requires fast timing. You listen to dialogs and choose your answers carefully. These effect details in the story in a profound way. So, if you think you have the attention span for this game and appreciate a great story, give it a chance. You’ll even learn how to make little origami swans while you wait for the game to install. Now those are life skills! And if all of that didn’t sell you……
THIS GAME HAS BOOBIES, BOYS! (o)(o)