Games of the Year: Heavy Rain
Games of the Year: Heavy Rain
When it rains it pours
It’s Steve Peacock’s turn with his game of the year Heavy Rain which scored 10/10. The atmosphere and new experience it offered placed this above any other game released this year in his mind.
There is no limit to the praise I can heap upon this game. Everything from the story to the characters to the way you interact with the world instantly sets this game above and beyond the rest of the pack for me.
Heavy rain is a game that forces you to actually think like the characters you play. Most games have the protagonists as vessels for your own personality, safe and secure in the knowledge that there is no wrong answer and any major cock ups will just lead to reloading at a checkpoint. The world of that game revolves around you. Heavy Rain doesn’t do this. If you don’t think like your character, if you act on the safeties built into the mind of a gamer after all this time, that character could very well die. There’s no safety net, no checkpoints. Suddenly the game doesn’t revolve around you anymore.
At Halloween I went on a little bit of a rant about how good the section in which you chop off your characters finger actually is. What I didn’t say was that all the challenges laid out by the Origami killer are as harrowing, just in different ways. You’re playing a game of wits with a psychopath, trying to second guess how he really wants you to respond to a certain test. What’s more important, your annoying son or your principles? Can you kill an innocent man just for part of a clue? How about risk your own life? How much would a father do to save his son?
In other games, this wouldn’t be much of an issue. He’s the star of the story, therefore there’s always a way out. Lesser games would still let you save the boy even after having declined all the challenges, a miraculous piece of deus ex machina cropping up to ensure it. Not Heavy Rain. Every action has a consequence, and sometimes it can be entirely the wrong one. There’s the fear that one wrong step will see the boy die, and this is a fear you share with the characters. Everything Heavy Rain does not only places you in control of the characters, it lets them into your head. It’s as much an introspective thing as it is a piece of entertainment, a test of how well you know how to read people from their body language, their voice and their actions.
Heavy Rain is the ultimate everyman simulator, no-one is a hero and no-one is a demon. It’s all shades of grey, actions built on motivations and reason rather than plot convenience. It is utter genius.
//Mass Effect 2 (Review – 10/10)
This would have been my game of the year had Heavy Rain not shown up. I’m not sure what it is about Mass Effect 2, but it manages to tap into the primal part of me that used to be filled with things like Star Wars and is currently filled by Highlander. It’s not necessarily the plot or the characters or any of the mechanics, but something about it hooked me.
Perhaps it was the feeling that you were going rogue and dropping off the grid, using the freedom that comes from being legally dead to do what needed to be done. The first game was very much about you as a political instrument, but the sequel is very much you being completely unaccountable. You’re a space cowboy, riding into towns and just generally being a badass without having to worry about the repercussions. The council won’t have you hunted down, Cerberus aren’t going to kick you out into the cold, they need you.
Add to this the character continuity and how your actions in the first game affect the second and you have a universe that feels alive and malleable in a way many other games don’t. You are actually playing through Shepard’s life, making and breaking friendships along the way. It’s a personal history, and it does a lot to making you care about that world and the people you’ve met along the way.
//Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Review coming soon)
While the combat and a lot of the game bits of Enslaved were uninspired, the motion capture technology, coupled with the actors’ performances just blew me away. This was very much a game driven by its narrative, and I have no problem with games like that.
The dynamic between Monkey and Trip is as much about non-verbal communication as it is about the way they talk to each other. Body language is important in conversations, but so few games utilise it properly. It’s not just about people moving, it’s part of what they are saying. Swinging your arms around willy-nilly is not body language. It’s the way you hold yourself, the way your brow furls, the eye contact you make. Enslaved managed to include all this perfectly into the game, which led to a sort of subtlety that you rarely see in this medium
Trip and Monkey’s softening relationship is an evolutionary one, and you can see the changes happen in real time. The trust that builds isn’t instant, it’s a gradual thing that forms as they traverse the wastes, and you see that reflected in how comfortable they appear with each other. They open up, they joke with each other, and you can see their eyes light up. It’s the most human I’ve seen two characters look in any game, even Heavy Rain.
//Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (Review – 8/10)
Every time they release a new Assassin’s Creed game they iron out all the problems the last game had. Assassin’s Creed 2 didn’t really have many problems from my point of view, but the sudden introduction of an ancient super-advanced civilisation was a bit of a punch in the face.
It would have been easy to knock together Brotherhood as a multiplayer focused gaiden game, the singleplayer mode having a story that has no real connection to the main plot line. After all, the games hinge on their being a duel-threaded plot anyway, a gaiden game could just stick to the in-Animus thread and get away with it.
But Brotherhood resists the temptation. Instead we get a story that contains all the swashbuckling and face stabbing we’ve come to love, but with a narrative that actually moves the arc forward at the same time. It’s not a gaiden game, but it so easily could have been a relatively cheap way to snatch a few extra bucks from people invested in the plot arc. It wasn’t, and it was a fantastic game in and of itself, a worthy addition to the series that didn’t retread too much old ground.