Review | Heavy Rain
Format: PlayStation 3 | Genre: Adventure | Publisher: Sony | Developer: Quantic Dream | Release date: 26/02/10 | RRP: £49.99
Forget what you know. Forget what you think you know. Forget what you think you’re not really sure you know. Basically, start fresh.
Surrounding the tumult of coverage of Heavy Rain before it was released, there was a lot of talk of whether this would be a game, or just a film that’s three times as long as most, and with some low level of interaction that makes you think you’re in control. The problem I’m facing, and that Heavy Rain faces when you’re presented with it, is that both of these assumptions are right.
It’s a issue of perspective; do you slip sympathetically into the shoes of the four leads of the game, or do you use your position of omniscience and power to manipulate and steer them into a more rewarding and involved narrative? The problem here is that, more than any other game I’ve played, Heavy Rain doesn’t explain itself. It doesn’t feel it needs to, and – in a way – that might be its undoing.
We’re competitive beings. We want to win, and I think gamers, more than most, have this urge planted deep within them. Losing a fight isn’t an option, so we do everything we possibly can to win it, and continue. This has been instilled in us over years of Game Over screens, limited lives and checkpoints. Games exist for the rule of trial and error; we try something, we fail, so we try something else. It’s worked for 30 years, and it’s understandable if, when presented with something that doesn’t follow those rules, we follow them anyway.
Heavy Rain isn’t challenging – at least, not in the traditional sense. The challenge here isn’t in whether you can press the buttons fast enough, or throw your controller to the left quickly enough to trigger the corresponding action on-screen. The challenge here is in choice. Do you choose to let Ethan succeed in this scene, or fail? Does Scott Shelby win this fight, or get his arse kicked? Does Norman Jayden find the essential clue in all of this, or miss it and fail to find the killer? These are questions you have to answer, but the game is placing both results in your hands.
Quantic Dream have made a big deal about the complete lack of fail state in the game, but only by focusing on the negatives. As in, they state that any and all of the four characters you play with can die. They set this out as if it’s a challenge, saying to the player, “see if you can make it through the game without anyone losing their life.” But that’s not the challenge. The challenge is seeing if you can bear to let any of them die.
They’re clever; they have created a set of pretty rounded characters, and given you enough scenes focusing on the peripherals of each of them for them to exist somewhat separate from the story they occupy. Ethan Mars is a man haunted by the horrific death of his son, Jason, to the extent where relations with his remaining son, Shaun, are strained. There’s an active lack of care about him that speaks to the crushing blow that losing his child has dealt him; he’s unshaven, and his house isn’t decorated, instead littered with moving boxes and dust. The architectural drawing you so joyously created in the first scene lies under a thick sheen of detritus.
Madison Paige is an insomniac, terrorised by dreams of rape and attack, fighting masked men in the fitful sleep she just about manages to claw free in the early hours of the morning. It’s rarely touched upon again, but it’s the theme of dependence that is the common thread between all of the characters. Mars is dependent on his children, Jayden on the drug Tripto, Madison on sleep, and Shelby somewhat on his asthma inhaler. It might seem like a cheap trick to instil vulnerability into each of them, but it works.
WELL, HOW DID I GET HERE?
Before delving into the fidelity of the story, you need to look at the genesis of Heavy Rain. Its obvious predecessor was Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy outside of the EU), Quantic Dream’s previous work, filled with mysticism, zombies and the anthropomorphic projection of the Internet. Filled with intrusive Simon Says QTEs, it was a game stifled by the form; it seemed much more like Quantic Dream wanted to create a film, but didn’t have the budget. Regardless, it seemed to work, and despite its flaws it was an enjoyable story to engage with.