Heavy Rain (2010, Quantic Dream, PS3 only)
In 1999, I was very excited about the release of Shenmue on the Dreamcast console. The conceit behind that game was you were in a completely open world where you could interact with everything. That had me very interested, while the game’s action mechanic didn’t seem as appealing. For instance, if you were in a footchase with someone, buttons would flash on screen and you would have a couple seconds to press the corresponding one on your controller. At the time, I found that style of play a little stressful and not very fun. Heavy Rain doesn’t have the freedom and openness, but makes that initially frustrating game play riveting.
In an unnamed metropolitan city, we find ourselves in the shoes of architect Ethan Mars, a family man with a beautiful wife and two sons. His happy life turns to tragedy when his eldest, Jason is hit by a car and put in a coma. Ethan’s marriage falls apart and he ends up sharing custody of his younger son, Shaun. A second horrific tragedy strikes when Shaun disappears and appears to be the victim of the Origami Killer, a criminal plaguing the city. You will simultaneously play as Madison Paige; a journalist who befriends Ethan, Norman Jayden; an FBI agent using experimental VR tech to investigate the Origami Killer, and Scott Shelby; an ex-cop turned crusading P.I. out to avenge the victims of the Origami Killer. The game is divided into alternating chapters as these characters pursue their individual paths, while occasionally crossing over.
What stands out most about Heavy Rain over traditional video games, is that you can’t die in a way that ends the game. Instead, characters can be wounded and make mistakes that branch the story in different directions. Near the end of the game the possibility of death becomes a major reality, but up until then you constantly feel progression even if you aren’t making headway in the case. For example, Shelby and his partner visit a local repair shop where things go bad. Before they can leave you (as Shelby) have to wipe your prints from everything you touched in the store. If you fail to wipe down everything the story branches into you being brought in for questioning. This type of game play comes across as a more complex version of a Choose Your Own Adventure.
There are other types of play moments that involve a limited amount of time. Fights with characters consist of a button flashing on the screen, which you must hit within seconds or you miss a block or the chance to throw a punch of your own. Occasionally you end up in a grapple with a foe which requires you to quickly tap a button to break through. Other moments involve the physically movement of the controller to emulate a character’s on screen action. There’s also certain challenges that involve your hands contorting unnaturally on the controller as your avatar on screen must contort to escape being bound or restrained.
Heavy Rain manages to deliver an interactive cinematic story that will pull you deep into the drama. From the excitement of footchases and fights, to the shocking reveal of the Origami Killer’s identity I was completely absorbed.