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Heavy Rain PS3 shoots for the moon, but while the filmic nature is impressive it doesn't distract from the juvenile game play. In parts scary, while in others unbelievable. A game I enjoyed watching more than I enjoyed playing.
Heavy Rain aspires to blend cinematic narrative and interaction. Set against a film-noir detective thriller, the tale tackles a number of adult themes as character's lives become entwined in their search for the Origami Killer.
It's directed by David Cage and developed by Quantic Dream with a real emphasis on characterisation and emotion through both narrative and controls. While it is hard to ignore the importance of what Heavy Rain attempts, the manipulation of the narrative leaves a lingering sense of missed opportunity.
Heavy Rain appears to suffer from multiple personality disorder, fittingly as this is one of the key themes of the game. Yet despite having made this diagnosis I remain unable to workout which of its personalities is dominant as it flitters back and forth between movie and game. Occasionally it manages to blend the two media, but all too often finding the two personas jarringly separate.
I didn't feel any sense of impact to my interactions. Described in the tutorial as 'unfolding' actions, play frequently consisted of carefully and methodically acting out complex onscreen prompts. Actions were indicated by icons strategically placed on the location of my natural focal point, forcing me to contort my hand around the controller with multiple buttons - often mirroring and recreating for me the on-screen difficulties. Mechanically and emotionally it brought me closer to the character's experience, but I never quite escaped feeling that I was just choosing which movie reel to play next.
On the few occasions I was granted direct control of a character, the visuals often stumbled. Tasked with guiding my character through the environments their rigid character animations fast became starkly evident. Under my manipulation characters moved unnaturally around the world as I struggled with unfamiliar controls, bumping in to tables and strangers heedlessly. It is a common enough occurrence in games, but with so much reliance on the connection Heavy Rain's stilted animations fundamentally hurts the experience for me.
I was still the viewer rather than the actor.
Heavy Rain tackles some difficult topics, child abduction and murder being two most obvious. From the beginning pace is intentionally slow and spends time properly framing the characters and motivations. It does a good job, I felt for my characters, but I was still the viewer rather than the actor.
Split personalities is not only a theme of the game, but was also mirrored in my own motivations and conflicted desires. Initially I tried to role-play the cast, behaving as I felt they would. I had no urge to test the limits of the game, happy to go where it intended. I would listen to character's musings, searching for every hint available in order to build their mental profiles. But even with visual clues the breadcrumbs left by the characters left me wanting to shake things up with an unanticipated outcome or choice.
This is a genre that could prove an evolutionary dead-end in gaming narrative, unless someone finds away to better realise the concept's promise.
Facts and motivations that were key to the plot remained withheld from me. Was this just because my characters wouldn't have known? Unfortunately I suspect the reason for withholding information was simpler, that the movie element failed to hold up under the strain imposed by game mechanics. That the limitations of his story forced the director to pull narrative slight of hand to keep finale hidden until he wanted it revealed.
This all creates a fascinating talking piece, adult topics and sensitive apprehension are as intriguing as they are rare. But as a cinematic experience, it serves as a case study in how games are still very much in their infancy.
A narrative structure riddled with holes to accommodate a mystery, and game play that is ultimately a complex game of Simon Says, simply fell short of what I hoped for. It's not that I didn't enjoy Heavy Rain, it's a milestone title for what it attempts. But this is a genre that could prove an evolutionary dead-end in gaming narrative, unless someone finds away to better realise the concept's promise.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: