In Retrospect – Why You Should Buy Heavy Rain

Seeing as how the Internet’s still buzzing over the awesome Kara video from last week, I thought that this would be a good time to revisit Quantic Dream’s last major effort – Heavy Rain. I wrote this piece back in 2010, but I think it’s still valid today. Without further ado, here you go.

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Why You Should Buy Heavy Rain

An Unashamedly Subjective Article

First things first : this is not a review of Heavy Rain. In fact, portions of this article were written before Heavy Rain even launched here in India. If I might quote Tenacious D here, this is just a tribute.

Heavy Rain is an interactive drama psychological thriller video game created by Quantic Dream exclusively for the PlayStation 3. The game is written and directed by Quantic Dream’s founder and CEO David Cage. Heavy Rain’s story is a dramatic thriller modeled after film noir, featuring four protagonists involved with the mystery of the Origami Killer, a serial killer who uses extended periods of rainfall to drown his victims.

The player’s decisions and actions during the game will affect the narrative; the main characters can be killed, and certain actions may lead to different scenes and endings.

[taken from Wikipedia]
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Each of us has at least one game that he will remember for as long as he clicks a mouse button in anger. The reasons behind our choices are about as varied as you’d expect from a bunch of gamers, with all the choices that our chosen passion offers us. For a lot of us, Half-Life was such a game. For others, it might have been Diablo. A more recent candidate for the honor would be the Call of Duty series, and I’m sure GTA’s there or thereabouts as well. For some of us, it might even have been Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, and who are we to judge? My point is that each of us have had the fortune to encounter at least one game in our gaming histories that proceeded to shake things up and leave us, as gamers, the better for it. A lot of us, I’m sure, have thought at some point that they had it all figured out and seen all there is to see in gaming; the boundaries were mapped, the concept was clear. No surprises. And each and every one of us has had a game that came along just when we were getting comfy on our couch of jaded cynicism and proceeded to blow the ever-loving stuffing out of our minds. For me, that game was Indigo Prophecy aka Fahrenheit.

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Prophecy Fulfilled

It simply blew my then-18-year-old mind. And it did this all in such an unassuming, under-the-radar way that I was simply flabbergasted. Why hadn’t I heard of this before? Why hadn’t anybody else? How come nobody I knew appeared to have played this game? I immediately started plugging it to everybody that asked (and quite a few that didn’t), all with the righteous zeal of a fanatic. The opening sequence has to be one of the most memorable ones of all time; perhaps not so much in terms of presentation as in terms of nature. When where you are (WHO you are, more importantly) and what you’ve just done hits you…it’s a goosebumps-inducing thing.
Just when your nerves settle, perspective shifts brilliantly. But the real clincher was the way the game absolutely messed with my mind, time and time again, when I wasn’t expecting it. It became the standard by which I judged other games’ attempts to get inside my head, and it coloured my opinions on all gaming from there on out.

The game had its detractors, and I can understand why. It did tail off quite a bit towards the end and, like so many other games that dabbled in the supernatural, you ended up feeling like it bit off more than it could chew. However, the point still remains that it tried to do things no other game had tried up until then (as well as a couple of things that had been tried before, such as the interactive sex scenes; one of my few major quibbles with the game). It might have fallen short of all its goals; but that it tried to go in the directions it did is both note- and respect-worthy.

So when I heard that Quantic Dream was making a game for the PlayStation 3, I was very excited. When David Cage, the man who designed and directed Indigo Prophecy, clearly stated that there would be no supernatural elements in the game, my increasing excitement was only matched by my relief. And when the news finally broke that this game, tentatively titled Heavy Rain, would be the spiritual successor to Indigo Prophecy, I…well, I went out and bought a PlayStation 3, is what I did.

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Rainfall

And so, on to Heavy Rain. It has done everything that has been asked of it till date. It’s walked the walk since that first impressive tech demo back in 2006, and Quantic Dream’s talked the talk with their extensive and engrossing developer diaries. The graphics are very good, the content is unquestionably unique. It also had one of my favourite trailers of last year, which I urge you guys to check out. I spread the word as much as I could, but it didn’t seem nearly enough; so I waited for the game to launch and prove me right.

Finally, the game released on February 23rd to a fairly lukewarm response. Reviews were generally good; opinions were far less consistent. That said, I couldn’t find much evidence of anybody being particularly interested very much, either way. People just didn’t seem to be giving this game the attention it was due.

I, thankfully, am not people. I bought a PlayStation 3 for this game, as previously mentioned. (Well, and maybe one or two other little-known ones as well…) By this point, it should be clear why I didn’t try to write a review of Heavy Rain. I’m obviously far too biased to write a subjective analysis of this game. The only thing I could do is try to get across why exactly this game is significant; and that is what I shall try to do now.

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Story v Gameplay

John Carmack – lead wizard at id Software (yes, that id Software), co-creator of the entire first-person-shooter genre and technological genius – was of the opinion that gameplay was the only factor determining the quality of a game. He once famously said :
Story in a game is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.
We’ve come a long way since then, and we’ve had the good fortune to enjoy a number of remarkable games made by people who obviously disagreed with Carmack’s statement. The folks at Quantic Dream evidently not only disagree with that statement; they’ve set their stall out to disprove it by creating the very antithesis of that argument.

At its very core, Heavy Rain is a story covered by a thin layer of gameplay. Boiled down to its bare essentials, it is nothing more than the technological great-grandchild of those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure children’s books; although that comparison is quite possibly unjust and almost certainly an oversimplification. Make no mistake; this is an adult story and it requires adult sensibilities to match.

Every character is flawed and somehow more substantial because of that. The flaws range from insomnia to a drug addiction, but their consequences and the ways the characters cope with them – these are things any of us can relate to. And it’s in this way, by winning the small victories, that Heavy Rain slowly sinks its hooks into you; until you realize that you’re actually invested in the story it has to tell, more so than you would be in a ‘normal’ game.

Immersion is the sum of the experience that Heavy Rain has to offer; if you resist the immersion factor, you will come away from it with absolutely nothing. If you are willing to let yourself be drawn in, then I guarantee that, irrespective of who you are, you will find something in the experience that strikes a chord. And that fact is key to my argument – you don’t have to be a gamer to be affected by this game.

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Identity Crisis

There’s a bit of a debate going on right now about whether games are art or not; if you haven’t heard about this, I recommend you check these links out (in the order given) –

They make for interesting reading/viewing.

Now, I don’t intend to enter that debate at this time. I will say, however, that I believe that the games that genuinely affect us the most are the ones that :

  • We can relate to
  • Cause an emotional reaction of some sort

Obviously, the presence of one of the above doesn’t exclude the other. More pertinently, I think these are criteria by which we judge any piece of art, whether consciously or not; and if a game must ever be seriously recognized as a medium of entertainment with a global relevance (i.e., not just to gamers), it must satisfy the above criteria.

So, if we are going to treat Heavy Rain not just as an example of a game but purely on its merits as a form of interactive entertainment, how does it fare?

It fares pretty darn well, I’d say. I mean, I don’t know about you guys out there, but personally I can’t relate to a jumped-up super-soldier hell-bent on filling a bunch of bad guys with lead. Those games have their place, I shan’t deny it; I enjoy them as much as anybody else. However, I’m not always as invested into those games as I might be in a movie or a TV show; and that’s the barrier we’re looking at very closely in this article. Also, it’s undeniably true that it’s games of the sort I’ve described above that non-gamers see when they look at the world of gaming. Those, and the obligatory horror stories about World of Warcraft; they see those and they think they have us pegged. However, there’s much more to our world than that. We’ve had games in the past that blurred the line between games and…something else. Stuff like Wii Fit, and probably Just Dance as well, fall into that category, among others. By and large, you won’t find anything more than casual games on that list, however; the kind that aren’t meant to leave you with anything more than perhaps a light sweat and a few burnt calories.Heavy Rain blurs that line as well, but it does so in a very different manner. It represents the first serious (in all senses of the word) contender in the hitherto-unexplored genre of interactive drama.

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Baby Steps

I’ve often found that the trophies a game has can sometimes give you an insight into the nature of the game or the mindset of the developers. For example, Uncharted 2 had the Beast Mode trophy obtained by, and I quote, “petting all the yaks in a village”; something that clued me in nicely to Uncharted’s and Naughty Dog’s particular brand of offbeat humour. God of War had the Bloody Hell trophy, obtained by covering Kratos in 500 buckets of blood; other people’s blood, of course. Fun fact : I got that trophy within the first hour of playing the game, and that more or less confirmed for me what God of War was all about. (as if I needed anything else!)

In the case of Heavy Rain, there is a rather telling trophy obtained early on, just as you finish the prologue. It doesn’t require you to do anything special, it’s unlocked automatically and can’t be missed. It’s titled simply “Interactive Drama”; the description below that reads, quite simply, “Thank you for supporting Interactive Drama.”

That one line speaks volumes about the way Quantic Dream viewed the game as they were developing it. They put ludicrous amounts of effort into this game, and they did all this in the realization that it could all be for nothing. This trophy is both a tongue-in-cheek admission of the fact that the most important choice of all the ones you can make with regards to this open-ended game is the one you make with your wallet; before you so much as open the box. More importantly, however, it’s also a tantamount recognition of the fact that here is an effort, a movement, an endeavour that needs supporting.

We could be seeing the start of something here. As of now, it’s still kicking around in an embryonic form. It might catch someone’s interest, or it might wither away out of sight and out of mind. But that’s the wonderful thing about gaming; it’s one of the simplest forms of democracy in the world. We vote with the money we spend; where we spend that money determines what we get, not only in the present but in the future.

Who knows, if there are enough like-minded people out there…someday, maybe not too long from now, we might see more games like Heavy Rain that push the genre-defining envelope and blur that line between a game and any other form of mainstream media.

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Conclusion

The point, quite simply, is this : Heavy Rain will probably not be the Game of the Year  2010. It will probably not win many awards. It will probably not be globally recognized. It might not even sell well (Edit : Happily, it appears I was wrong about the last of those; now, back to praying I’m wrong about the others as well!) but despite ALL of this, it is in its own way quite possibly a ground-breaker much like the Wii was.

As such, Heavy Rain is something that might very well change the way we look at games; but, more importantly, it might change the way non-gamers look at games as well. And that, comrades, is well worth the ₹2500 price of entry.

About Arjun Sukumaran

Oh, impatient and unsubtle man!

Posted on March 21, 2012, in In Retrospect and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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