I’ve not really played a game like Heavy Rain before, and whether you take that as a good thing or a bad thing, it’s definitely an interesting experience. Despite a slightly shaky start (I kid you not, the objective of the first level is to have a shave and play with your two kids), Heavy Rain develops into something quite unique and engaging. It helps that after two hours of numbingly saccharine family drudgery, the game kicks into gear, dudes get kidnapped, and we’re even treated to some digitised female nudity in a gloriously gratuitous shower scene. This is what I came for!
Pictured: serious art.
One of the game’s true strengths is that, if you die, as any of the four playable characters, the story goes on without them. They’re irrevocably lost, with no reset button or extra lives. Anywhere between none and all of the central characters can make it to the end of the game, and that makes every action scene really tense. At literally any moment during the game’s many crucial fight sequences you might make a crucial misstep press L1 instead of L2, and get a pneumatic device upside your face, drilling your character out of the narrative. And knowing that you’re a hair’s breadth from determining whether your character makes it out alive – or is unceremoniously ejected from the story forever – makes the game distinctly involving.
David Cage is the game’s writer and director, titles I think he takes a bit too literally at times, and I’m not sure if he’s made a game or a film you control with quick time events. I’d like to say he’s made an interactive narrative, if that term didn’t make me want to vomit loudly and violently all over myself, as if my body was literally trying to expunge the pretention from me like a virus. With the game’s cinematic ambitions you could argue that Cage is the game’s auteur, even though the idea of a video game auteur will cause the sphincters of film students the world over to clench in a mixture of fear and abject contempt.
Bonus non-sequitur 1
Like an auteur, David Cage brings to Heavy Rain his own set of preoccupations and stylistic hallmarks. For a start, the guy seems pretty keen to make narrative-led games. Fahrenheit, in many ways the spiritual antecedent to Heavy Rain, was all about the story as well, and had a well-written script (until the final third where it all gets way too H.P. Lovecraft) and interesting characters (until the final third, where the strong, complex female lead throws her kit off in an unnecessary sex scene and the male lead gets superpowers and can fly).
So if Fahrenheit was essentially a millennial adventure game (eurgh), where simple gameplay mechanics like picking things up, talking to people, and talking to people allow you to explore a story, then Heavy Rain is, I suppose, a step towards interactive narrative (double eurgh). Except Heavy Rain isn’t really the revolution in game storytelling Cage thinks it is, considering how it’s essentially an adventure game tryst through a sub b-movie noir thriller, and especially considering how you don’t really make decisions about whether anyone lives or dies so much as spastically hammer at the controller hoping your character doesn’t get stabbed in the eye.
Bonus non-sequitur 2.
Which brings me onto another of Cage’s stylistic predilections, and the one I’m least sure I agree with – the bizarre gameplay design. Both Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain match controller movements to the essence of the gesture or action the character is performing in the game. I think I understand what Cage is trying to do, matching in-game actions to gestures made on the controller so you’re more immersed in their experience, but that’s like saying being really good at laser tag means you’re ready for a tour in Afghanistan.
If it’s about immersion, then I don’t think it works – moving the analogue stick out and around doesn’t simulate in the slightest what it’s like to open a fridge door, and even as a gesture-based mechanic it feels coldly removed from the actions of the characters. The bit where it does work, though, is the oft-discussed episode where you have to cut off your own finger with whichever device is closest to hand. And it’s at least better than what you used during the equivalent sequences in Fahrenheit, where you basically navigated fights and chases using a Dance Dance Revolution mechanic, with a primary-coloured directional pad, no less.
Bonus non-sequitur 3.
Another thing that seems to be present in both games (I’m ignoring Omikron: The Nomad Soul, largely because I haven’t played it, but also because I’ve heard it’s rubbish) is the weather. The whole reason that Fahrenheit is called Fahrenheit is because the whole game takes place during an ever-worsening blizzard that may or may not (spoiler warning: it is) be the end of the world. Obviously enough, the rain in Heavy Rain is one of the central elements of the plot, as each of the Origami Killer’s victims is drowned in rain water while they lay trapped in a secluded storm drain. Just as every scene in Fahrenheit begins by displaying the steadily-decreasing temperature, every scene in Heavy Rain helpfully lets us know the level of rainfall, and consequently, how much longer you have to save Ethan Mars’ son.
I’m not sure whether the snow in Fahrenheit or the rain in Heavy Rain necessarily function that robustly as metaphors or symbols in their respective fictions, but you can’t ignore the fact that Cage makes the weather central to his stories, however superficial (or not) they may be. Why he does this, I couldn’t possibly say. You could say that it represents an elemental, uncontrollable side of human nature, but in everyone in David Cage’s games is such a total wimp that I don’t think this really sticks. Yeah, Fahrenheit is about the wintry supernatural apocalypse and Heavy Rain is about a serial killer, but I don’t think the snow or the rain in these games reflects any kind of uncomfortable primal truths about the characters. My guess would be that it’s a tonal thing, and that Cage uses them because they instantly make his games SOMBRE AND SERIOUS.
I wonder where Cage is going to go next with his weather obsession. So far he’s done cold and wet, which doesn’t leave him many interesting possibilities left. Unless he does a game called Overcast, where you play an English vampire who has to avoid sunlight during his daytime adventures by staying under the cover of cloud. I’d probably play that game.