Four years ago, while sitting in a tiny, one bedroom apartment in the scorching heat of the summer months, my then-boyfriend-now-husband introduced me to the casting reel for an upcoming gaming experience called Heavy Rain. Mary – whose stirring performance as a spurned housewife was motion-capped and digitally rendered with incredible detail – would continue to stir up conversation, along with a great deal of speculation, for years to come.
Developer: Quantic Dream
Genre: Interactive Drama
ESRB: M (for Mature)
Number of players: 1
Release Date: February 23, 2010
The genre of interactive drama is relatively new, with Quantic Dream’s innovative ideas paving the way. With the release of 2005’s Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy to us North Americans), published by Atari, Quantic Dream hurled gamers in an entirely new direction. We could no longer afford to weigh our decisions carefully. We had to react. Our decisions echoed through the rest of the story. There was no quick-load if you made the wrong decision or failed to react in time. Instead, your characters slowly lost the will to continue on with their individual quests. Or, in the case of the story’s main character Lucas, the character simply lost his mind.
Heavy Rain further builds upon the notion of decision making with resonating consequences and couples it with the sophisticated control structure that the PlayStation 3 allows. The Six Axis controller provides an interactive quality that wasn’t possible with the development of Indigo Prophecy. The complexity of the interactions depends on the action that needs to be performed. Some actions require you to “slowly unfold the action”. Others require a sharp jolt. Still others require a twitch. For example: press the X button before you get smacked in the head with a lead pipe; slowly unfold your movement to disinfect a wound; or get out of the way by jolting the controller to the left.
It goes without saying that Heavy Rain far surpasses the graphics of any of the other games currently on the market. If games like inFAMOUS, Prototype, and Batman’s Arkham Asylum are tributes to how far we’ve come, Heavy Rain is testament to what the future is going to look like. At the 2006 E3 Expo, when Mary made her debut, it showed the range of emotions that the game engine was capable of. From the haunted look in Mary’s eyes when she recounts how she discovered her husband was cheating on her, to the tears that streamed down her face, to the heavy rain that poured down from outside the kitchen window – the detail, the accuracy, the range, the depth… all of it created an experience that had been previously unknown in the gaming industry.
Technical sophistication and complexity aside, this game is a marvel of modern storytelling; with story branching, intricate subplots, character interactions, and seemingly infinite permutations for any given decision. The pacing is masterful. Its noir atmosphere is engaging and lush without taking on the quality of cheap, pulp fiction. The game’s plot is based around the interactions of four main characters: Ethan Mars (architect and father of two), Madison Paige (insomniac journalist), Scott Shelby (private investigator and ex-cop), and Norman Jayden (FBI agent). The story plays out like a modern noir novel, with the characters each attempting to figure out who the Origami Killer is and attempting to save the latest of the victims. The characters have unique perspectives of the story; each has a different angle for solving the case of the Origami Killer.
The best part of interactive drama, specifically Heavy Rain, is the action. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, like I know I can sometimes be, this is the game for you. After every fight scene and every major interactive sequence, your heart is pounding and scrambling to get out of your chest; you can feel the blood pumping in your ears as you attempt to escape, find a piece of the Origami Killer’s, or manage to find temporary respite in the arms of a lover (the potential love scene is by far my favourite interaction sequence of the game). It’s not the traditional action of, say, a first-person shooter where you stake your life on dodging bullets, or a platformer, where you could fall to your doom at any time. Instead, the action stems from the knowledge that every decision, no matter how small, resonates through the game. You have to move quickly during the action scene, react quickly during character interaction, and hope that you twitched the right way. If you didn’t, the consequences range from minor to earth-shattering.
That being said, once you’ve had the opportunity to play through the chapters once, you have ability to go back and replay the chapters that you want to re-experience. The possibilities for any given chapter give the game a high re-playability value. You can pick up the story from any chapter and choose whether or not to save your progress and continue with the game. If you choose not to save it, you’re able to experience different choices without it impacting the rest of the game. If you do choose to save your progress, it will resonate through the game in unexpected ways.
Heavy Rain hooked me like a great novel sometimes can: it grabbed my attention and held on until I’d gotten all the way through. I spent thirteen hours (in two huge spurts, I might add) weaving through the story, attempting to solve the mystery of the Origami Killer. When you’re finished the game, you’ll want to keep on playing; keep trying out the possibilities and experimenting with the different possibilities, obtaining as many of the endings as you can. This game is a marvelous experience that you won’t be able to get out of your head.