Heavy Rain Review
Posted April 2, 2012 by Joel L. (125)
Quantic Dream director David Cage has expressed his desire to move users with his work. To do this, he has forgone traditional video game genres to make what is self described as an “interactive drama.” Perhaps it is more of a reinterpretation of the adventure genre that hasn’t been revisited much in recent years, but the classification isn’t what is important. What is important is that, while there may be a great example of an interactive drama sometime in the future, Heavy Rain isn’t one now. A good drama should bring the audience closer to its characters and their plights, but Heavy Rain does everything it can to push the user away.
The user controls four primary characters who each have their own stakes in stopping a serial killer who drowns young boys and then leaves them on display in open lots along with a flower and origami figure. Having such a large nucleus of central characters ensures that the death of one won’t stop the story from continuing. This gives the initial appearance that Quantic Dream is playing for keeps and that users should take special care in their actions. In practicality, the scenarios are tuned so that it is unlikely any main characters will die until late in the game (and even then, I wouldn’t call those late game obstacles very difficult to pull off).
If one of the player characters had to be singled out as the main character, perhaps the best case could be made for Ethan Mars because soon enough it is his son who is kidnapped by the killer. Of course, the killer doesn’t drown the children right away. Instead, Ethan gets the opportunity to save his son if he can complete a series of dangerous trials. The trials themselves are simple enough to be believable. However, all of them are either controlled by tablet computers or monitored by the killer via a camera and both of those scenarios beg the question of how much time and resources the killer has available.
The user also controls Madison Paige, whose connection to the case is through Ethan. You’ll learn early on that she suffers from insomnia, but very little is known about her character until much later in the story. Instead, Quantic Dream relies on titillation to maintain interest. In her introduction, the design does everything short of forcing the player to make her take a shower complete with lurid options for player interactivity. Where is the soap? With the story taking so long to make any information available about her as a human being, this early impression sticks. The character just comes off as exploitative.
There are also two investigators on the case of the Origami Killer. Scott Shelby is a private eye hired by the families of the previous victims to bring the killer to justice. Norman Jayden doesn’t even have that secondary contact with the victims. He is a profiler from the FBI compelled both by his duty as an agent and his understandable desire to stop of the murders. Unlike the person-to-person police work of Shelby, Jayden has the benefit of a science-fiction-like device called ARI. It allows him to break down crime scenes into a digital interface for fast processing and it’s completely out of place in the world. It’s as if technological advances exist only for the convenience of the plot and the streamlining of game systems.
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