Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Impressions: Heavy Rain

Posted by deckard47 on February 24, 2010

A tense convenience store splitscreen scene, starring the Private Detective PC.

Here there be spoilers. So, yeah…

I’m now a few chapters into Heavy Rain, and I have all kinds of exciting things to tell you. First, despite the fact that the game’s dingy, decaying urbam settings are carefully, artfully crafted, it’s an incredibly European game. It’s supposed to be set on the East Coast (somewhere, who knows where, it’s like a movie shot in Vancouver, that “takes place” in Chicago), but every single thing is French. The toilets and bathrooms are separate, the children have some kind of awful Tintin-like Tipi in their room, and all kinds of other little things are just not (to use a phrase I don’t often use) in any way American. Your average hipster Architecture family would have graduated to different racist presents for their kids, I’d think. Casual racism towards Native Americans (of this strange, twice diluted variety, not in the garden variety, institutionalized, brutal way we practice it here in the US) is a specialty of the French, it would seem (watch the movie Cliente, if you want a lesson in this particular brand of bizarre second-hand bigotry).  This serves to undermine the (obviously incredibly careful) work that has gone into world-building in Heavy Rain. Instead of Somewhere, America, it feels like some kind of surreal, Prisoner-like sham is constantly underway. You aren’t really in America, you’re trapped in a not-quite perfectly realized version of America that hides a dark dystopian reality… Or something.

Really though, I find most of that quite charming (although if this game replicates Heavy Rain‘s treatment of African American’s, I’ll be forced to amend that judgment), much like I find the odd, all-over-the-place voice acting to be charming, in its mostly appropriate but always tonally off way. If you play with French subtitles, the sense of living in Mirror Universe America is strengthened, excellently. Unsurprisingly, the game is also incredibly worried about the possibility of the destruction of a happy bourgeois life. They’re all just so happy, but the, their suburban paradise is destroyed! Destroyed, so that they’re forced to move into a scary, poor part of town. Oh no.

The action scenes are really quit fun. I’m not sure what everyone is complaining about when it comes to Heavy Rain‘s controls. They’re too abstract, or something? They’re not like “real” game controls? It’s really unclear. I understand Edge’s issues (article linked here) with the game: button cues are sometimes inexpertly presented or represented… But then there are the reviews that delight in pointing out that the game isn’t always an action game, that it isn’t always “thrilling.” From the Destructoid review (link here):

Fortunately, however, the game’s many boring moments are offset by some of the most intense and sometimes terrifying sequences ever found in a game.

Actually, I’m happy to play games that actually try to inexpertly create an in-game “normal,” only to destroy that normal with the abnormal. Even if action/fighting are a common thing in a game, it’s nice to know that games can tell stories (however badly) with something that isn’t a gun or a fist. Let’s move on to this peculiar nugget of wisdom, again from the Destructoid review:

the very fact that Quantic Dream even attempts a serial killer story in a videogame is worthy of respect.

Really? They are? Actually, I wish they hadn’t. It’s not a genre I find compelling in any media, and it seems to me (from the story so far) that they’ve used it to pigeon-hole their narrative into a rather narrow, uninventive (aside from the TWISTS) space. It just means that their dark gray pallet comes from Poverty and Crime, and not Aliens and Space.

Ultimately, Heavy Rain is an experiment that both succeeded and failed, when it could easily have been a total success if the brains behind it weren’t trying so hard to be smart, and cared more about providing a sensible plot as opposed to a shocking one.

Well then… It’s like some kind of paradox, right? It’s one thing, and the other. I’m trying to remember where I read it, but someone (Quinns from RPS?) recently pointed out that saying that a game was “trying too hard to be smart” was a rather large journalistic mistake. First of all, how many mainstream games “try to be smart” in a way that doesn’t include Retro Chic and Art Deco, Cover mechanics, or Moral Choices? How many? None of them! Personally, I think the fact that the writing behind Heavy Rain was done by someone who actually had an abiding interest in something interesting is almost revolutionary. It’s not a game based on the insipid, stupid ramblings of an asshole, couched in the obvious struggles of robotic fathers and mutated sons (similar to Heavy Rain, I’ll admit), and it’s not a thrice-regurgitated, stupidly self-referential attempt at gravity, bombast, or “morality.” It may be badly written (edit: I can now safely say that it is badly written), have bad voice acting (I actually like the French voice work, although any Francophones in the audience can mock me for that), and traffic in clichés, but it’s still not a story about a Man who Travels through a Dangerous Shooting Gallery to Save his Girlfriend/City/Ship/People/World. Just in that, it’s (sadly) somewhat unique among video games. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

You know what is annoying about Heavy Rain? The awful, badly-explained difficulty setting. I spent a minute or two figuring out which was hard and which wasn’t. Likewise, the way many scenes always end one way or another (their “choices” are in no way choices) is pretty transparent, even to a first-time player. That’s the kind of thing we should be critiquing. Making fun of a game simply because it isn’t like what you think “games” should be is a pretty arrogant, foolish thing to do. I’d like to think that no one is that arrogant, to think that they can guard the gates of Gaming High Culture, but I’m obviously wrong. I’ll leave this one in the hands of Corvus Elrod (link to Semionaut’s Notebook!):

1a) If I ever suggest there is only one “correct” method of telling stories with video games–smack me.
1b) If I ever suggest that there should only be one method of examining any media–smack me again.

Let’s add a third, silent point there: If I ever suggest that there is only one “correct” method of controlling games and game characters, smack me. Yes, I think that should do it nicely.

This might be a good time to say that I’m really digging Call of Pripyat and Neptune’s Bounty. So much. More on those two later this week.

[Edit]: I just finished the first part where you play as Madison, and it was pretty bad. It’s a creepy, highly sexualized home assault where Madison gets attacked by a bunch of masked men, one of whom then slits her throat (but it’s a dream!). Of course, she does this all in her underwear, or naked, or in post-shower underwear again. It’s so obviously, cheaply about the threat of gynocide (BSG example linky) and rape. It really telegraphs the level of sophistication that went into writing parts (or all?) of this game. Fantastique.


4 Responses to “Impressions: Heavy Rain”

  1. Denis Farr said

    The Madison sections creep me out, a lot.

    When she’s not being nurse, she’s being a journalist, which always gets her into violent sections that threaten sexual assault. I really have a problem reconciling this with her role in the game, which is as a foil and not a fully developed character with a personality.

    Yes, the writing is bad, and it’s in sections like Madison’s that this becomes a real setback.

    This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the game overall, but it has some really, really big issues.

    • deckard47 said

      I just read your second Heavy Rain post, and you really said what I was thinking (RE Madison/the general plot). I wish they’d kept the taxidermist scene in the game (it’s DLC, right?), so that we could see her _being_ a journalist, but then again, it looked like another opportunity for them to throw a sexual assaulter at her in a small, scary environment. She’s the only person whose gameplay is (as you pointed out) completely dictated by and bound up in another’s interests and plot (Ethan’s, mostly). You could have cut her out of the game, and still hit all of the same dramatic notes and plot points (although then you wouldn’t be able to settle your Male lead back into bourgeois domestic bliss, as you can in the “4 Heroes” Epilogue).

      Actually, that’s what strikes me as especially bad: it seems to me that she is there specifically to “provoke” sexual assault and sexualized violence. As you note, her character is never fully fleshed out. Ignoring what admirable qualities she may possess as a character (and the fact that she’s the only playable woman), it’s as if Quantic Dream wanted to add scenes of implied sexual assault/violence that would “affect” their players (as David Cage always says he wants to do), and they realized the best way to do it would be to work an attractive young woman into the playable cast.

      If this were a movie or book, I’d say her existence was predicated on the author(s)’s desire to include suposedly titillating, violent material in their work. I hope they release the DLC soon so I can play as Madison some more, but I doubt she’ll be any better written, or problematically presented, there.

  2. Brendan said

    I think the only really problem I had with the controls were their occasional inconsistencies. Or, rather, their inconsistencies in relation to how I am used to games being controlled. If L1 controls a certain limb in this scene, I would expect L1 to control that same limb in the next. I don’t feel Heavy Rain can be criticized for the few scenes where this wasn’t the case, but it was off-putting for me for a while.

    While the story is incredibly cliche, I still found it so refreshing to be playing a gae that was unlike any other game I have played before. This wasn’t a platformer or an FPS or an RPG; this was something new to me, and for that reason alone I was able to forgive most of its cliches. Most of. Not all. But I won’t rant about the things that really bugged me as they were later in the game and some people probably haven’t gotten up to them yet.

    With the ‘choices’ (or lack thereof), it really bugged me at first how the game forced me to do things while trying to pretend I had a choice. The best example of this was when I inspected the crimescene in the first FBI Profiler scene (I forget his name). The Lieutenant asked if I was ready to leave the scene and I said ‘yes’. I then followed him out of the scene, tried to get in the car, and my character looked across at the body and said “hmmm, I should probably inspect the body first.”

    I hadn’t even noticed the body while I was in the field (I am a pretty lousy investigator, I admit), but the game should not have given me the choice to leave when I clearly had no choice at all.

    That said, some of the broader choices later in the game had me really on edge and swearing at the tv and swear-to-god trembling. Most of these choices were whether or not to complete the task set for Ethan by the Origami Killer. In the end, there were two tasks that I just couldn’t bring myself to do. One because I was scared I would die, the other because it was just wrong. I had to live with the consequences of these choices n a very real way at the end of the game, so that felt meaningful.

    Or rather (Sorry, this is gettig long) as I hav eonly played through once so far, perhaps if I play again I will discover those choices didn’t really change anything. That will be dissapointing. However, the fact that on my first playthrough my choices FELT like they made a difference, I think that made a difference to my overall experience.

    Anyway, I will stop rambling now.

    I was also going to post a link to the Borderhouse Blog’s article on Madison (, but then I realised that the guy who wrote it has already commented right above me, so no need to! Oh well!

  3. […] Impressions: Heavy Rain: The Heavy Rain conversation: […]

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