April 30, 2010

But What is the Next Step in the Interactive Drama?

Remember, this is the day where I take the Spoiler Gloves off. If you care about Heavy Rain Spoilers, come back tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll have some non-spoilery crap for you to read instead. If you read on, you’ve been warning.


If you don’t care about spoilers, or if you’ve played Heavy Rain, I’m just going to start by saying you should play Press X to Jason. It’s a completely awesome and accurate depiction of the start of the game. You can refresh yourself before I go on rambling!

I was not expecting Heavy Rain to be so Saw.
I mean, I guess I should have. It made sense the moment I got into the game. But Saw annoys me, and I didn’t really want to play Saw: the Game. That just didn’t seem like fun.

However, going through the trials as Ethan presented some very interesting decisions on the part of me the player. Basically, I had to decide: was I going to make these decisions as me, or as the character, and if I was going to make them as the character, who was the character?
The part that exemplified this for me, and I assume most players, was the fourth trial, where he was told he had to kill someone. As me, I don’t want to kill anyone. I’m in it to save people. Be a good guy. However, was Ethan? This was a dude who just chopped off his finger a few scenes ago, at least in my game. He barely hesitated. In fact, in the trial at the electric transformer, he briefly considered quitting, but then decided he was all in. At least in my mind. I decided that he, the character, would not hesitate to murder someone to save his son. He was to the breaking point, and he was going to do literally anything. So I shot the guy without hesitation.
If I had made different choices for him up until that point, I know I would have played it differently. I wouldn’t have had that look back, and decided I was too far down the rabbit hole to give up. THAT is where the power of a game like this lies. In changing those perceptions and having the player actual create who the character is.

Another great example: in the opening sequence, I accidentally failed to help my wife carry in the groceries, accidentally did something else before helping set the table, and then failed to kiss her when I was getting romantic. None of these were set, but they happened. Then, later, when I learned they got divorced, or were at least separated, that was some amazing foreshadowing that I did myself. “Woah,” I said, “I really set that up right. There were so many subtle clues.”
Alternatively, Scott being the Origami Killer was not set up at all. I played him as such a nice guy that I was shocked he was the bad guy. My decisions, where he helped each person he came across to the best of his ability, made the twist all the more shocking, though it made complete sense. I set up that surprise, but I could have, instead, set up the foreshadowing that he was evil, if I had played those sequences another way. Either way, I would have had a strong impact on the story, which is completely awesome.

The narrative did have its faults, though. The pacing was horrible. Very often, you jump between characters for no apparent reason. There’s little connection, until near the end, of what each character is doing in the scene before to what a new character is doing the scene after, not even thematically. This makes a really jarring, start stop feel to the narrative, and I’m sure David Cage could do better. Then again, he ended Fahrenheit with a battle against a living embodiment of the internet, so what do I know?
I also didn’t really find any of the characters particularly likable. The only character I really ended up liking was Scott. Here was this nice guy, going around helping people, fighting off dudes and putting his life on the line when he’s chubby and overweight? I thought he was awesome. Then he was the killer. Seems like maybe something should have been put in motion to make me give a shit about the other characters, since they were the real heroes. I dunno.
Finally, there was a complete misuse of fucking in the game. It was completely out of nowhere! I had a chance to choose no, I admit, but I was asked about a kiss. I feel like they would have stopped before they got to fucking, especially since it took them so damn long to get their clothes off. And then, in a game where we had seen both of them naked in the shower, they decide to put their underwear back on after they fuck to snuggle in bed? I honestly don’t buy it. Why would you push the boundaries enough to show man ass during a shower scene just for the hell of it, and then not show anything during the sex scene? It’s kind of stupid.

One Final Annoyance: The ARI glasses. Jayden has to wear a glove to manipulate it, but you see him manipulating things with his non-gloved hand all the damn time during the game. What sense does that make? Why was it so hard to follow your own set of rules? Grr.
Sorry, that really annoyed me.

Anyway, Heavy Rain is not revolutionizing anything. It was an enjoyable experience, and, despite its clunkiness and often horrible voice acting, does manage to have some truly emotional moments. I suggest everyone give it a rent as I did. Still, I doubt anyone besides Mr. Cage is going to make a game like this anytime soon. If they do, though, I hope they work some of the kinks out of the recipe.

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