I played Heavy Rain, and that’s all I have to say about that (but not really)

In my What Remains of Edith Finch post, I hinted that there was at least one other game in my PS4 backlog that I wished to tackle. That game was Heavy Rain (2010), another I got via PS Plus a long time ago, and much like with Edith Finch, one that I had been putting off for no particular reason. Or, maybe I had a reason. Though acclaimed, this Quantic Dream title and brainchild of the well-known game designer David Cage, didn’t get very good reviews within my own gaming circle. The general consensus amounted to: difficult to play, not very fun, and weird story-wise. But I had held onto a long-term interest in Heavy Rain ever since playing Beyond: Two Souls back around 2103. (The only other Quantic Dream titled I’ve played.) Long story short, I liked Beyond: Two Souls in principle, if not in practice, and that was enough to make me curious enough to consider playing Heavy Rain at some point. With it ending up in the PS Plus lineup, that point had arrived. Or at least it would, eventually.

In the here and now, and if you’d like to skip all the inner workings, I can sum up my time with Heavy Rain, which I played over the course of four daily sessions, as follows:

During my first session with Heavy Rain, I thought: I knew this game was going to have QTEs, but this is ridiculous.

During my second session with Heavy Rain, I thought: I should really just be watching a Let’s Play.

During my third session with Heavy Rain, I thought: please don’t make me dance using QTEs…oh no, I have to dance using QTEs…somebody save me.

During my final session with Heavy Rain, I thought: this is awful, and I hate it.

Would I have rather risked death by electric shock over playing this game again? Quite possibly yes.

For the uninitiated, Heavy Rain is a mature, interactive drama that’s fueled by quick time events. The game’s story revolves around the hunt for the “Origami Killer,” a serial killer that both kidnaps and drowns children (in rain water), and drowns other older victims, often leaving origami figures behind. This story takes place through the eyes and actions of four main characters: Ethan Mars, a father who’s son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer; Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler who’s brought in to aid the local police’s investigation; Madison Paige, a journalist who finds herself wrapped up in the events of the case, and Scott Shelby, a retired cop and now private investigator who is also hunting, yes…the Origami Killer.

Oddly, few characters in the game knew how to pronounce “origami.”

Make no doubt, the game has a definite crime-procedural vibe, which led to some notably interesting detective work and provided a few good Sherlock Holmes-esque moments. It’s really just too bad that the whole experience, for me, was brought down by the QTEs.

All the QTEs.

SO MANY QTEs. {sob}

This wasn’t even the worst of it.

Like many, my long-held gripes with QTEs are two-fold: they seem to require super-human timing, and they take you out of the action. The second point is a bigger deal for me than the first, especially with a game like Heavy Rain. Because of the QTEs, I never felt truly immersed in its story. With each new scene, I spent more time worrying about what I would have to do with the controller over what was actually going on. Frankly, the QTEs were mostly just plain awkward and frustrating to manage, especially when I had to move to entire controller in a specific direction…or worse, shake the darn thing. Ugh. (Much flailing about occurred, and I hated every moment of it.)

QTE see-saw, anyone? No.

Adding to that lack of immersion was that, upon taking control of any given character, they turned into unemotional moving statues that stared blankly into space until you happened to move then to something with which they could interact. Oh, and moving them was no picnic. Navigating a space with a protagonist required holding down a trigger button and then using the left stick to direct the character along a linear path. It was more akin to moving Pac-Man around a maze than moving a human being in a physical space. It’s not like dual-stick movement wasn’t around when Heavy Rain first came out, so why the developers went with such an unnatural choice beats the heck out of me.

But enough QTE complaining (because I could go on about that for…a long time), let’s think positive. While I dislike Heavy Rain as a game, in its bones and except for the ending (at least the one I got, which was my fault, but more on that in a moment), is some decent storytelling and character development. The story has some undeniable plot holes and one protagonist exists solely as eye candy to be constantly rescued, but I’ve played through games with worse general plots. There were even a few times, mostly tense or gripping moments, in which I welcomes the challenge of using QTEs, such as during a highway car chase and helping a character escape a vehicle submerged in water. As well, I didn’t know going in that the game was set in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a place I know well. After finding that out, I felt a much more connected to Heavy Rain’s setting, at least. That single offhand and personal connection actually went a long way in making me see the game all the way through to the credits.

I can (almost) see my house from here!

So what of that which happened before those credits ran? Well, during my final session with Heavy Rain, the killer and their motives were revealed, and I was…annoyed, to put it lightly. Within a few scenes, any inklings of positivity that I had held onto up to that point just dissipated, and I was done. I was done with the whole stupid thing. So done, in fact, that during one sequence, I made what I surmised would be a wrong choice for one character. It turned out to be very wrong. Very, very wrong for everyone…except the Origami Killer. Well, shoot. I can’t say that, as the credits rolled by, it didn’t cross my mind to go back and try to do the right thing, but…I didn’t. Instead, I followed what my gut had told me previously and simply watched the game’s many endings.

Can I please have my gameplay hours back now?

As it went, Heavy Rain didn’t leave behind the worst taste, but I’ve no desire to play it again. Like other Quantic Dream titles, the game offered lots of choice within the story, and that story was okay until its wasn’t. Though I made a few choices throughout that I wanted to go back and change, I didn’t – I just let things play out organically, for better or, as it turned out, worse. Despite discovering and making my own connections within the game, the only thing that makes me happy about playing Heavy Rain is that it’s finally out of my backlog.

All images, including lede (© Quantic Dream), were taken by author during PS4 gameplay.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    I’ve little reason to put the words “heavy” and “rain” in a sentence ever again, especially after playing the game with both words in its title. But if you might be curious about sentences containing the words “heavy” and rain”, and my thoughts on them, see here on Virtual Bastion.

    Like

  2. Red Metal says:

    Even before the scandals, David Cage was always a pretty controversial figure. I don’t really mind his games’ experimental nature, but he doesn’t seem especially in tune with the medium’s unique properties, and I find whenever his work is good, it is always in spite of his unique style rather than because of it. I think it’s for the best that the film-game style in general didn’t catch on in the long run because it’s looking more like a dead-end with each passing day.

    Like

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