Saturday, 8 May 2010

I did it! Didn't I?

Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010)

Who is the origami killer?  That is the quest that Heavy Rain sends you on.  Young boys are being kidnapped and drowned with the same clues left with each body.  Your job is to solve the mystery and save the latest victim in this tragic tale, Sean Mars.  You take control of four characters involved in the story to save Sean.  Depending on the choices you make, different plot points may (or may not) come into play that dictate the final outcome of the game.  Heavy Rain starts out like a bad film noir and builds into something so much more, it is a game filled with emotion and addiction that haunts you for days.

We kick off with Ethan Mars, a bit of a sad sack and thanks to the voice acting he feels like he has a huge gaping void inside him.  Even in the opening segment of the game where he is playing with his sons feels somewhat hollow.  Ethan's life falls into ruin when his son Jason is killed in a car accident after Ethan loses track of him on a family trip to the shops.  Ethan ends up in a coma in his attempt to save Jason.  Months later Ethan is a washed up and desperate man living alone.  He suffers from blackouts and strange dreams which always end up with him holding an origami figure in his hand.  Being the great dad that he is, Ethan loses his other son, Sean during a blackout episode at the park and so begins his search to get his son back.  Ethan's strand of the narrative takes on a serious of trials that are laid out for him by the origami killer to reveal the whereabouts of his son.  For Ethan however, life is not so simple.  He harbours a large amount of guilt over what has happened with his sons, and with his blackouts he starts to believe that he may be the origami killer and the trials he must complete he has created as a way to uncover his split personality and remember where he hid Sean.  Somehow Ethan is just not very likeable, you tend to feel he's a bit of a depressing social outcast who is unable to interact with anyone.   Though depending on how you do with the trials and which outcomes you chose you do begin to warm to him as the story progresses.

Our second protagonist, Scott Shelby a fat, trench coat wearing, hard as nails private eye and former police officer who is investigating the origami killer case privately.  On completion of the game he is the character who you will want to replay the most.  Shelby seems bored with the investigation, he shuns help and seems to genuinely not care about the real killer being found out.  Instead he chases after part animal and bored rich boy Gordy Kramer who he believes is the origami killer.  A classic clichéd detective filled with personality flaws that come to light as the game goes on.  Depending on your path he may suck you into liking him but his strange behaviour is initially hard to explain until you slowly uncover his truth, at this point how you feel about him is the real beauty of the game.  My favourite bit is when he leaves his assistant Lauren to die in the sunken car after Kramer has tried to kill him.  But maybe that says more about me than about the game!

FBI profiler and drug addict Norman Jayden is our third protagonist.  With his magical C.S.I. glasses that he uses to review the crime scene mixed with a sceptical and hilariously violent partner, Blake who is happy to lock up the first person he finds and close the case.  Will Jayden find the origami killer, will he OD on drugs and can he get around Blake and do the job he was hired for?  You can have quite a bit of fun with Jayden, you can be spineless and weak, cold hearted, caring, in fact you have quite a lot of choice as to how you want to play him.  However, make sure you don't take too many drugs if you want to make it to the end alive!

Finally we have Madison Paige, journalist, kind heart, and insomniac.  Or is she just undercover and playing a role to get the inside scoop?  For some reason Madison feels a little shallow and underdeveloped in the two times I've made it through to the end of the game.  You just feel like making her walk around semi naked rather than solving anything in particular.  Perhaps it's because I have not fully explored her character, but it feels like there is something missing with her.  It would be interesting to know what triggered the nightmares and insomnia.  Does she also have a difficult past like Ethan and Shelby?

Heavy Rain is not a game for long summer nights.  It is a game for wet, dark, overcast days at home.  That relentless rain and those endless shades of grey make you want to end it all.  Still, you keep on playing to find that clue and unravel the mystery.  The way the game cross cuts from character to character makes it very hard to put your controller down.  Not to mention that most of the levels are short enough for you to say to yourself "just one more" when really you should have been in bed an hour before.  The game looks amazing, great location set pieces that you want to see over again with lots going on.  What I like most about Heavy Rain is the morality test.  Do you do what you think is right?  Do you do what you think you need to do to complete the game?  How do you react again to the same scenes once you know who the killer really is?  What would have happened if I did this differently?  However hard you try and play in a dispassionate fashion the game sucks you in time and again, testing your mental strength and at times dexterity to beat some of those challenges.  Heavy Rain is not perfect, sometimes the controls feel a little clunky and sometimes you feel forced to behave in a specific fashion when you want to try something else.  To end the review I think I'll retrace my steps and see if I can get away with the killing Sean this time, or perhaps not!

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