Heavy Rain - Complications Ensue
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

I've been checking out HEAVY RAIN on the PS3. It's a murder mystery about an abducted child and a serial killer. You play four characters involved in solving the mystery.

The interface is one I've never seen before - it's nonstandardized. In one scene, you interrogate a suspect who's making alarming threats while a ridiculous cartoon plays on the TV screen behind him. Your options swirl around the screen, confusingly: square to accuse, triangle to state the facts, or left arrow to punch this guy, right arrow to dodge that guy.

As opposed to typical games where you either have a talk interface or a fight interface, here you can be punching someone while you interrogate them. Or choose not to punch them while you interrogate them. So instead of the narrative options coming at predictable places -- you're either in a fight or not in a fight -- the story can split at whatever moment the writers of the story felt like branching the story.

The game design does another interesting thing -- when multiple options show up, they can swirl around, covering each other up. Which makes you confused, and means you might choose an option you didn't mean to. Which means that you will actually feel confused and frustrated when your character is confused and frustrated.

In the past I've been much fonder of sandbox games (not to mention addicted to your world builder games) -- I've never understood the attraction of e.g. some of the FINAL FANTASY fames where you basically go down a tunnel and kill every squad of critters and every boss you meet. And if you have a minimap and an arrow to follow, you're still in a narrative tunnel.

In Heavy Rain, there's a narrative tunnel, but it branches, and you don't see the tunnel -- it's taking "show don't tell" to heart. If you're searching for clues, there's no "there are five clues in this room" so you can check them off. If you miss a clue, you miss a clue. As Gamespot puts it:
Unlike other games that make extensive use of quick-time events, Heavy Rain does not track your progress in terms of success and failure. There is no right or wrong way to play; thus, no matter what your outcome is, the game will move forward and adapt to the consequences of your actions or lack thereof. Though the overall narrative framework is unyielding, your performance throughout the game can have a variety of effects, ranging from subtle changes in how a scene plays out to much bigger adjustments. Entire events may not occur because your actions and choices caused the plot to branch in a different direction. It's even possible for key characters to die, thus eliminating any subsequent contributions to the story that they might have made. No matter what happens in your play-through, the adaptive plot of Heavy Rain becomes a deeply personal sum of your experiences.

I've never seen a game that gives such a feeling of being a character in a movie story.

There are chase scenes and ordeal scenes. And if you make the wrong decisions, your character can die and the game autosaves, so no you don't get to reload to do it right this time.

Oh, and split screens. Nice use of split screens.

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