This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Heavy Rain.
I can't help but feel I've come in the wrong door. I'm a game critic, you see, and Heavy Rain is a game in the same way that Ian Thorpe is a salmon. Okay, they both splash about in water, but you'd be embarrased if you tried to make mousse out of Ian Thorpe. I could pass it on to a film critic, but I already know what one would say: "Why is this film ten hours long? Why do I have to hold this curious, V-shaped piece of plastic? If I just say 'It's great,' will you quote me on the poster?" I think we need a whole new kind of critic for Heavy Rain, critics of "interactive storytelling experiences," or "wankers," as they will come to be known. As it happens, all we have on hand is a game critic, which is a shame, because as a game it's a stack of poo-poo pancakes garnished with Ian Thorpe mousse.
Heavy Rain is the spiritual sequel to Fahrenheit, A.K.A. Indigo Prophecy, A.K.A. Baron von Teapot's Fucking Ludicrous Adventure, and it's presumably an attempt to make this particular brand of brown, drippy lightning strike twice. Now, say what you like about Fahrenheit--thank you, I think I will. It was a pretentious river of quick-time events with a plot that got its head caught in a bucket of doolally half-way through. But say what you like about Fahrenheit, at least stuff happened in it! The game starts, BOOM, you've stabbed a bloke. You've got 30 seconds to wash off the blood and stuff the corpse into a bin, and you haven't even pulled your socks up. Meanwhile, Heavy Rain starts: you wake up, have a shower, get dressed, slap yourself in the face, have a drink, go sit in the garden for a while. Your kids come home, you play with your kids, then you stab your kids with a knife! Oh no, wait, that was just me stabbing an electrical socket to make something interesting happen. Everything's so fucking saccarine and happy families in the opening scenes, too. It's like there's a big neon sign on the roof saying, "Tragedy striking in 10," or rather in about in hour. And then there's another hour or so of moping around before the next hilarious tragedy strikes.
The gameplay aspect, or "interactive storytelling experience" play aspect, rather, is split between two modes. The first can best be described as a time-killing simulator. You walk around someone's house, staring at the contents of the fridge, fiddling with the ornaments, looking for the action that keeps the plot going or just waiting for enough time to pass for someone else to do it. It's like playing a simulation of me trying to get some writing done. Except I'm coming off the medication for some kind of serious dental procedure, because the remote-control tank style movement controls are shampoo-drinkingly awful. The other mode is what I would reservedly call the action scenes, preanimated sequences dotted with quick-time events.
Now I've said before that QTEs sometimes work if they're a core part of gameplay, and in this case they're core, flesh, seeds, branch, and the entire fucking apple tree. But the action is always rather overwrought. It's like someone came to the understandable conclusion that Heavy Rain is a touch slow at times, in the same way that St. Paul's Cathedral is touch indigestible, so they'd figured they better throw in some loosely relevant karate fight scenes. The most incongruous of which is early on, when a woman fights off multiple attackers in her pants, which turns out to be a dream sequence with zero connection to the plot. Good of you to notice that I was getting bored, Heavy Rain, but this was like splicing a song-and-dance routine into the middle of Zodiac.
After about three hours, or around your second brain hemorrage, the actual plot kicks in. A sort of bargain-basement Jigsaw Killer kidnaps a small boy and sparks off the race to track him down. You quantum leap between the perspectives of four characters: the kid's dad, like Fahrenheit's main protagonist a squinty, strangely-accented everyman on the run from the cops, who spends most of the game getting the shit kicked out of him; a fat private investigator, not interesting enough to dwell on; a sexy lady, whose chief role is to get exploited throughout the course of the plot, having to fight in her pants, strip off at gunpoint, and almost take a cordless drill right up the hairy front bottom; and an FBI investigator. There's a fun game you can play with him. He's the only character who has access to technology beyond the mid-90's, so go through the game assuming he's a time-traveler from the future. It honestly fits really well. His subplot involves him struggling with some kind of smack habit, so whenever he gets nosebleeds and the shakes, I like to pretend he's feeling the effects of changing history Marty McFly style.
While you couldn't find a slower boil, except by maybe holding a cigarette lighter under a swimming pool, once it gets going Heavy Rain actually has some really good bits. The zenith is a hauntingly visceral and fucking hard to watch scene in which you must use a sequence of complex button-holds to force a character to cut off part of their own body. Which just goes to show how budget this Jigsaw ripoff is. None of these fancy metaphorical torture traps, just hack off an extremity right where I can see you, bitch. Anyway, the whole scene gripped me by the bell-end. I've never accepted "it gets better later" as an excuse, and I do feel you'd be well within your rights to get bored after two hours and throw the disc down a fucking cooling tower, but for what it's worth, Heavy Rain does get better later. And I suppose all the time you spend instructing your character to watch TV and tie their shoelaces and wash their hands after having a wee-wee does raise the immersion somewhat, even if the sillier of the action sequences tend to body-slam it back down again.
Just like in Fahrenheit, the claim is that every decision has consequences, which is true, I guess. Walking across a room will have the consquence of you being on the opposite side of the room. As for decisions that actually affect anything beyond the current scene, there's a handful of rather obviously telegraphed choices--mainly dotted around the second half--that will dictate who ends up with the positive press and who ends up carking it in a lonely grave. There's one unbearably happy ending if you get everything right, so any other outcome just feels like a nonstandard game over. Especially since a few parts depend on passing QTE sequences, which isn't a choice, it's just penalizing any old people who might be playing.
But the stupidest thing is this: it's a murder mystery plot, and the identity of the killer is always the same. I was assuming the choices you made changed who the killer would be, since virtually everyone with a car and two working limbs was a suspect. What's the point of playing a mystery story again if you know the mystery? It's like trying to jerk off a castrated dog; he won't thank you for it, and all you'll get is wrist exercise.
Heavy complain: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Personally I'd have let him have the little shit and cash in the sensible family car for an E-type Jag
I killed a man