“ETHAN! WASH YOUR GODDAMN HANDS!” Dan and I yell at the T.V. screen while Ethan helplessly stands in front of the sink, staring blankly into space. “Look, dude, you took a leak. Now you wash your hands.” But no, Ethan is not interested in washing his hands.
Maybe half way through the game, Ethan takes another leak and then he walks to the sink. We are excited to discover a helpful interactive arrow! “It’s about time you washed your hands you stupid idiot,” I mutter, pressing forward with my right thumb. Ethan turns the faucet, cups his hands, fills them with water, and then splashes it all over his face. I can almost taste the blood, urine and fluoride.
You know how when you watch a thriller movie you sometimes want to yell at the characters for being so stupid? With all of the times they split up and wander into abandoned buildings, you’d think that they’d never watched a movie in their whole pointless, empty lives. Heavy Rain seeks to remedy the problem of viewer disconnect by letting you make the decisions. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Ethan won’t call the cops like I would, and he won’t wash his hands after he goes to the bathroom.
There are a few times, though, when the decisions are chilling and excellent. I played through the entirety of Heavy Rain with my buddy Dan. Dan doesn’t play games at all, but he sat there watching me participate in ‘interactive drama’ for 10 hours. The controller pulses in my hands as I hover over a table littered with sharp objects, preparing to sever the last digit of my pinky. Dan helpfully suggests, “Whatever you do, just don’t use the saw.”
It’s been said about a million times, but the game is incredibly cinematic. I think that this is why Dan was willing to sit there watching me play it for so long. It sometimes feels like it’s made for viewers as much as it is for players. The interactive elements of the game that are there, however, certainly increased my immersion in the game—navigating an electric maze was intense, and the countless quick time fights always had me gripping a sweaty controller.
It’s probably because Heavy Rain tries so hard to be like a movie that I find myself judging it on so harsh a scale. I found the romance subplot entirely unconvincing, for instance—and not only because of the awkward and unnecessary sex scene. I just didn’t believe that those characters could or would fall in love with so little and trite interaction. There were a few plot holes that bugged me, and one or two lines of dialogue felt pretty stale. By gaming standards, though, the plot, script and characters were great. It might be to the game’s credit that after playing the demo I was ready for an interactive version of The Big Sleep.
David Cage said in a recent interview that he has been writing thrillers because working within such a well established genre was convenient. With Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, he was trying to establish a new language, and in order to do that he needed something that was “easy to write.” Whatever problems that it had, Heavy Rain did establish a new way to tell stories. This is its greatest achievement.
And Cage seems prepared to move on. “I think I’m done with thrillers,” he says, and I for one am intrigued to see what other stories he has to tell. I hope that we will look back in ten years at the new masterpieces that Quantic Dreams and other developers have created and say to ourselves, these could not have existed without Heavy Rain.
This isn’t to say that the formula that Heavy Rain has established won’t change. I expect that motion controllers will make things better. I also expect that quick time events will become one way of doing action sequences, not the only way. There have been very mixed reactions to this game, which has prompted interesting conversations. It’s exciting. Here is where I stand: Heavy Rain has many faults, but it is still a fun and important experience. I would recommend it to anyone. But you might want to bring some hand sanitizer.