Ah David Cage, if there’s an exact moment that can be cited as the point that you truly went off the rails, Heavy Rain is that moment. Part interactive drama and part unintentional comedy, Heavy Rain was my very first taste of this genre and, until this replay, I thought of it fondly. I hadn’t played anything quite like it before, and it was the thought of this game that made me want to play the Telltale games I love so much. For the time of its original release, the content was refreshing, and I hadn’t yet learned to hate QTE’s quite so much. All of this is why I stupidly thought, “PS4 edition of Heavy Rain? Hell yeah!” At least it was fairly short.
“Heavy Rain? Oh…. Nooooo….”
Let’s start with Heavy Rain’s broken story, because it is completely broken. The player is cast as four different characters, each one investigating the same string of serial killings, with the game being one big “whodunnit?” You’ve got Ethan Mars, worst/best father in existence, Scott Shelby, private eye, Madison Paige, professional journalist and liar, and Norman Jayden, Space FBI Agent. Sometimes together, sometimes separately, the four are running a race against time, as Ethan’s son, Shaun, has been kidnapped by the Origami Killer. Also, a whole bunch of inconsequential guff on the side that distracts from the main plot at best and confuses it at worst.
The story is entirely on rails, with character control being handed to the player at the appropriate time instead of being able to freely choose who to play as. This is important because the game has to play events in a particular sequence in order to flat out lie to you. Yes, I do mean lie to you. Murder mysteries and thrillers in general often employ misdirection to keep their audience guessing, this kind of thing is nothing new. Heavy Rain will flash back to events in which you were an active participant, however, and explicitly play an alternate version of events. This isn’t even a case of “Oh! I was misdirected into paying attention to the wrong thing!” The game flat out plays two versions of the same events and tries to make you think that the “discrepancy” is really just a lapse in your memory and attention.
“Remember that dramatic moment you’ve been questioning since it happened? Well, here’s how it REALLY happened, because what we were just making stuff up before! MYSTEEEEEEERIOUS!”
This happens a few times throughout the game and not in subtle or insignificant ways, either. Something I didn’t realise the first time I played through the game is how one of the characters’ plot lines got completely dropped and ignored near the end. For the sake of preventing spoilers (for this six year old game), I won’t say who this relates to, but those who’ve played this game may already know what I’m talking about. This plot line isn’t just a red herring that’s brought up to throw you off the killer’s trail, either; several very important events in the game stem from this occurrence. Then, it’s just gone and is never brought up again. The game doesn’t even explain why it’s not explaining itself, it just quietly forgets it was even a thing and hopes that the player does too.
The whole thing starts off promising before descending into a rabbit’s burrow of plot holes, bad voice acting, and a cringe-inducing amount of time spent looking at naked Ethan. There’s a really eclectic mix of themes going on in this game, and the excitement of finding out how they’re all tied together is rivaled only by the disappointment of finding out they’re not. Heavy Rain is constantly focusing on things that don’t matter, things that I’m sure the developers thought equated to character building but is, in actual fact, boring, pointless bullshit. Did I mention the need to see Ethan naked a lot, for reasons only David Cage can fathom? It doesn’t do anything for the plot, it certainly wasn’t enjoyable to experience, and sweet Jesus – is that what David Cage thinks sex looks like?
Are we sure Heavy Rain wasn’t actually made by this man?
The controls in Heavy Rain were unusual to me when I first played the game, and they haven’t gotten better with time. It’s a combination of quick-time-events and analog stick movements to simulate the various actions you perform in the game. Quantic Dream was apparently unsatisfied with the level of frustration that traditional tank controls provided, so they had to redesign them in such a way that made just walking straight was challenging. Heavy Rain’s idea of “difficult” is to demand you hold the controller like a shake weight, so you can hold down a ridiculous button combo. The alternative is to reduce your hand to a withered claw from craning and contorting your fingers across the controller’s face.
Honestly, the gameplay side of Heavy Rain is by far the weakest point because it’s often frustrating and seldom enjoyable in and of itself. What baffles me is that it could have been fantastic if they’d just narrowed the scope of the story and gameplay to the experiences of Norman Jayden. By far, his gameplay is the most engaging since it actually offers more than just walking around and fulfilling QTEs. You have an awesome AR headset that can run DNA and other biological tests and scans instantly at the touch of a gloved finger, scanning the surrounding area for persons and items of interest. You then have to analyse all of this evidence in your VIRTUAL REALITY OFFICE to link clues together and progress the investigation. It’s all done at a basic level during the game but if they had cut out Ethan, Scott and Madison’s stories and expanded on Norman’s design in the original game? Like they probably should have? Well, this review would likely be a lot different.
I LOVE YOU NORMAN <3
I could swear the game looks better on the PS4 than it did on the PS3, though I’ve not noticed any particular visual upgrades. That’s not surprising since this is only meant to be a port for the PS4, but at the same time, it can be added to a long list of games that haven’t been ported with much care. There were constant frame rate dips throughout as well as micro stuttering, which is second only to the many issues with unresponsive controls. Nothing in this universe will enrage me more than a game that employs QTEs while bugging out and ignoring controller input. More than a few times while wearing the AR headset, the game would mistake my analog movement for an attempt to remove the headset and get interrupted partway through, freezing Norman on the spot. Everything else worked around me, but I couldn’t move or pause and ultimately had to restart the game because of this several times. Great work, Quantic Dream.
As I said earlier, I had some fond memories of Heavy Rain from back when I played it on its initial release. I’d never experienced an interactive drama before, and it was the game that would later get me interested in the Telltale games, which I’m now a huge fan of, and interactive dramas in general. I remembered that it had its flaws, and we all remembered JASON, but, in my mind, those had largely been glossed over for the parts that I liked. Upon a second playthrough, I’ve found that even those parts that I liked were pretty terrible and that memory can make even the worst games seem great if you had a good time with them at first. Terrible storytelling, boring design, unresponsive controls and other technical problems with the PS4 port, and not enough Norman Jayden, Space FBI. All of this has absolutely crushed what I once thought of as a good game. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go bitterly weep over the rest of my nostalgic memories in the hopes that they don’t turn out the same.