Today’s Forecast: Heavy Rain with a Chance of Sunny Spells

February 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Much to my surprise, last week saw the release of the much anticipated – by this humble Bitmobber at least – demo for Quantum Dream’s ‘Heavy Rain’. It contained two scenes taken from the game’s full release.

David Cage would be proud. I laughed, I cried, and I came away from the experience confident that THIS is the game developers need to ape if they want to tell great stories within their medium.

Or maybe not…

Forward: This will only make sense to you if you’ve played the Heavy Rain demo. If you haven’t, I suggest all you PS3 owners out there go and download it from the PSN store, and all you 360 owners watch GiantBomb’s fantastic quick look.

I’ll admit I may have already been a bit harsh on the game. The demo is, after all, only a fraction of the total experience, and as such is never going to have the impact of the full title. Thus, it’s important for you to realize I’m making these statements based upon the demo alon. There’s a valid argument that says any opinion I hold is worthless until I’ve seen the full game; If you hold this view I can see where you’re coming from, but I suggest you stop reading now.

Are they gone yet? Good. I hate those arseholes.

The demo’s first faux pas is in its construction of the player’s agency. Essentially this boils down to a question of motivation.

You see, in a movie, the set up of a detective arriving to interview someone about a crime we don’t know has happened, works. It works because as a passive observer to the action, we as an audience can be perfectly content working out the purpose of the scene as it goes along, safe in the knowledge that by the end of the scene it should all make sense.

A game is different though. As an active participant in proceedings, it’s important to understand just why you’re doing what you’re doing. Otherwise your only motivation for playing on is completing the game. This might come down to a matter of opinion, but personally I think that’s a pretty bad motivation to have.

That might just be my opinion, but it’s a fact that because you have no idea what it is you’re doing, you’re essentially just looking for anything in the level to interact with. Is this detective work, or just time wasting?

Take the second scene as an example. I had no idea why I was in this apartment block, so when a button prompt appeared, I pressed it, without any idea of the response the action would have.

So let’s summarize. I had no idea why I was there. I had no idea what the effect my button pushes would have. I had no choice as to what button pushes to make.

Bearing all that in mind, ask yourself this, ‘Why does this experience need to be a game?’

Pushing these doubts to the back of my mind I moved on to my next interaction. Aside from another couple of instances of not knowing what I was doing when pushing buttons, I thought this section of the demo was its strongest part.

Finally, during the interview, I had a choice. I could see the options I had open to me, and their descriptions were clear enough so as to allow me to make a clear choice. It made perfect sense for the scene to be interactive.

I also liked the fact that during the dialogue I had complete freedom to move around. Call me inconsistent, but I actually rather enjoyed being able to lean casually against the dresser or sit on the bed next to my interviewee. It may have been completely pointless, but I felt it added some character to a scene that would have otherwise been very dialogue heavy.

More mystery button prompts followed. Apparently that one made me leave my calling card on the table. That’s handy. I didn’t know I could do that. Would have been a bit of a bummer if I’d missed that one right?

Unusually for me, I’ve got nothing to complain about with regards to the next section. The fight, which sees you essentially engaging in an extended quick-time event, was tense, well choreographed, and especially well animated. The characters have just that, character, and the button prompts are arranged in a way which makes sure you’ve always got your eyes on the action.

Most of all, I liked this sequence because the game finally admitted that it was, of course, a game, and you know what? It was fun.

The next scene is likewise enjoyable. You assume the role of another detective, and turn up at the scene of a murder, in order to find clues to aid your investigation.

Weirdly however, you investigate the scene by putting on a pair of sci-fi sunglasses, which point out clues and DNA samples for you to inspect. It’s not that I think these are a bad addition to the game – in actual fact I think they’re what make the level work – but that their presence in such a serious game is jarring. Everything about this game is so realistic and mature, and now you’re using sunglasses at night to help you solve crimes. It just doesn’t fit together quite right.

This fact really sums up my thought on the Heavy Rain demo. Any ‘realistic’ game needs to make allowances for the fact that it’s a video game. The harder they try to avoid making these allowances, the more out of place they seem when the game inevitably has to make use of them.

That’s really the crux of it. Heavy Rain, from what I’ve played of it, seems like a good game, there’s no doubt about it. What it’s most certainly not however, is the future of video game storytelling. It should never have been billed as this, and I’m doubtful and critic will share this view.

Of course, I’m open to the possibility of the full game changing my mind.

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