Monday, March 1, 2010
Posted by Kirk Hamilton
I finished Heavy Rain late last night. I wrote a bunch, much of it rant-like, but decided to wait to post anything until morning to see if the anger had subsided a bit. Nope, still here. Muted, perhaps, but burning with no less intensity. So, fair warning.
Heavy Rain did a lot of things for me (and even more things to me). Some of them were pretty amazing, many of them incredibly frustrating. But damned if I wasn't more angered by the last 30 minutes than I have been by any game for as long as I can remember. Somewhat unfocused thoughts, including major spoilers, follow right after the break. If you haven't finished the game, I suggest you read no further.
So, first of all - I totally called it. Like, four hours in. I don't want to be That Guy or anything, but I'm just saying - he hadn't talked about having a client, and was way too nice... I saw the typewriter on his desk and I said "That dude is the killer."
At any rate, for a while, I managed to look beyond the gaping plot holes and the inconsistent controls, but after six or seven hours, they started to feel deliberately confounding, nightmarish, even sadistic. Like the writers had decided to go with "dream logic." I wrote over on Michael Abbott's blog (which I have a feeling will be the comments section to watch) that it wouldn't surprise me to find that there are folks out there who read the whole game as a waking nightmare, the delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic who lost his mind when his family died. It would explain a lot - I never did find an anchor to the real world in Heavy Rain's surreal cityscape, entirely populated as it was with floor-gazing ciphers and gun-wielding psychopaths. Alas, my long-desired game about real people has yet to materialize.
But despite all that, I put my head down and soldiered on, amazed at the different ways the game messed with me. And just when I'd decided to go ahead and give in to Heavy Rain's terms, the story I'd been helping to tell reached its climax, I missed a couple of quicktime events, and BAM - almost all of my characters were killed.
It felt so unfair - after surviving harrowing situation after harrowing situation, my heroes' deaths were not the result of my choices, nor were they narratively rewarding. They just happened, one of them entirely because of my inability to make a character jump three feet. And what truly infuriated me was that the game had the gall to make me feel as though their deaths were my fault.
No. Heavy Rain, I reject your stupid j'accuse!-ing finger. Those deaths were not my fault. They were your doing, you and your unfair, deliberately confounding quicktime events. My character's deaths held no more logic than did the game's bizarre swiss-cheese spread of a plot. It did not serve a narrative purpose to have Madison die in the burning apartment, or to have the killer stave in Jayden's head with a sledgehammer minutes before the end of the game.
So often, I felt like the guy at the horror movie, yelling advice to a character on the screen as if he has some vague influence. And even though in my case I had nominal control, I didn't really feel as though I had any more say over the outcome than that guy in the theater - just enough control to feel responsible, I guess.
What's more, my choices had nothing to do with it, merely my reactions, and I do not accept that Madison and Jayden's deaths were my fault just because I couldn't adjust quickly enough to the game's constantly-rearranging, infuriatingly contrived quicktime events. In Mass Effect 2, I decided that even though a great tragedy occurred during the final mission, it was part of my Shepard's story because it felt right, it felt like a good story. The deaths in Heavy Rain felt utterly hollow by comparison.
The game certainly made me feel things that games haven't made me feel in a long time - vulnerability, anger, regret, rage. Powerlessness. And I get that, I do - though I have yet to jump on the Demon's Souls train (still eying the cars from the terminal), I get the sense that in a few ways, the games are not dissimilar. But I do think there's one huge difference - Demon's Souls sounds hard, but eventually masterable, while Heavy Rain simply doesn't play fair.
There's no possible feeling of mastery, or even familiarity with Heavy Rain's game mechanics. I know that's on purpose, and it's an interesting design decision, but also a confounding one. For all of the talk of the game's replayability, I'm just not sure what a second playthrough would get me. I wouldn't really make any different decisions, and because the quicktime events are so impossible to master, I would most likely get the exact same result as I got first time through. What's more, I can't see a way to load from halfway through the game, so the idea of spending 9 or so more hours just to watch stupid Madison (and her horrifyingly overzealous pathfinding) blow that jump in the exact same way gives me fucking hives.
At 2:30 in the morning last night, I wrote, "I'm not sure what it is that I want from a game, but I'm pretty sure it's not this." Okay, that feeling has subsided. My experience with the game was a big one, and there's a lot to talk and think about. I'm glad it exists, and I'm glad I played it. But I'm gonna need a minute, because right now, I kinda just want to kick it in the nuts.
So, rather than come up with some sort of denouement, I'll wait to get some distance, and decompress by talking about it some with David and the rest of the Internet. And in the meantime, here are some highlights from my notes, somewhat out of order and context. They paint about as accurate a picture of my playthrough as anything could.
Heavy Rain Notes:
"Microwave dinner to son - dishes taken from dishrack. Nice."
"Jayden has blackheads."
"Bathroom = euro."
"Ethan Mars = opposite of Nathan Drake."
"Not much exposition."
"Who are PI clients? Who hired him??"
"P.I. roars like a Lion."(underlined, not explained)
"Why not look at origami from Conven. store guy's box?"
"Constantly failing tests."
"Magical Car Tracking? Magical Clue?"
"P.I. is killer. 100%" (Bam. That's right.)
"Game could be called "Helping Ethan Mars To His Feet."
"Reacting!" (underlined twice)
"Sweat. Sweat. AAAA"
"Hot ass, walks funny."
"ARI glasses improve piano playing?"
"A toast, to old friends."
"Huge. Plot. Hole" (underlined twice)
"Dead Jayden in ARI - Caprica?"
"Flashback = safe?"
"4-button combo to Crush Balls"