The problem with most modern games is that there's a void between what the game's character is experiencing and what the player experiences
- Superbly crafted story, believable characters, expertly evokes an emotional response from the player
- Some may not be willing to accept the breaking of traditional gaming concepts
An emotionally engaging thrill-ride from start to finish, Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain is a superbly crafted interactive experience, told expertly through its stunning visuals and believable characters.
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Fear is an easy -- dare I say cheap -- emotion that many games attempt to elicit from their players, with varying results. The emotion itself is fleeting, and the weight upon the outcome of the overall game is generally naught. Love, on the other hand, is an emotion that most developers stray away from, as the difficulty inherent in evoking such a broad mental state is immense. Heavy Rain seemingly effortlessly calls upon our own ties to that emotion, our strengths and weaknesses connected to it, and asks us how far we would go for someone we love. Tied to love in Heavy Rain is consequence, and the ability for both the in-game characters and the player to live with the outcomes of very difficult choices.
The problem with most modern games is that there's a void between what the game's character is experiencing and what the player experiences. While many games are able to conjure an emotional state from their players, Heavy Rain attempts to bridge the impossible gap between emotion and physicality, and it succeeds: rarely has a video game so realistically translated not only a feeling of anxiety, dread, love, or any other emotion from across the screen and into the player's brain, but through its unconventional control scheme Heavy Rain wonderfully represents how one would react based on this emotional state, and the combined effect is as intoxicating as it is superb.
Tying everything together is a story that invites the player to take part in, to weave their own morality into, and to make choices of their own volition and not by what the game wants, or even means them to do. Like any exemplary film or piece of literature, Heavy Rain will have people talking long after the credits roll, and if my personal time with the game was even remotely close to anyone else's, Heavy Rain will leave an impression on the gaming community that few others have before.
Heavy Rain has much more in common with films like Steven Soderbergh's Traffic or P.T. Anderson's Magnolia than it does with any game. It deftly weaves a crime story through four at first disparate individuals whose decisions lead them into intertwining fates. Much could be said about the overarching story and the part each individual plays in the end, but that would be to essentially ruin the personal experience. And it is a personal experience. One problem cinematic games have possessed in the past is that they leave much up to the game telling players the story rather than allowing them to take part in it themselves. Heavy Rain proves that the tired custom of making gamers put down the controller to watch an overwrought cutscene is not acceptable from here on out.
The game thrusts players into the lives of four very different individuals who are all tied in some way to the Origami Killer, a serial murderer whose victims are all young boys. Each character is fleshed out in such a realistic way throughout the story that they are essentially incomparable to any previous video game protagonists. These are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. It's not hard to imagine that before you were given a glimpse into a short segment of their lives that they were going along the branching paths of existence, and by chance you were able to take part in it.
Not only do the characters look, act, and talk like anyone you might meet on the street or pass by on the subway, their actions and feelings are grounded so closely in reality that often I had trouble distinguishing who exactly I was making choices for; did I want Scott Shelby, the aging private detective investigating the murders of the Origami Killer to stop a robber in a convenience store, to talk him down from shooting the owner, or is that what I would want to do if put in the same situation? Would I take the coward's route, waiting in silence at the back of the store for the inevitable outcome? Even more important, would I be able to live with this decision?
Situations like this litter the lives of every character in the story, and will ultimately decide the outcome of the game. Through choice, Heavy Rain throws its (at first seemingly) linear story out the window: the game will only play out the way that the player chooses. For better or for worse, the decisions players make are ones they'll have to live by. The fact that the story in Heavy Rain, and how the player shapes it, is probably one of the most arresting and engaging ever tried in a video game further drives the player to see to what end their decisions lead them.
The reason choice is such an integral part of what makes Heavy Rain a believable experience is that it adds weight to the gaming medium where no other game has before. The only consequence for failing to defeat a difficult boss in a game is having to take the time to play through it again. The feeling of regret for having missed a platform in Super Mario Bros., for instance, is washed away as soon as the level restarts. Even modern games that feature choice and consequence mechanics feel stale and artificial by comparison because the lack of human connection; I may make a choice for an elf or a space marine which will change the way the story unfolds, but in what context do I have to put this decision in my own life? I may never be a father whose life is destroyed after losing his son in a car accident like Heavy Rain's Ethan Mars, but I can certainly acknowledge how this cataclysmic event would dictate later actions in my life.
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