Why you shouldn't play Heavy Rain more than once
- — 08 March, 2010 10:02
Unlike most video games, which are designed to allow gamers to get it right, Heavy Rain staunchly insists that there is no such thing: much like life, there are only the choices that we make and the consequences that arise from them. It's a jarring experience to be sure: As gamers, we're used to being given another chance. Die during a boss fight or fail to reach the end of the mission and you will be resurrected so you can try it again. But there are no do-overs in Heavy Rain, no extra lives, no 1-ups or continues. There is only a sense of finality that looms over your every action and, more agonizingly, every mistake; take a certain path, make a certain choice, and there is no going back.
This will no doubt come to haunt you. After beating the game, you will spend just as much time thinking about the things you didn't do as you will reflecting upon the things you did. Every mistake will be magnified -- if only I had done this instead of that, if only I had been a little faster or had taken my time -- and every choice you made will be agonized over. As a result, you will feel a strong desire to go back and play the game again, not only to try different actions but to see where those new decisions will lead -- previews editor Andy Burt (read Andy's Heavy Rain review here), and I spent an hour comparing our own individual experiences with the game and from listening to each others' wildly disparate accounts, it quickly became apparent that, though we had both invested about eight hours into Heavy Rain, there was easily another eight hours or more of material we hadn't personally experienced.
But I'm going to make a rather bold suggestion here (and this is something David Cage, the director of Heavy Rain has himself said time and time again): do not play Heavy Rain more than once. Resist the temptation to go back and "try it again" after the credits roll. Even if you do decide to return to it, wait a while before you do. That way, you can better reflect on the story that unfolded before you, but even more importantly, you can better appreciate the gnawing sense of regret that you will feel over your mistakes. This is important because one of the central themes of Heavy Rain is regret and how it can affect us. For instance, central character Ethan Mars is haunted by the regret he feels over his son Jason's death, and it not only destroys his life and his marriage, it also propels him on his harrowing quest to save his surviving son Shaun from the Origami Killer. Lauren Winter, who is a relatively minor character, still manages to steal her own share of the spotlight thanks to her own personal stake in the narrative -- a mother who lost her son to the Origami Killer, she joins the hunt for the serial killer in order to deal with her grief as well as her need for revenge. Every character in the game is either motivated by or is forced to come to grips with their own regrets and that's what ultimately binds them all together.
By choosing to let your actions stand, and by refusing to go back in an attempt to change things, you can better appreciate the turmoil felt by the characters in the game. You are also able to buy into the spirit of the overall game design more fully. It's the fact that no matter how hard they try, they cannot change their pasts that makes the characters' plight so much more meaningful; by applying the same sense of inevitability and immutability to your own decisions, you can impart more meaning to your time with Heavy Rain. Again, without spoiling anything, certain major events occurred during my playthrough that I truly regret -- an emotion, I would like to point out, I have never actually felt before with a video game -- and the temptation to go back and "fix" those mistakes is incredibly strong. But to do so would ruin the genuine sense of remorse that I feel; it would rob me of the immediate and meaningful emotive response that these events dredge up within me. In short, it would turn what is a carefully crafted experience meant to not only mimic but highlight the tragic nature of life into just another video game.
What makes Heavy Rain so successful and compelling are the powerful ideas that underpin its gameplay. Thematically and conceptually, it is a game that is hinged upon very real and humanistic emotions, regret being the strongest and most immediate among them. To go back and revise the "story" that you create with your actions would go against the game's fundamental axiom, the core idea upon which everything else is predicated upon. This is why, weeks after beating Heavy Rain for the first and only time, I still have not gone back to play it again. I can't go so far as to say that I will never do so, but for the foreseeable future, I know that I won't because, although I feel a strong temptation to return to the vibrant world and well-realized characters, the stronger desire is to maintain the purity of my memories, so that I can better savor my triumphs as well as the bitter tang of my regrets.
I suggest you take the time do the same after your time with Heavy Rain has come to an end.