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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Emotionally distressing situations come in droves throughout Heavy Rain, but the impact of these situations is amplified through physical distress caused by the outstanding implementation of the game's unique control scheme. A game like Heavy Rain could easily suffer from an affliction inherent in many experimental games-that of having great ideas, but poor execution. Thankfully the game's unconventional control scheme only works to complement the urgency of the story, and bridges the gap between the player and the on-screen experience. Tearing down the walls of conventional game design, Heavy Rain operates almost entirely on contextual controller movements. In a moment of quietude the player may find himself rocking a baby, slowly moving the Right Analog stick back and forth, though not too fast as not to disturb the child.
Another situation may call for the player to rapidly shake the controller to fend off an attacker, or quickly tap a number of buttons to prevent a character from slipping down a rain-soaked hill. Aside from a short section at the beginning of the game explaining the controls, Heavy Rain never once assumes that it's asking the player to perform anything they're not capable of. By the half hour mark I was already in tune with the game's controls, and though the game challenged my dexterity later on, I never felt that it was asking too much of me.
It wasn't until after completing the game that I came to the conclusion that the unconventional nature of the controls was the bridge between the game's characters and myself. When they were put into a life-or-death situation, the game matched this feeling by throwing in a plethora of varied quick-time controller prompts. When they were confused about what to do in a situation, their thoughts would flash, throb, and whiz around their head, making the choice I wanted to ultimately make unclear. One such situation found me killing someone when I intended to make a different choice, but due to the obfuscated view of my character's options, I did something that I didn't intend. I was initially put off by my accidental decision, but then I realised that, perhaps in that situation myself I would've inadvertently made the same decision. Surely I closed the door on something that may have come to pass later in the game, but I was going to live by it. It eventually became an eerie sensation every time I breathed a sigh of relief the same time a game character would, coming out of a taxing situation.
One of Heavy Rain's many strengths lies in its trust of the player. At no point does the game question the choices or actions you've made, it only opens and closes doors based on these decisions. It allows for the inner monologue to open up, for the players to reason with their own moral ambiguities. At one point while playing a chilling thought entered my mind: If someone were to see the decisions I made in the game, what would they think of me? What would the choices I made say of my character? It may seem trivial to put that question to choices made in a video game experience, but as I said, the story and characters have such a genuine air of authenticity that it's nearly impossible to look at it any other way. Though I personally wanted to find out who the Origami Killer was and bring their murderous spree to an end, I constantly juggled with wondering to what lengths I would allow my characters to go to in order for this to come to pass.
To say that Heavy Rain is a fantastic gaming experience implies that the game itself is being weighed against its contemporaries, which is pretty much impossible. No game I've ever played has so profoundly moved me and caused me to think of the medium in a new light. There's art here, but I wouldn't call it an "artistic" game. There are horrific situations, but I would never call it a survival-horror game. There is a very cinematic quality to the game, but even here, I wouldn't call it an "interactive movie."
Put simply, Heavy Rain is a gaming experience that took huge risks in design, narrative, and game mechanics, and executed on its ideas to masterful effect. You will care, in the end, about the decisions you made to shape the fates of your characters, and wonder long after it's over if you made the right choices. Most of all, I hope that it will send a shockwave through the media industry as a whole and prove that video games can in many ways be the best medium to convey a story, and are more than capable of stirring up infinitely complex emotions; namely, love.
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