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Heavy Rain - Complaints in Retrospect
I have now successfully, uh, seen Heavy Rain to its conclusion. To a conclusion. There wasn't really any "beating" of the game, since you can't really lose at it. In any case, it is over. I have seen the narrative, with its various twists and turns, and made it to the finale with all the protagonists intact, which indicates that I probably didn't miss anything of any major substance. I've even read up on the six other possible endings, out of curiosity, and because there's no way in hell I'm going to endure watching the game play itself again for hours at a time just to see how things might branch out ever so slightly.

I post this, however, not merely to inform you that I've beaten the game and would like a cookie, but because I have issues. Complaints. The game is a murder mystery, more or less, and that means, of course, that there is a big reveal, and that big reveal is the identity of the killer. When I saw it, it did surprise me, and they showed some flashback scenes that made me go "ooOOooOoOo" as the reveal painted them in an entirely different but plausible light. Then, however, I thought about even more scenes, and I thought harder about one they did show, which ended up being sort of unintentionally pivotal. Mostly because it's the crux of my complaints against the game and its big reveal. I cannot discuss this without spoiling the living hell out of Heavy Rain, so read on only if you've beaten it or don't care.

Just in case you're a "don't care" reader rather than a "beaten it" reader, the serial killer is, in fact, one of the four protagonists. One of my complaints is that the killer, Scotty, has to actively hide this from the player as if he knows that the player exists and said player is wondering whether or not Scotty is the killer - and furthermore that it matters to Scotty whether or not the player knows. This makes absolutely no sense, and breaks the fourth wall. To be honest, I'd have to play the game through again and collect evidence to support my case, but this is a game in which you can hear the inner thoughts of the characters, including the serial killer. It's also a game in which said serial killer thinks to himself and to himself alone (as far as he's concerned) things like, "I need to find out if John's son is the Origami Killer." That's not a direct quote, but I believe it's pretty close, and it's also completely ludicrous. There's no split personality thing going on or any other excuse like that. The killer knows he's the killer, and yes, he does speak in first person, except when he's speaking to the player, in which case he does everything he can to conceal his identity from the to-him non-existent player.

Even worse is the typewriter murder scene. In said scene, you, playing as Scotty, go into the store of a typewriter repairman. He heads into the back room, you note that he's been awhile, you suggest to yourself that you should go check on him, you walk into the back room, and it cuts to you seeing him dead on the floor. You declare that the murderer got him, and subsequently flee the scene. This scene really bothered me the first time I went through it because there's absolutely no plausible way for the murderer to have gotten to the man in so secure a place in so short an amount of time. The only, and I mean the only, fucking reason not to know for certain at that point that Scotty is the murderer (which would therefore ruin the climax of the game and the big reveal) is because you, as a player, both trust and have been conditioned to trust that the game is not cutting shit out of what you see while you're playing it.

But that's exactly what they do. You're controlling the character, actively, and you find someone dead. Hours later, they say, "oh, yeah, well, you were controlling him, sure, but there was a ten second period while you were controlling him that you weren't controlling him. And we didn't show that to you." Total. Fucking. Bullshit. Nowhere else in the game does this take place. It's pulled out of nowhere, makes no narrative sense, and makes no gameplay sense. I mean, hell, when I walk from the kitchen to the living room as Ethan, what's to say that the game didn't show me running off to kidnap some kid? Maybe between me getting out of my car and the game showing me standing beside it, as Norman, I actually wiped the crime scene of crucial evidence.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the game trains you to trust the flow of the narrative by specifically emphasizing blackout scenes early on in the game. Ethan starts to get dizzy and lightheaded, and your vision blurs, and then you're standing somewhere else and time has passed. The only conclusion you can logically draw from this is that something happened between then and now. There was a break in the flow of the narrative. They make a point of emphasizing this, and now they're going to tell me that I was watching and controlling and it was broken without warning or signal, directly in contradiction to the earlier Ethan blackout scenes? The ones that painted a picture of him as the killer, no less?

Bullshit. As a general rule, you can setup whatever sort of framework you want when telling a story or making a movie or writing a book or creating a game. Make your own world, make your own laws. Play with chronology, and play with perception, if you want. But you absolutely must remain internally consistent. You have to obey the rules that you make. Doing otherwise destroys the integrity of the work and makes it all null and void. In Heavy Rain, I cannot trust what the characters say or think, because they're trying to deceive me, a person that, to them, does not exist. I also can't trust what the characters see or do, because they, like the camera, are trying to deceive me - again, a person that should not exist to them. There is no way for me to try to determine the killer on my own, because I am being lied to by the game.

As a final note, the aforementioned red herring blackouts that Ethan suffers from, in which he blacks out, disappears somewhere for hours, and finds himself alone, outside, in the rain, with a damning origami figure and visions of children drowning, are never explained. That's a pretty big fucking hole to leave unfilled. Again, the narrative effectively lies to you by showing you evidence that is damning but yet has no other explanation.


So, end result, I'm not really sure what to think. The more I think and write about it, the more pissed off I get, and the more I feel cheated. During the game itself, though, it didn't seem too bad. I just rolled with it, and went along for the ride, and it was okay. There's still precious little game to be had, played, or enjoyed. I actually think I'd enjoy watching Heavy Rain more than playing it, really. I was in it for the story, and the gameplay wasn't fun and mostly just got in the way. That said, I do appreciate that Heavy Rain is a pretty unique and ballsy experiment, well off the beaten path and not easily shoehorned into existing genres. The ability of the player to affect the plot is notable, as are some of the game's dilemmas and situations. I mean, really, some of them are tense and emotional and conflicted and just excruciating. That said, I really wish they had been able to find some way to make the plot reveal tighter and less deceptive.


 
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