What Made People Think 'Heavy Rain' Was a Great Game

Detailed plot spoilers below.

There’s an interrogation a few hours into Heavy Rain where a lot of what the game’s going for comes into focus. Ethan Mars, one of the four playable characters, has come to the police station to report that his child Shaun has gone missing. With the Origami Killer on the loose, time is of the essence, and a rude detective puts the screws to Ethan in order to get the most information possible. He asks what time the child went missing, and a cloud of possible options flutters around Ethan’s head. You make a choice, and the rapid-fire follow-up comes: what color was Shaun’s jacket?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/xgqvqk/what-made-people-think-heavy-rain-was-a-great-game
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I never actually played Heavy Rain but I’ll admit it was innovative and interesting. Basically it’s the first big budget Western visual novel, which was a concept that nobody but anime nerds even knew about in 2010 and game critics didn’t yet take seriously.

But reading this, I can’t help but feel like if you wanted a mixture of Saw-esque horror exploitation, mind-bending mystery, and an intricate plot with actual choices and twists that aren’t nonsense, we all should have been talking about 999 on the Nintendo DS.

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It is not a visual novel and I’m really tired people keep saying it is.

Heavy Rain is basically a point and click adventure game that guts item puzzles and the old interface style for the sake of immersive story beats and player involvement. There’s a reason Telltale started to copy a lot of what David Cage was doing after this game released.

It was innovative but it was not a visual novel because games with multiple branching paths and lots of writing already existed. It doesn’t function or is designed at all like a visual novel.

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I’m not clear if you’re objecting to Heavy Rain being associated with VNs or that VNs are being associated with Heavy Rain. I would say this is a very fair comparison, I don’t understand the objection. Historically VNs and adventure games are so heavily linked that making a distinction sounds like arguing if something is “horror” or “thriller”.

Anyway, 999’s gameplay roots are just as heavily born from adventure games. It’s gameplay element is a point and click escape room sequence. Perhaps a more pure VN is 428 Shibuya Scramble that’s even more similar to Heavy Rain in terms of multiple perspectives and urban setting. But that wasn’t available in 2010 in the West.

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I don’t get the comparison to a visual novel? The only VN I can think of that would be similar is Ladykiller In A Bind with its dialogue choices fading in and out over time (haven’t played it myself, might be misremembering trailers or something?). Typical visual novels don’t play tricks with your inputs in the ways that Heavy Rain does, where dialogue options spin around you, shake, and generally get difficult to parse in more stressful scenes. Heavy Rain is also just a lot more complex to control than any visual novel, and not necessarily to its benefit. There are three different ways to do every input and the way they’re presented can make it unclear which the game wants from you until you’ve failed it once.

The lying to you is such a ridiculous part of the game. Because it has a mechanic for listening to the thoughts of the character you’re playing, and we now have to face that that was lying throughout the game, or that the character was somehow thinking deceptively in case, what, someone happened to be reading their mind? Every other character has some case, however stretched, for having an inaccurate perception of reality, and it had to be the one who didn’t? When you could have played as Lauren instead and avoided the problems entirely? Ugh. It would still have an awful lot of problems, but it could be a lot less frustrating what seems like so easily.

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Cameron uses Detroit as the example of how Quantic Dream’s creative aspirations became choked by hokey genre writing masquerading as high literature, but it’s easy to forgot that this was already the case as soon as Beyond: Two Souls.

That game has all the tonal consistency of a car crash, and the ultimate resolution of Willem Dafoe’s character is unbelievable in how ill-advised the messaging is.

For as much as I don’t like (and even hate) a lot of their games after that point, Telltale’s first season of Walking Dead was a ten-ton hammer in showing how much better you could do this sort of formula, and the lack of evolution for QD’s games since then can be almost solely attributed to Cage’s egoistic writing style.

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Apparently a lot of the redeeming parts of Detroit were a result of Clancy Brown and Bryan Dechart essentially ignoring Cage’s direction and doing their own thing.

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The game was a few pretty interesting character dramas trapped inside of a bad Planet of Hats scenario, so yeah that sounds about right.

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The comparisons to Telltale and Visual Novels really gloss over the thing that makes Heavy Rain an unplayble slog ten years later - the absolutely absurd QTEs required to do anything. Adventure games and VNs, and even 999-ish hybrids, cut out all extraneous gameplay. Heavy Rain is nothing but extraneous gameplay.

The frustration and unintentional comedy of watching your character repeatedly fail to grab a glass of orange juice or open a door completely undercuts any narrative momentum or tension it manages to build up.

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I’m legally obligated to watch this every time it gets posted, it’s so good.

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Heavy Rain never resolves the plot about Ethan having weird blackouts and waking up in strange parts of town.

I never played the game when we first got it: my wife, who bounces off most “core” games, really took to it, and I mostly enjoyed watching a movie where my wife steered some of the plot. I didn’t even know there was an awkward-as-fuck sex scene, because my wife rightly chose to not have Ethan get romantic while trying, under intense time pressure, to save the life of his son.

A couple years later I picked the game back up to get the Platinum trophy, and… everything breaks down when you see all the different branches the narrative offers. I believe Cage was quoted as stating the game should only be played once, and I think that’s correct, so I have to wonder why Quantic Dream had trophies for experiencing ALL the different endings.

You know what made me think Heavy Rain was good initially?

I played it in French with subtitles. I couldn’t tell if the French VO was as bad as the English VO and because of it I managed to trick myself into thinking I was playing a French noir thriller game. I actually recommended playing it this way to people for years.

But the games VO is not its only problem lol.

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I agree that it’s comedic, but tbh doing that stuff is what I appreciate in the Quantic Dream formula – in theory*, at least. I think that a lot of their pull is being about the mundane. Brewing that can of coffee, shaving your face, cleaning up after your kids. Similar to what makes people play job simulators.

QD screws up by slapping poorly made action and terrible writing on top of that. Other games have honed in on the essence of mundane in better ways. Tale of Tales’ Graveyard’s (2008) single interaction of sitting on a bench is better executed than anything in the mess that is Indigo Prophecy.

* I say in theory because I’ve actually only played Indigo Prophecy which was enough (I’ve watched LPs of Heavy Rain and Detroit though, let someone else suffer).

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One of the game’s many issues is that, IIRC David Cage insisted on French actors for the English version of the game. The actors are great in their native language, but come across as really stilted in English, leading to things like Ethan’s robotic calls for Jason or Norman Jayden’s bizarre pseudo-Boston accent.

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I remember being excited because I had actually played Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy and the opening was basically:
Scene 1:

  • Discover body in bathroom
  • Panic, choose how/if you want to cover up crime
  • Get the hell out of there
    Scene 2:
  • Now you’re playing as a police officer called to the scene
  • Investigate scene, notice details about attempts to cover up crime (or not)
  • Set out on the track of finding the killer

I was so ready to see how playing as multiple different characters in a scene would go, story-wise. But not long after that the game devolved into QTE action sequences that got really difficult and didn’t really pay off on that premise. Heavy Rain seemed to focus more on these really intruiging set pieces and less on QTE action.

But the plot was just bonkers. It’s a really linear sequence of scenes that avoids continuity problems by just keeping all the characters’ stories kind of independent. I tried to play through it twice but I didn’t finish it either time. I’ve never touched a Cage game since and haven’t felt the need to. I would love to see more multiple perspective narrative titles that play with interesting choice/consequence interactions. But I get that they are really complex and hard to do, and you need a compelling narrative to boot.

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I played this game at a very dark time in my life. I was in a bad place personally, battling with depression and loss, and games were my escapism.

I had been looking forward to Heavy Rain for a long time. It was the reason I bought a PS3. I went on a complete media blackout, I didn’t want to know anything about this game, I wanted to start it as fresh as I possibly could.

At the time, the game really connected with me, specifically the bits about loss, and being a father. I did not fully grasp the degree to which some of the game’s parts were problematic. In my memory, it ranks as one of my most favourite gaming experiences. I even loved the bit where the game taught you how to fold an origami bird during its install routine - a piece of paper was included with the collector’s edition, and I still have that edition and the origami.

I have been tempted to buy the PC release from Epic Games and play the game again, since I no longer own a PS3. But I should probably check out the free demo first.

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God there are so many games from the last ten years that I hope get this same sort of… cathartic release, this unburdening of ourselves from its weight once they hit ten years. Just unloading the reasons why it was at worst hot steaming shit and at best a forgettable bland experience that is not worth going back to. Just… taking the game off the pedestal and throwing it into the box destined for Value Village.

Heavy Rain deserves nothing more than to stay in 2010 and be just nothing more than a memory and a funny video of the clumsiest man alive in the slow speed chase through a supermarket.

Here’s hoping LA Noire, the David Cage-iest game not made by David Cage, gets the same treatment next year.

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Was Heavy Rain considered strong from a tech perspective back when it came out? I know a couple of straight up “keep politics out of my games”-type people who love Beyond and Detroit and as far as I can tell it’s entirely because those games look expensive. High fidelity graphics and good motion capture are enough to convince a lot of people who play video games that the story they’re seeing is good.

How have I never seen this holy hell… getting weird looks in the library I’m dying.

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