Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chubby Rain

Gotcha, suckas! It's actually heavy rain!

Yes, let me tell you all about Heavy Rain, David Cage and Quantic Dream's much-ballyhooed PS3-exclusive really-not-a-game work of interactive fiction. I don't have it and won't be playing it until long after the horse is dead and devoured. Obviously, these last few months have been unusually packed with hot new releases, and so my plate is presently full. But I did find time to check out the Heavy Rain demo, and I know you're all just dying to hear my impressions.

In the first part of the demo, you play a private investigator, asking questions and looking for leads. As you walk the short and direct path to your one destination, the feel evokes old-school Resident Evil, complete with tank controls and fixed camera angles. The scene concludes with an action sequence that is like a less cheap version of the knife fight from RE4--essentially a branching string of pre-choreographed cut scenes, with the player only having to press the right button in time at each cut to come out ahead. As was the case with Resident Evil, it's a questionable design choice to communicate such dark and serious material through the most hilarious mechanics imaginable. In fact, Heavy Rain is even more slapstick, since virtually every action, from opening a door to engaging in dialogue, is handled through a fiddly quick time event sequence.

Nevertheless, I actually did really enjoy this part. It felt almost like the developer made Heavy Rain as a movie first, then just added button prompts any time the protagonist was supposed to do something. That's a gross oversimplification, but I don't know if I would even object to that sort of interactive movie game anymore. I do enjoy an action-intensive session of Bayonetta or the occasional numbers-heavy RPG, but my stamina is not boundless, and there are times when I would welcome something less technically demanding. And I personally don't really mind QTEs. As frustrating as it was, I truly believe that the RE4 knife fight could not have been done any better. The interactivity was sufficient to convey the unforgiving tightrope walk that was their combat, and the scene would have lost a lot of impact, had the sophisticated stunt choreography been replaced with repetitive gameplay animations. Moreover, Heavy Rain shows off the versatility of the QTE as a mechanic that can be applied to any action, allowing for gameplay experiences that do not rely just on pressing buttons to make characters attack. In the future, this could lead to character-based games in genres other than action. Of course I'm not advocating a future full of interactive movies, but maybe Heavy Rain is the sort of casual game that I could appreciate in moderation.

The second half of the demo is much rougher. This time, you play a different detective as he investigates a murder scene. It is here that Heavy Rain reveals itself as an adventure game in the vein of Deja Vu. Whereas the first segment basically proceeded on rails, this second part leaves you on your own to thoroughly scan your surroundings and pick up clues. Of course, Resident Evil was basically an adventure game with limited action elements, and I can still enjoy Phoenix Wright, but Heavy Rain seems to combine the worst elements of each--the directionless tedium of point-and-click investigation with the uncooperative controls of Resident Evil. It's a rather jarring switch to this from the interactive movie of the previous segment, and it kind of made me want to stop playing.

After too many minutes of meandering with no idea what they want you to see, it's enough to make you throw up your hands and admit finally that, yes, these controls really are terrible, and, yes, pointing and clicking would be better. And it's all too much and you find yourself just running away, no idea where you're headed, and it comes to you staring down a dark and dirty alley, ready to fall, to succumb, to embrace oblivion. But there is no embrace, no gentle fade to black, but the most violent, senses-shattering slap to the face, so that all becomes just the budda-budda-budda of the still-racing heart they tore out of you. And the controls don't respond and the console doesn't respond and finally you just have to shut it down the hard way. And that, my friend, is love Heavy Rain.

Now bring on Super Street Fighter IV already. I wanna play as that oily guy.

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