Friday, March 5, 2010

Heavy Rain Round-Up

By Kirk Hamilton

So, you may have noticed that I had a particularly vehement reaction to Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain. (though did anyone else notice that in the game's title, the "Rain" is italicized?  So, according to AP style, should we then reverse them and write the title as Heavy Rain? Dan? Anyone?)

Anyway. When I finished the game, I felt cheated, like it hadn't played fair with the controls, and the story that I had been suspending so much disbelief to get invested in resolved in such a thoroughly disappointing and unsatisfying manner that at the time, I wrote that I wanted to "kick the game in the nuts."

Well. As a few in the comments here and elsewhere pointed out, the main thing I was mad about were the consequences of the game - which, the argument goes, in truth meant that it was a success. That's true to a point - if I hadn't gotten the horrible ending I got, I wouldn't have felt nearly as upset about it. But all the same, I still feel that the controls really were problematically manipulative, and aside from that, I had so many other issues with the game as a whole that I can't really call it... good.  Whatever "good" means, anyway.

I've been doing a lot of reflecting and decompressing by reading various takes on it all over the internet, and it's been really helpful to see what everyone else thinks.  I thought I'd present a few posts that I particularly enjoyed, with some of my own thoughts, too.

-- First off, at The Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott's initial post said that the game left him cold.  In his words:
Heavy Rain fails as interactive drama because my interactions have almost no dramatic dimension. Heavy Rain mistakes player input prompts for agency. It assumes calibrated control over an avatar's movements produces a stronger connection between player and character, when in fact it produces the opposite effect. Ultimately, playing marionette with an on-screen character distances me from the inner life of that character and forces me to focus on activities that have very little to do with drama.
An interesting thought - To me it was akin to being the guy in the horror movie yelling advice to the people on the screen. Why wouldn't these stupid people just do what I told them to do? Was I controlling them, or not?

His second post is really worth checking out, because he sums up the gist of many of the thoughts posted in the comments for the first one. He also says that he's going to try playing the game again and looking at the narrative as a "visual, structural, and textual thing," rather than as a straight-up story. Sounds tricky. If anyone's up the task, it's Michael.

-- At Insult Swordfighting, Mitch Krpata finished the game and really liked it. If I recall, his post-game tweet said something to the effect of "I don't want to live in a world where people hate on Heavy Rain." Far be it from Mitch to be provocative without backing it up, so he wrote a post taking on those who would say that it's "not a game" because of the controls. I certainly don't count myself as one of those people - I did take issue with the controls, but it was more to do with their fairness and consistency than their "game-ness."  Even so, Mitch's post did make me want to re-experience the game and try for better endings.

Another two-poster, Mitch's second post said that "To be fair, there are a lot of bad things in Heavy Rain." He then went on to list a ton of issues that I, too, had with the game (and so, I would imagine, did many).  He still likes the game, and I'll be very interested to read his review for The Phoenix.

-- No doubt mired in the run-up to GDC, Sexy VideoGameLand's Leigh Alexander has been mum on the subject, except for a cryptic tweet - "You would expect me to be the sort who'd be the biggest advocate of heavy rain, wouldn't you. well, won't you be surprised!" Leigh's writing about nontraditional games is some of the most compelling out there, so it'll be interesting to see what she has to say, be it positive, negative, or indifferent.

-- Denis Farr has a couple of great posts, too - at Vorpal Bunny Ranch, he dissects the game's depiction of Father-Son relationships and comes to a similar conclusion to commenter Jay - at its heart, Heavy Rain depicts a violent contest of wills between fathers and sons, and showcases the brutality that can often occur in father/son relationships.

Denis also wrote a post for The Border House called "Madison Page Does Pull Triggers" that I highly recommend reading. In it, he dissects the myriad ways that Madison is set up as a typical female character.  The constant target of sexual aggression and rape, and more of a foil for the other characters than a fully-realized person in her own right.  Some of the commenters point out further things about the character that I really agree with - Madison was, without a doubt, the most frustrating character for me, and the shower scene in her first act was a pretty huge turn-off.

Side note: How great is The Border House?  I am loving that blog right now. Note to any who head there, though - it's a very safe space for readers and commenters, and you should read their discussion policy carefully. I thought I had, then let a "lame" sneak into my comment, and... well... yeah, now I feel like a jerk.

At any rate - those posts have all provided some really great food for thought as I prepare to play again.  I'm still not sold on the controls, and I have myriad  issues with a lot of the rest of it, but all the same, it is a game that provoked a lot of strong responses from me, and for that alone I feel I owe it to myself to experience it more fully.

...Just not right now, okay?  FFXIII comes out in three days, and I just finally ordered Demon's Souls, and honestly, I need a break from stupid chipper-voiced Ethan Mars and his zombie son.

(I kid, Ethan. I don't think your son is a zombie. I mean, he must be alive, since everyone else died saving him!)


Jay said...

And so ends another Hardy Boys mystery. Case closed. Whew!
But seriously, thanks for the great summary and links. I will definitely be checking out more of Border House in the near future (tho, probably NOT commenting anytime soon). And Denis Farr's article was right up my alley (but you knew that!).

I think I've already put in more than my two cents worth so I'll just say thanks for the shout-out; today's my b-day (the big 3-0) so it was quite a nice surprise to see a quick mention under today's date stamp. Very cool.

So here's to second chances and second playthroughs, or your review of the Heavy Rain Chronicles, whichever comes first.

Kirk Hamilton said...

Happy Birthday, Jay! =D

Michael Abbott said...

Thanks for including me in your roundup, Kirk. Heavy Rain is one of those rare games that scatters us in all directions. After I read contrary responses from my own to the game, especially from people like Mitch Krpata, I felt compelled to give Heavy Rain another go.

I was certain of my opinion when I wrote it, but I think we have to leave ourselves open to the possibility that not every game (or book, film, etc.) yields everything it has to offer in a first engagement. Maybe I was in the wrong frame of mind; maybe I resisted the game too strenuously. Maybe I'll dislike it even more the second time. I guess I'll find out.

But Heavy Rain has provoked a really interesting conversation about some fundamental issues related to game design, and that can only be a good thing, right?

See you in SF!

Kirk Hamilton said...

I completely feel you on how opinions can germinate and shift (especially with games like Heavy Rain). It's one of those mixed blessings inherent in any immediate, yet also easily documented form of communication (like blogging), since one wants to take advantage of the ability to share immediate impressions, but at the same time, leave room for growth.

I joked that the title of my first post after finishing the game ("Heavy Rain: Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing") could just as easily be applied to my reaction as to the game itself. Heh.

And many of my favorite albums are those that I couldn't get into the first time through. Sometimes I had to make myself keep listening, and eventually, I was able to find what it was that made them so special.

I'm not suggesting that Heavy Rain is going to become one of my favorite games ever or anything (safe to say, actually, that it isn't). But all the same, I've been really grateful to take in the wide range of opinions out there, from comments here and elsewhere to writers like you and Mitch (and all those thoughts you gathered together in that second post). It's been very helpful to see from alternate perspectives so that I can better reflect on my own.

And, of course, I absolutely agree that having more conversations about the fundamental nature of games is a good thing! It's fun, too. :) I'm interested to hear what you come up with by looking at a second time through from a mechanical/textural standpoint (and what Mitch finds with his "trying to get it wrong" playthrough, too).

And yes, see you next week! Very much looking forward to it.