Disappointment time. For all of Heavy Rain’s much vaunted pretensions of being the first great mature video game narrative, it fails. Hard. The fact is that if you strip away the beautiful imagery, the stirring musical score, the clever camera angles and the expressive facial animations, what you’re left with is a fairly gratuitous, schlocky and unoriginal story, packed with clunkily presented excesses which at times veer towards the comical.
The central plot is little more than the Saw franchise blended with the visual style of Se7en, and there’s barely a single scene or story element that isn’t built around a hoary old crime movie cliché you can instantly relate to a million hoary old crime movies. The corrupt police chief. The world-weary but big-hearted private detective. The brilliant, ideosynchratic, but mistrusted FBI agent. The crazy, out of control son of the sinister millionaire. The ballsy reporter. The sleazy nightclub owner. They’re all here in force, but they’re just the tip of an iceberg which comes close to sinking the whole narrative ship.
Some characters are fleshed out and genuinely relatable, while others are as one-note and unsympathetic as they come. Troubled father Ethan in particular, who is charged with taking the brunt of the story’s emotional weight, starts out well with a few genuinely affecting scenes. But by the mid-point of the game he becomes such a flat and undeveloped non-entity that that it's disturbingly hard to care about what should be a genuinely distressing storyline.
If you need a summation of Heavy Rain’s immaturity, check out this video comparing the two shower scenes in the game. Director David Cage may claim he only uses nudity as a character development device, but boy is that statement about to become pretty hilarious. Be warned though, the vid is rather damn racey. Adults only please.
Ethan (male) is straight in and straight out, with only a brief arse shot and a quick towel dry as an early tutorial in using the Sixaxis. Madison (female) can be manually stripped at any speed you wish, goes full frontal whenever possible, seems to have her own cameraman specially trained in close-up boob shots, can have her shower scene extended twice by ignoring a QTE prompt, gets more towel drying (which by this point in the game is far from a tutorial), and then has to be manually clothed (again, at a speed of your choice). Or you can just leave her naked and ogle for a while if you feel like it.
Heavy Rain is a movie alright, but frankly, it’s not a very good one. Which leads us onto our last and saddest point.
In fact at times it’s pretty bad. At others, it’s downright embarrassing. Let’s ignore for a moment the clichéd characters and scenarios. Let’s ignore the gratuitous excesses. Let’s ignore the occasionally over-ripe dialogue. Let’s ignore the sometimes trite imagery. Hell, let’s even ignore the clumsily-written ‘ominous’ forshadowing scene at the start; the one so sledgehammer-blunt that it made us laugh out loud. Aside from all of that, Heavy Rain’s biggest failing is that the plot is just broken.
If you’re the sort of person who played through Modern Warfare 2 and didn’t care (or notice) that it made no sense, you might be okay with it, but as a game constructed by and for the strength and malleability of its story, Heavy Rain’s narrative failings cause the whole show to fall down once you start to think about them t0 hard. It's like a heavily obese Megan Fox. Potentially great beauty stretched to the point of implausibilty by a lack of grace or restraint.
Most obviously, there’s a stinking great plot-hole late in the story which succeeds in nothing less than pulling the whole climax apart (pro writing tip: if a key dramatic moment relies on two characters knowing each other, try to make sure that they know each other, or have at least become aware of each other’s existence before said scene occurs).
But there are gaping logic voids littered throughout the whole damn thing. Would it really be possible to commit a major crime in the police station you work in – a crime easily tied to you with minimal thought required from your supposed crime-solving colleagues – and then just get back to work as if nothing had happened? Is it plausible that even a corrupt media-whore of a police chief would decide to scapegoat an arrest target based on no actual evidence or thought to how he’s eventually going to build a case in court? And how the hell does a character end up in another’s apartment without a key?
Occurrences like these are plentiful throughout Heavy Rain, and are endemic of an approach to plot which seems content to simply squeeze in dramatic moments with no thought to the wider context of why or how. And it only gets worse as the story gathers pace. As the mystery unravels, key developments are built around co-incidence, implausible jumps of logic, and bullshit theories that don’t hold together at all but turn out to be true regardless, just because it’s more convenient that way. The red herrings can be nonsensical to the point of presenting impossible and unexplained scenarios in aid of implying false guilt, and at one stage the game pulls a trick so cheap you might end up feeling cheated come the resolution.
You might not come across all of Heavy Rain's broken plot elements during your first play through, but the more you see of the overall story possibilities and the more you think about the events unfolding, the more affronted you'll feel by it all. Some might give the game a free ride because of the supposed complexity of its narrative pioneering, but in a real sense it does nothing with its branching structure more clever than the writers of Choose Your Own Adventure books have been doing for twenty years. For primary school kids. While actually making their plots work.