It’s been a week since Heavy Rain’s release, and in that week, we’ve had a lot of time to mull over what worked about the game and what didn’t. Overall, it’s a positive experience; the gameplay is surprisingly fun, the visuals are impressive, (some of) the characters are relatable and interesting and the game handles its most suspenseful moments incredibly well. And while the plot has its problems, it’s fair to say that Heavy Rain tries to raise the bar for interactive storytelling.
If you’re going to try and raise that bar, though, you’re going to fall under more scrutiny than games that don’t (because hey, they’re not claiming to deliver anything more than simple entertainment). And in a game that’s as methodical and detail-oriented as Heavy Rain, which asks players to immerse themselves in its narrative, it’s easy to fixate on the design decisions that, for various reasons, do little apart from add an extra layer of detachment between players and the story. They’re distracting, they’re unsettling and while you might have forgiven or even dismissed them, odds are you at least noticed them.
1. “American” accents
If you’ve ever watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula, you might remember that Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder were so busy trying to get their faux-British accents right, they forgot to act. Heavy Rain has a similar problem, in that the game is set in the US, but a good chunk of its cast is made up of British and French actors trying to affect American accents. Now, we’re not suggesting that non-Americans can’t do our accents convincingly – Hugh Jackman and Hugh Laurie manage it all the time – but when Heavy Rain’s actors try it, something seems… off.
Above: “Saihriously, Oi’m an Amairracun!”
Leon Ockenden as Norman Jayden affects some sort of weird, quasi-Boston/New York accent that includes such pronunciations as “ennethin” and “figger.” Pascal Langdale as Ethan Mars starts out with convincingly flat, unremarkably American diction, but backslides repeatedly into something that sounds more like a Dublin accent. The four little boys in the story, meanwhile, are voiced by two French-speaking child actors, Max Renaudin and Taylor Gasman, and sound bizarre because of it. Here, we’ve compiled some of our favorite examples. Fair warning, though: there’s a (relatively minor) spoiler in there.
To be clear, the complaint here isn’t that some of the actors simply have accents. Accents are nothing unusual in the US, and in fact, the characters that have deliberate accents – like Lauren and Hassan – come off as more believable because of them. But when non-Americans attempt to “speak American” imperfectly – as Langdale, Ockenden and some of their fellow European castmembers do – it’s easy to hear that something’s not quite right. And because of that, there’s something off-putting about the characters themselves. Something that jars us out of the experience and reminds us we’re just playing a game.
Above: This is by no means exclusive to American accents or to Heavy Rain
This is something that may not matter to, or even be noticed by, our UK readers. But given how much we were hyped on Heavy Rain’s immersiveness and realism, it seems strange that developer Quantic Dream choose to add another layer of separation between the player and the narrative.
And while we’re on the topic, why can nobody decide on a single way to pronounce “origami?” It’s only the nickname of the game’s central villain; would it hurt to be consistent?
It only adds to that separation when the script introduces weird terms that nobody would ever use. Example: for whatever reason, Heavy Rain’s characters continually refer to children’s bodies being found “on a deserted wasteland.” Scott Shelby says it, Lauren Winter says it, even the cops say it.
For the record, here’s what most people think of when they hear “wasteland:”
For Americans, at least, “wasteland” conjures images of vast, inhospitable landscapes devoid of life or civilization. The Sahara is a wasteland. Borderlands and Fallout 3 take place in wastelands.
This, meanwhile, is what Heavy Rain thinks qualifies as a wasteland:
That’s not a wasteland any more than a lemur is an ape. It’s a goddamn empty field by some railroad tracks. You know what we call those? Empty fields by railroad tracks. Not wastelands. Not ever wastelands.
Couple weird gaffes like that with the accents, and it comes off sort of like… I don’t know, this: