Celebrating the marvellous mundanity in David Cage’s film noir interactive drama Heavy Rain

Some weather we’ve been having lately, huh? And what about all that precipitation. Why, you could almost say it was downright weighty... and also a bit French. Very, very French. We mean that in the nicest way possible, too. After all, what would ‘interactive drama’ and, by extension, this playable mystery thriller, be without the distinctly Gallic sensibilities of one Mr David Cage?

When it first launched in 2010, there was really nothing on PS3 quite like Heavy Rain. Hell, there’s barely been anything like it since. Long before LA Noire or Virginia, Cage and the rest of his team at Quantic Dream were the only ones aiming to take a film noir/dark police procedural and translate it into a playable game. Just think about the core premise. A dialogue-heavy, QTE-stuffed, glorified point-and-click that jumps between a private detective changing a baby’s nappy to an undercover journo stripping for a sleazy nightclub owner. No character customisation or weapon upgrades, like you might expect. Nuts, right?

It’s precisely because Heavy Rain was so brazenly different from its contemporary competition that its legacy still endures all these years later. In a late noughties market clogged with Call Of Duty copycats and GTA IV wannabes, with cool central characters toting shiny weapons in exciting locations, this bizarre little adventure, which focused on catching a child-drowning serial killer with a grieving dad, determined reporter, hallucination-plagued FBI profiler, and an asthmatic private eye, effortlessly stood out from the shooter-saturated crowd.

Part of what makes Heavy Rain so special is how gloriously ordinary its setting is. This is a game that positively revels in the mundane. Just look at how it opens. You start by helping a middle-aged architect out of bed. Yes, an architect. If there was any doubt David Cage is more interested in the dreary (often excruciatingly dull) world we live in, rather than the bombastic universes and space marines so many games adore, may we point you towards an intro which forces you to give a designer with a dad bod a shower, before looking at building schematics.

The game does have its action sequences; fights and chases break up the slower investigative sections, but the bulk of Heavy Rain is more ordinary. Painfully watching a father cook a depressing microwave meal for his son in his even more depressing bungalow. Watching that same duo act out a pretend lightsaber duel with toy swords in happier times. Interviewing a junkie mother in a miserable, muddy trailer park. It’s this combination of unspectacular scenarios, all played out in a dank, instantly credible Philadelphia-inspired city that lends Heavy Rain such quietly gripping weight.

It’s still absolutely mad, of course. C’mon, this is a David Cage production. Characters you awkwardly steer around boxy rooms with R2 like they’re unwieldy, human-shaped cruise liners. Drug trips that riff off The Matrix. Torture scenes that doff a bloody cap to Saw. Totally unnecessary nudity and a really unerotic sex scene. As you jump between glum architect Ethan Mars and Heavy Rain’s other three leads, weird, slightly sexy or utterly daft plot or gameplay devices are never far away.

Seven years on, there’s no question this is still Cage’s masterpiece. The Indigo Prophecy and Beyond: Two Souls had their moments, but both were basically leaden-scripted, Friday-night-Channel-5-sci-fi flicks. We can only hope his proper PS4 debut, the exceedingly clever-looking Detroit, can match the marvellous mundanity of Heavy Rain.

This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.

Dave Meikleham
Paid maker of words, goes by many names: Meiksy… Macklespammer… Big Hungry Joe. Obsessive fan of Metal Gear Solid, Nathan Drake's digital pecks and Dino Crisis 2. Loves Jurassic Park so much, may burst at any moment.