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Impressions: Heavy Rain feels like a book come to life, with the player taking control of four different characters, each with their own story line that has direct consequence on the paths of the others and the fate of each of them at the game’s emotional climax. The story unfolds in both present day and, near the half way point, a flashback to 34 years earlier, where we see the origins and motivations of the killer. Gameplay is not typical, focusing on interaction with objects and other characters that generate the story depending on the choices the player makes. Consequences are permanent, as there is no Game Over, only save points. This means playable characters can die and remain so for the rest of the game. Players can only replay scenes once the original playthrough is complete. To help players make choices, characters can press a button on the controller that reveals what the character is thinking about the situation they are in. Action unfolds via player-choice and Quick-Time Events where the player must press a button or a series of buttons in the right order and time to progress.
The story is what propels the game, as it begins somewhat innocuously with Ethan opening the refrigerator, drinking and doing other mundane actions that ultimately teach the player how to manipulate the environment. There’s a lot of emotional investment and as this is an adult story, there are some powerfully connective adult moments, including the loss of a child, but also relationships and the consequences of actions within those relationships. It is a highly mature game that has deep psychological themes and some disturbing moments that are far removed from the distance that most games keep the player. There are moments of nudity that, while not new in games, feel altogether different, purposeful and natural, as do the moments of violence, of which there are several. It’s cinematic and provocative, and in a world where popular gaming is taking nearly no risks, this feels fresh and a step in the right direction. Heavy Rain is an astonishing experience.
Chapter 28: The Lizard: For this level, players have control of Ethan. He is still looking for his son Shaun and is being tested by the killer, who has him attempting to pass a series of trails, given to him in clues inside origami figures. This is the third trial and he has been led to a rundown and fire-damaged apartment building where he discovers a hallway with numerous porcelain lizards on the floor. Nearby, at the door he is meant open, there is a decal of a similar looking reptile. With the door locked, he returns to the lizards and eventually finds one that makes a sound when it is shaken, hearing a rattling inside. Inside is the key. He smashes it and unlocks the door. The apartment is gutted by fire, scarred and scorched. At the center of the room is a folding table with a small electronic video tablet in an upright position. It is on and awaiting him to press play. When he does, the camera flips on and Ethan sees himself in a live feed. A mechanical female voice asks him if he is prepared to suffer to save his son, tasking him with cutting off the last section of one of his fingers, on camera. And he must do it in five minutes. He is told, if he succeeds, he will get a reward. A clock appears on screen, counting down.
Ethan stands up in shock and a number of thoughts cloud around his head, including refusal, pain, giving up and more. The player guides Ethan about the small room and finds a collection of items including a butcher’s knife, a flask of alcohol, scissors, a short steel rebar, a hand saw, an axe, disinfectant, and a wood shard. Selecting and pressing the cloud thoughts, Ethan rationalizes that the pain will be horrific and the wound needs to be tended to quickly. In a great moment of freedom, the player is given the choice to do what they want and suffer the consequences either way. There are a number of possible methods to accomplish the trail though the results will be the same as long as the finger is cut (and depending on which Trophy the player wants to earn: Gold Finger or Butcher). Likewise, the player could do nothing, but this exactly what Ethan gets when it’s over.
Why it Matters: Most games are linear by design, even if they have a morality or branching storylines. More so, games are games and when you fail, you go back to the main menu and try again. Not here. Heavy Rain is about making choices, right or wrong and dealing with what happens as a result of those choices. The Origami Killer’s trails for Ethan are all difficult choices and task Ethan with some dreadful paths. However, self-mutilation is completely unexpected and the most troubling trial of the five, punctuated by the killer’s question of how much is Ethan willing to suffer? The player can’t help but consider “what-if?” and wonder what they would do. The fact that the game gives players options and makes them think about the process is what makes the five minutes (in real time) seem that more impactful. The pressure to make the right choice, plus one that will be the least painful but most rewarding is really powerful, and when it’s done and Ethan is reeling on the floor, screaming in agony, it is incredibly affecting, not just because we know the pain must be unbearable, but because Ethan (and the player) learn about how far one will go, how much they will suffer, and what they are capable of doing to protect and save someone they love.