Thursday, 11 April 2013

Parody Week: The Escapist

Having Fun in the Rain


Despite the fact that I do not own a PlayStation Move peripheral, one of the few games I have to play on the PS3 at my house is Heavy Rain: Move Edition. I played through this game a while ago, and I can tell you that the game stirred up in me a lot of feelings, the most prevalent being Frustration, Boredom & Disbelief.

Not only are the controls as unintuitive as a shrapnel sandwich, but the near constant quick time events, as well as the unfocussed story make for a very convoluted experience overall. Sure, the graphics are nice, and some of the scenes truly are engaging and cinematic, but even the best parts of the game are let down by the number of times that the controls get in the way, or the characters get side-tracked for no reason other than button-pressing exercises.

Also, I found that the attempt at realistic graphics only makes it more jarring how little freedom you actually have. This was evidenced early in the game when I could make my character go to the bathroom, but afterwards I couldn’t wash my hands. Not only did that taint my view of that particular character, but it’s something which wouldn’t have even occurred to me had my character been an Italian plumber with cartoon anatomy. So by the end of the game, all the ‘realistic graphics’ did for me was give me a clearer picture of which characters pissed me off more every time they refused to interact with background objects or stumbled into an invisible wall.

It was at this point that I decided David Cage was a moron, whose obsession with quick time events instead of gameplay was just as perplexing and unwelcome as when the mailman punches you in the stomach. But since Move Edition cost more than I would usually pay for a game, I decided to check out the bonus features, for nothing more than getting my money’s worth, but wouldn't you know, I very well might have. In the bonus content of the Move Edition  I came across a delectable and entertaining little morsel in the form of an extra mission . . .

In the bonus sub-folder from the game menu, there’s a menu item simply called The Taxidermist. This is the first iteration of a proposed episodic game series called Heavy Rain Chronicles, which are meant to serve as prequels to Heavy Rain. Out of curiosity, I played through this little game, and I was blown away by how much it didn’t suck.

You play as Madison Paige, and the chapter begins with a cut scene as she drives down the rain-drenched highway on a motorcycle, whilst a researcher colleague speaks to her over the phone, explaining the point of the mission. You’re heading to the residence of one ‘Leland White’, a suspect in the Origami Killer case, and you’re hunting down a story for your next newspaper article. As you pull up at the suspect’s house, all you know is that he’s 40 years old, single and a retired taxidermist.

I knew that this wasn’t the Origami Killer, since I’d already played Heavy Rain and already knew “who’d done it”, but there’s more than one homicidal maniac in the world, so I was on the alert as I began snooping around the place.

There are women’s clothing catalogues in the mailbox and a dirty, high heeled shoe in the garbage, but as strange as an animal-skinning cross-dresser would be, that story would never make the front page, you have to investigate further. Ringing the doorbell elicits no response, neither does peeking through the window and calling out the guy’s name. This was disheartening, but I wasn’t leaving without a story. I continued sleuthing around the side of the house.

As Madison walks around through the rain, she automatically crosses her arms across herself. The ambiguity of this gesture could suggest either that she’s feeling cold, or insecure. And as I was about to break and enter into a suspected murderer’s house, I opted for the latter.

When you enter the house, and get out of the rain, at first there’s a feeling of relief that you’re safe and inside. But as I searched the house, and found that it was a dirty hovel filled with stuffed animals and the occasional item of women’s clothing and jewellery, unease built up in my stomach in a visceral crescendo. Heading deeper into the house, there’s more and more damning evidence, and just as you come across the horrible truth of this house (which I won’t reveal in this article), you hear the suspect’s car pull into the driveway. From that point you can try to sneak out, call the police or face the man yourself, the entire time trying not to die in the process.

This entire scenario, from the slow build up and investigation to the thrilling third act is incredibly engaging. When I first played and was sleuthing around looking for clues, I felt like Nancy Drew after stumbling onto the set of CSI. Then as the tone shifts from mystery to thriller to horror, I found it was all of the little details that made the moment golden for me. The dirt and darkness of the house; the sound of rain outside and grim, foreboding music; along with the slow-panning camera and the Dutch angles as you climb the stairs, it all pieces together an atmosphere so chilling, you could store your TV dinners in it.

But the strangest thing is, even the stuff that I hate about Heavy Rain, I actually find tolerable in this incarnation. The novelty of the quick time events wears off quickly, but this game’s short enough that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In the original game the developers touted that ‘every action has consequences’, but I never really felt that until this episode, where anything you left out of place while you searched the house will alert Mr White to your presence when he comes home. Even the crappy movement controls, which are hard to point in the right direction at the best of times, just seemed to add to the suspense as I tried to swiftly sneak around unnoticed, because it made Madison seem flustered and panicky.

When I played through this the first time, I managed to escape from the house unseen, and I found the moment both tensely thrilling and ultimately fulfilling since I managed to survive unscathed. Then it occurred to me that - had this been a film - this would have been a very unsatisfying ending, since there wasn’t really a climax. A lot of people relate Heavy Rain to a film, what with its director, script, actors, themes, musical score and camera angles all chosen to accentuate the cinematic feel, but I’m starting to suspect that with every step towards being ‘cinematic’ that a game takes, it takes another step away from having immersive, engaging gameplay.

Gaming, as an art, is a much more intellectually primeval medium, and to reach a broader audience ideas should be more primitive or instinctive. The main theme of Heavy Rain’s story is based around the question ‘How far would you go for the ones you love?’ a fair theme, let down in execution for the fact that I hated every character in the game, and I was acting according to the whims of the level designer. The Taxidermist on the other hand, is based around the question ‘Are you scared yet?’. It was built entirely with that goal in mind and was much more satisfying in the long run.

So at the end of the day, I found that this style of para-realistic, interactive storytelling experience isn’t a total wash. Sadly, the series ends with the first chapter, as the project was abandoned. But from what I saw in this little chestnut, this kind of heavily railroaded story-centric game with quick time events up the arse can work in an episodic format. In fact, the popularity of games like Walking Dead seem to support my position.

Yes, perhaps I was too quick to judge, like a magistrate on methamphetamines, and David Cage isn’t necessarily the moron that I thought he was. There must be some semblance of intelligence in there if he had the presence of mind to write . . .

What’s that? David Cage postponed, and eventually abandoned, the Heavy Rain Chronicles project so they could have more development time on Heavy Rain: Move Edition?

Sorry, I take it back, David Cage is a fucking moron.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to make suggestions, ask questions & comment . . .
I would love to read your words.