Call it a missing chapter, an added short story or simply an extra sprinkling of Heavy Rain, but you may as well call for a do-over.
The first downloadable episode of Heavy Rain, the acclaimed February serial killer drama for the PlayStation 3 from development studio Quantic Dream, offers a new chapter set early in the base game's fiction, a 20-minute playable vignette involving reporter Madison Page's investigation inside the home of one suspect of the Origami Killer murders. This chapter, entitled The Taxidermist, exhibits the same high-fidelity moodiness of the full Heavy Rain, eschewing the machine-gun action momentum of the common video game for the slower pace of an adventure game or languid old cop show. But to succeed it needs to compare favourably to the 20-or-so minute-long vignettes that comprised the full Heavy Rain.
Is this one as good and open to player experimentation as the base game's tense convenience store chapter? As interestingly unsettling as the skeevy night-club episode? Or as wrenching as the scene in the small house with the baby? Tough, tough acts to follow.
All That Was Good: Heavy Rain's best qualities are in the Taxidermist. We've got moody exploration of a creepy place, orchestrated by the player's context-specific tilts and presses of a PlayStation 3 controller. When a creepy situation turns potentially dangerous, we've got tense, split-screen drama, with our hero's playable actions on one half of our TV screen while things that are happening simultaneously and should be freaking us out are happening on the other half. We've got branching pathways that lead to different conclusions, none of which involve saving the world but do involve whether we live, die and/or are responsible for a meagre Earthly victory (in this case, that'd be the writing of a great article, something I sure consider a triumph). Yeah, this is more Heavy Rain.
Obvious Roads: After a player has blown through the Taxidermist in about 20 minutes, credits roll and an on-screen notice indicates that there are four other ways to end this chapter. The awake player can easily figure out at least two others with little trouble. Google swiftly explains the other two. And it turns out that all are variations that are dependent on just one or two different choices made in the final third of the episode. That simplicity exposed, The Taxidermist looks more like a short story that has three different final pages than it does what Heavy Rain routinely teased it could be: a complex drama that changes in complex ways based on a complex combination of decisions a player has made. The Taxidermist could, in its brevity, have been a marvellous narrative chemistry set, producing different results based on all sorts of tinkering. Instead, it's far more simplistic in its construction and more rigid in form than hoped.
Needs Rewind: The thing that will triple your playing time of the Taxidermist is the hunt for paths to alternate endings as well as your likely need to train your fingers through repetition to survive one dangerous moment. The Taxidermist was designed to encourage you to commit to these re-starts, but your path to return and replay is awkward. You are able to re-start The Taxidermist from any of three moments in its short narrative, but you are forced to re-watch and replay snippets of this adventure that you'll be muttering about by the time you do all five endings. The professional writer of reviews who has never had to program a thing dares to humbly suggest that this kind of encouraged re-role-playing in search of narrative differences would be far more easily done if only the game - or at least this downloadable episode - could be rewound. May I back up a minute and re-try? Or do I have to re-start and re-watch and replay all of that? The current system is a a clumsy means to the designers' intended end.
This first downloadable episode for Heavy Rain isn't bad; it's just disappointing. Its brevity is not its fault. Its inability to compare favourably to the more exciting, more emotional, more harrowing and just overall more interesting episodes of the main game is. At least a dozen of Heavy Rain's chapters are superior to this add-on in content and in complexity of options and outcomes. The Taxidermist achieves a standard other developers would envy - and that may satisfy those who want a snack that tastes like the original game - but its level of quality is one that Heavy Rain's creators already surpassed when the game to which the Taxidermist appends itself back in February.
Heavy Rain Chronicles: The Taxidermist was developed by Quantic Dream and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3 on April 1. Retails for $US4.99 (Download only; a copy of Heavy Rain is required). A copy of the base game and a code for downloading this Chronicle were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Achieved all five endings and learned a new use for a chainsaw.
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