I enjoyed Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain, but I wanted to love it.
The game's marriage of mature story with populist design and easy-to-grasp controls show what we should come to expect from single-player, interactive entertainment. It's a video game for the folks who aren't skilled enough to enjoy playing Modern Warfare 2 online or willing to invest the time needed to learn the intricacies of Final Fantasy XIII's so-called "battle system", yet want something a little more nuanced than casual titles like Wii Sports Resort or Rock Band 2.
That's probably why I felt so let down by the game's story. Don't get me wrong. Heavy Rain is well-executed enough to recommend. It's just that the inconsistent narrative and gap-filled plot detract from the overall experience enough to knock it down from "game of the year" contender to merely "good game" status.
So now I'm going to do something I hope to do a little more of on this blog, and offer a no-holds-barred, spoiler-filled discussion of the game's story. In other words,
If you have not yet played Heavy Rain, do not read any further, as this discussion will spoil a number of plot points. If, however, you've finished the game and are looking for a spot to talk about your experience, this is the place. To make sure your innocent eyes don't accidentally read any spoilers in the next paragraph, I'm even throwing in a picture.
OK, we're definitely in spoiler territory now. Before we get to the picking of nits, I'll share the details from my first playthrough of the game. I managed to get past three of the five trials with Ethan, failing at picking my way through the electrical wires and killing another human being. That gave me enough clues to narrow Shaun's location down to about a half-dozen places, and I was able to figure out where Shaun was being held by using the foghorn cue. Norman also found Shaun, reviewing the clues he'd discovered. (I got the "nerd" trophy for finding all of them.) Madison, however, was less lucky. Though she survived the harrowing encounter at the Origami Killer's pad, I never was able to guess the password for the computer that would have revealed the killer's location. (Lauren also died, when I stupidly kicked out the window of the car before trying to rescue her. Whoops.)
All of the above left Ethan to rescue Shaun and Norman to duke out it out with Scott, the killer, on the conveyor belt. Despite what I felt was a pretty solid fight, I missed a few cues and Norman died, leaving Scott to escape. Ethan, however, was reunited with Shaun and ended up moving into a new place with Shaun and Madison, whom Ethan forgave earlier in the story. In other words, it was kind of a mixed ending. I've since gone back and experimented a little to unlock some of the other epilogues and nab some trophies I missed.
With all that in mind, here are the plot holes and inconsistencies that jumped out at me once I finished the game. (In the interest of giving an informed critique, I've taken to the internet to check out the other ways my playthrough could have resolved itself. Though I made a few mistakes, I managed to play every chapter but one and unlock several of the epilogues. In examining the contents of the other endings, these plot holes largely go unexplained unless otherwise noted.)
What was up with Ethan's blackouts?: Before Shaun is kidnapped, the game's third chapter ends with Ethan putting his son to bed, then blacking out. He comes to in the middle of a street in a residential neighbourhood. It's pouring rain, and he's holding a little origami figure in his hand. Not long after, Ethan has a second blackout, during which Shaun is kidnapped.
"Heavy Rain" makes a pretty big investment in making the player think that Ethan might have some kind of split personality disorder that's somehow related to the death of his first son, Jason, at the beginning of the game. At one point, Ethan even seems to believe it. The misdirection is a noble goal in and of itself. After all, there are only eight or so major characters in the whole game, so they've got to leave some doubt as to the identity of the killer. But come on. The blackouts serve no purpose other than to make us think Ethan is the killer. They're never explained, which makes them a ham-handed attempt at a red herring. The whole incident where Ethan is standing on a street corner (near where the Origami Killer just happened to grow up, we learn later in the game) holding an origami figure makes you go "hmmm…" at the time but strains credulity when you reflect back on it after finishing the game.
Mumbling about drowned kids: At around the game's mid-point, Ethan's estranged wife, Grace, goes to the police and tells them about Ethan's blackouts, and how sometimes she'd encounter him in his blacked-out state, mumbling about drowned kids. Why Ethan would be doing this is never reconciled.
What happens to Grace, anyway?: Speaking of Grace, I never saw her again after the aforementioned scene. She just vanished for the last third or so of the game, not even showing up in the epilogues once I've rescued Shaun. Look, she's estranged from Ethan, and in my playthrough, Ethan ends up with Madison. But that doesn't mean the mother of the child I just saved from a serial killer can't show up for two minutes, apologise for thinking I'd murder my own son and maybe tell the kid she's happy he's alive, right? (Note: Grace apparently does show up in at least one epilogue, but she should be there no matter which endings you get.)
Scott's "investigations": We learn just before the end of the game that Scott, the private eye you've been controlling since the game began, is the Origami Killer. Scott's "investigations" throughout the game were, in fact, recovery efforts in which he met with the families of his kidnapping victims so that he could confiscate any evidence that could out him later. In a key endgame scene, Scott burns all this evidence in his trash can. But why does he save it all up for the end of the game? Wouldn't a killer as calculating as Scott destroy each piece of evidence as he recovers it? Furthermore, why does Scott keep the subscriber list to his origami-related magazine, or visit a typewriter repairman to try to determine what type of machine was used to write the Origami Killer's letters? And why does Scott even go through the trouble of investigating psychotic rich kid Gordi Kramer and accusing him of being the killer?
Reprinted with permission from Gamewit.
Lifelong gamer Eric Wittmershaus got a ColecoVision for Christmas in the early '80s and never looked back. He keeps his finger on the pulse of the video game industry, administering the occasional defibrillator shock when necessary. To get in touch with Eric, e-mail him at eric [dot]wittmershaus [at]pressdemocrat [dot]com or gamewit[at] gmail[dot] com. Look for gamewit on Twitter.