Spelunking Through Heavy Rain’s Plot Holes [Spoilers]

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.


Comments

    Gordi actually did a copy cat kill of joseph who was assumed to be one of the origami kids and thats why scott went after him this is mixed with the fact that gordis dad Charlie owned the constuction site where John died

    There seemed to be so many more questions than just these.

    When Ethan blacks out at the park there are plenty of people around. Did he pass out? Did people just ignore him? When the ride stopped and Shaun started repeatedly whining something in a nasal Frenchie accent about his missing dad, didn't the other people notice?

    If Ethan did just wander off, and Shelby turned up to coerce Shaun away, taking advantage of this amazingly timed blackout, wouldn't Shaun have been shouting that Shelby wasn't his dad?

    Did I miss a massive piece of exposition, how did Shelby get onto that Gordy guy in the first place?

    How did Madison, after being told the name John Shepard by the nightclub guy, end up at the hospital with his mother Ann Shepard (my Naarman had died by this point, eaten by the car crusher Superman 3 style, so maybe that had some effect on this plothole)?

    Why did the police never seem to notice or investigate that not only were the origami killers victims dying, but all of their fathers were disappearing too at exactly the same time, never to be seen again. (I find this the most ridiculous part of the whole game)

    It would be nearly impossible for Shelby to set up the Butterfly trial. From the broken glass in the tight tunnel, to the electricity use without anyone noticing, it's just too implausible.

    There were other things I can't remember right now, but those ones stood out. I really enjoyed playing it though!

      I'll try and answer some of the points raised in the article and in the other comments to the best of my knowledge;

      What was up with Ethan’s blackouts?: One of the three final dialogue choices with the pyscharitist he mentions that Ethan was in a coma for six months, and there's no telling what pyschological after effects that's caused. As for the orgami, I'm betting that we'll find the answer out in his Chronicles DLC

      Mumbling about drowned kids: He's depressed about losing Jason, and the media is having a field day going on about the Oragami killer, so his guilt is giving him nightmares about the deaths of all those other kids because he couldn't save Jason.

      And why does Scott even go through the trouble of investigating psychotic rich kid Gordi Kramer and accusing him of being the killer? - Because he didn't like the fact that someone was using his MO. Considering the fact that he doesn't take any joy in killing kids this is more a case of even evil having standards.

      If Ethan did just wander off, and Shelby turned up to coerce Shaun away, taking advantage of this amazingly timed blackout, wouldn’t Shaun have been shouting that Shelby wasn’t his dad? - When Madison explores Shelby's apartment she finds a cop uniform in his wardrobe, and theorises that he uses it to get the kids to trust him. It helps that he only approaches them while their alone.

      Did I miss a massive piece of exposition, how did Shelby get onto that Gordy guy in the first place? - The police had already suspected him and brought him in for questioning, and Shelby's an ex-cop. Most likely he found out about it from an old friend who was still with the department and knew that since he didn't kill that kid it must have been Gordi.

      Why did the police never seem to notice or investigate that not only were the origami killers victims dying, but all of their fathers were disappearing too at exactly the same time, never to be seen again. (I find this the most ridiculous part of the whole game) - Not all of the fathers disappeared, and some of them were already deadbeats, so the police would hardly be suprised if those guys left. The only fathers we know that disappeared were John's (Lauren's son) and the husband of the suicidal woman. It's probable that for one reason or another the other fathers didn't disappear.

      It would be nearly impossible for Shelby to set up the Butterfly trial. From the broken glass in the tight tunnel, to the electricity use without anyone noticing, it’s just too implausible. - It's an abandoned station, so he would have a lot of time to set the trial up (look at it this way; if it was still in use why hadn't they tried to fix the broken wall that Ethan uses to get in?). Setting up the glass wouldn't be impossible, since I doubt many people would have to go through those tunnels on a regular basis.

        Setting up the glass wouldn’t be impossible, since I doubt many people would have to go through those tunnels on a regular basis.

        I think he means its implausible because its a tight tunnel and Scott's way too large to fit in it.

        Unless he set up all these trials along time ago, back when he was a slim cop, which is only slightly less ridiculous.

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        I forgot about the cop uniform.

        Also the shop keepers son disappeared. Enough for the cops to look into in my book seeing as they jumped on Ethan straight away.

        Most worrying though is the complete laziness of the easiest of things. Not getting American voice actors to voice Americans. Telling us Shelby was 48 when his grave reads 1967-2011 (=44 or 45).

        Oh well, maybe they can do better next time.

    One scene that really irked me was where Scott stormed the mansion. It's plausible that Scott would be well trained with firearms due to his time in the police force and his serial killing retirement hobby. However, the scene would have been far more in place in a Chow Yun Fat/John Woo movie. He kills like 20 guys. At first it was a little bad ass, you feel powerful, but it kept going to the point of being ridiculous.

    All good points.

    Here is how I see the question for Scott’s “investigations”:
    -Buring the evidence is purely for the story, and the big reveal.
    -He could of requested the subscriber list to check if his assumed name was there.
    -He visited the typewriter store to steal the list, and kill the owner who knew he had that model of typewriter (but either forgot, or doesn't mention it)
    -Shelby doesn't like Gordi copying his murders.

    Oddly enough, my playthrough was nearly the same, except for norman surviving and madison finding all the clues.

    I agree with the blackouts, those annoyed the hell out of me, a massive red herring with no explanation.

    Pretty much all of these plot holes have some good guesses on TV tropes 'it just bugs me' page.
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/JustBugsMe/HeavyRain

    The blackouts are actually explained fairly early on in the game. If you tell Ethan's psychiatrist about them, he says it's a psychological issue, likely caused by the stress losing Jason has placed on his life.

    Sure, it's by no means a good explanation, and doesn't explain why he wakes up with an origami figure or the mumbling about drowned kids, but it's something.

    Not really much for the other two, really.

    I thought there were many holes in the plot.

    But also there were a few times when there were very weak plot progressions. The way Jason died just felt wrong and he should blame himself if he didn't teach his kidnot to run off and also simply how to cross the road safely.

    If Scott was so obsessed with Father figures and finding a worhty father why would he wait and then conviniently "remember" Ethan's heroic deed only after kidnapping other kids? Nope he's crazy obsessed in trying to find a worthy father he would not forget something like Ethan's car dive the guy would go straight after Ethan.

    Second Madison's fighting dream / rape, WTF? Never explained and I feel just an excuse to get her naked for the audience. Could be for the Japanese audience maybe(just playing devil's advocate/michael atkinson)? Later I realised it might be the convenient reason for her going to a cheap and dodgy hotel. Which is supposedly more comfortable and safer to her, hmmm. Secondly, if she was so rattled why did she help a random stranger and not keep to herself? She seemed not to be troubled by it at all really. Weak excuse for Madison and Ethan meeting.

      Did you ever play the DLC episode The Taxidermist? It pretty much explains Maddison's initial problems with crazy men chasing after her with big knives.

    Did anyone else find the ending wrap up a bit on the nose? It seemed more like something you'd see at the end of a comedy. It left very little to the imagination and was very glib.

    The Madison home invasion was definitely throw away. It's inclusion (sexual exploitation aside) was to dynamically spark the game after a very slow start. To have that scene with little more apparent meaning than Madison being anxious about her vulnerability is a missed opportunity to frame or do something more with her character.

    I just read Shaoken's post... so a lot of mine is irrevelent but I already wrote it up.

    What was up with Ethan’s blackouts?
    The psych guy says that after the accident he was in a coma, and suffered brain damage and that could explain the blackouts.

    Mumbling about drowned kid?
    In his profile, he believes that he is the killer when he blacks out, and thus could be dreaming about the exact same thing. It's not unusual to dream about a topic you are thinking about, or just listened/saw on the radio/TV. I can't explain the orgami, but I suppose he can't remember his actions, or what he does, and if he thinks he is the killer, he could possibly act like the killer. I always thought the motel looked so similar to the construction site in the dream, I wish to have had the freedom to go around the city in a free mode like GTA using the map (I figured out that it was 85_ something roosevelt road) from the clues, could have just driven around and look for drains for 2 days.

    What happens to Grace?
    I didn't get this ending. What if the divorce was so hard, and then being blamed for being the killer, on top of the guilt still for losing Jason was too much for Ethan to bear, to even go back to his past, his ex-wife and what used to be the love of his life. They weren't really close to begin with after Jason's death, why now? Especially with Madison on the scene if you got that ending.

    Scott’s “investigations”:
    I had my suspicions about Scott, at the type writer place, when he does his dirty deed, I never saw anyone come in or exit, but I thought I saw an open window. Also, in the club scene I thought it could have been him but the character model was way skinnier. I suspect that this was done to as a deus ex machina to push the story along, and fool the player. I don't see why he had to kill the owner of the store, he seemed senile anyway. As you play Scott, I think I always chose the 'good' options (trying to help people with the least amount of violence) - which I suppose would be out of character of Scott (There's a link at the end of my post with some article on this). I also wondered who was actually bankrolling the PI assignment, because wouldn't you be reporting to someone on a daily basis OR when you get some info.
    But from a psychological sense, as a hypotheical serial killer, maybe saying the evidence was a form of trophy, only to be burnt when you knew it was over. I don't know the series of events, but does he burn all the evidence after the 5th trial? What if you didn't go ahead with one of the trials, then you wouldn't have met your ideal father, and thus would have kept all the trophies until you met a worthy father... right?
    Also in regards to Gordi, I wondered why he was researching him, as the killer - he KNEW that Gori was not involved, so why all the heavy muscle and questioning? Maybe he got annoyed there was a copy cat using his MO and thus wanted to get rid of him. It's obvious that Scott wasn't going to stop until he met a worthy father, so pinning the deaths on Gordi is a no-go. I can't think of any other reason.

    And some possible answers to questions :
    When Ethan blacks out at the park there are plenty of people around. Did he pass out? Did people just ignore him? When the ride stopped and Shaun started repeatedly whining something in a nasal Frenchie accent about his missing dad, didn’t the other people notice? If Ethan did just wander off, and Shelby turned up to coerce Shaun away, taking advantage of this amazingly timed blackout, wouldn’t Shaun have been shouting that Shelby wasn’t his dad?
    It's not shown in the game, so it's all guesses. If he did collapse, I would imagine that a hospital would have been called, and the game would then have him in the hospital and not out on the street at night almost getting hit by a truck. Also, kids trust policemen. Maybe Ethan walked off around the block for gone for a period of time. Scott has the time to get in his uniform, pretend to be on duty, see that Shaun is alone and possibly crying because he can't find his father, and tells Shaun that he'll take him to the police station and work on finding his dad. Totally pausible.

    Did I miss a massive piece of exposition, how did Shelby get onto that Gordy guy in the first place?
    If you left evidence in the store, (I did everything EXCEPT the phone used for 911, which has an awesome fadeout zoom in on the phone), you get to the station for some questioning. Turns out that Blake asks Scott to keep in touch if he found out any more information, so could have been that Scott was working there and starting killing, and feeling the heat at the police, so left to continue his business.

    How did Madison, after being told the name John Shepard by the nightclub guy, end up at the hospital with his mother Ann Shepard (my Naarman had died by this point, eaten by the car crusher Superman 3 style, so maybe that had some effect on this plothole)?
    I don't entirely remember, but Madison is a journalist and has sources of information, some legit, and some underground (remember the doctor dealing drugs). So maybe she just did some research on google.

    Why did the police never seem to notice or investigate that not only were the origami killers victims dying, but all of their fathers were disappearing too at exactly the same time, never to be seen again. (I find this the most ridiculous part of the whole game).
    Not all fathers went to the trials. Hassan (Reza's father who owns the corner store at the start) never went. Also you hvae to realise that Blake is the officer in charge of the case, he's hot headed, brutish, and isn't even a detective. He doesn't even have an ARI. Seriously, he tried to blame Nathaniel with a nice beating, then pin the blame on Ethan without any real evidence. It's no surprise these killings went on for years with no leads.

    It would be nearly impossible for Shelby to set up the Butterfly trial. From the broken glass in the tight tunnel, to the electricity use without anyone noticing, it’s just too implausible...
    Scott works as a PI, and has time for himself. The trials are probably the test trials used, so he would only have to go through the effort of setting it up once. Just throw a new box of matches. I suspect no one actually got into the tunnel, because there's no corpse in there, or in the electricity generator part. Maybe he takes pride in his work and takes the dead bodies out.

    But I guess the journey in the game is what counts, I thought it was a fantasic game, and a step towards a better gaming future and continually blurring the lines between video game medium and interactive movies. Even us discussing these plot holes, makes me love the game even more, the fact that people are willing to think about the game when it's over for its flaws, and not just weak arguments (ie: halo/wow forums)

    My ending:
    Ethan marries Madison and lives happily ever after with Shaun.
    Jayden is hailed a hero and appears on a talk show to discuss his case. Later, he is seen in a bathroom contemplating a vial of Triptocaine. If the player did not take Triptocaine for the majority of the game, Jayden will flush the vial down the toilet in disgust. If the player took Triptocaine more than once during the game he is seen in his office giving a report on the ARI glasses, however when he removes them begins suffering from the side effects of the Triptocaine. (I flushed it down but suffering from side effects, little crazy tanks appear on the desk and close in)
    Lauren stands over Scott's grave, questioning why he would commit such horrible acts. She disgustedly asks how he could be with her after killing her son. She damns him for his actions, spitting on his grave and walking away.

    Here's a link to a very interesting article about authoritive control over story telling and characterisation, and my own blog with my thoughts about it.
    http://www.destructoid.com/why-heavy-rain-proves-ebert-right-165034.phtml
    http://aeryxz.com/2010/04/15/heavy-rain/

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