Heavy Rain's Most Gruesome Scene Is Still Gut-Wrenching

In preparation for the upcoming narrative game Detroit, I've been streaming David Cage's 2010 crime thriller Heavy Rain over the last two weeks on Kotaku US' Twitch channel. Yesterday, we reached the game's most iconic and brutal scene.

Heavy Rain revolves around the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who kidnaps children, drowns them in rainwater, and leaves origami figures behind on their corpses. The story follows four protagonists as they try to stop him from killing again. One of these characters, arguably the main character of the story, is Ethan Mars, a father whose son Shaun has been kidnapped by the killer. To get Shaun back, Ethan must complete various challenges including driving down a highway the wrong way and crawling through a tunnel lined with broken glass.

David Cage's games often promise grand narratives while failing to deliver. They want to send a message but if you ask Cage what the message is, he shrinks away from answering. His previous title Indigo Prophecy started off strong but slowly devolved into super powered kung fu fights and casual racism. The game following Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, is a high budget flop characterised by a disjointed narrative and distracting misogyny towards the lead character. Heavy Rain does not side-step Cage's major flaws as a writer: The main plot lacks cohesion and often veers into wild tangents, but individual scenes are often tense.

Ethan's most daunting trial is the Lizard Trial, in which he has to cut off one of his fingers to gain more information about his son's whereabouts. The player only has five minutes to decide whether to perform the deed and pick which tool is right for the job, including a sharp knife or a pair of pliers. The scene is a frantic rush, forcing the player to rifle through the room to find the best implements. This is coupled with a strong musical score by composer Normand Corbeil, which uses an elevated tempo and numerous string instruments to emulate the fast pounding of a heart. Lastly, the game's controls force the player to physically act out the deed.

Heavy Rain is full of quick time events, simple button presses that propel characters forward through actions scenes, but players also use the controller to emulate a character's physical actions. Turning a doorknob require players to twist their thumbstick, and brushing teeth is handled by shaking the controller back and forth. The result is a control scheme that not only helps the player identify with their characters and puts them in the moment, but it also stresses a physical relationship to the game world.

When I streamed the scene, the chat eventually settled on using the pliers to cut off Ethan's finger. I had to hold down various buttons to ready the pliers, slowly moving my control stick in and out to steady Ethan's breath, and finally slam my controller down to simulate the action of snapping the pliers together. It's a demanding scene that challenges my relationship with Ethan. I can either ignore his strong motivation to save his son and abandon the trial, or maim him, acting out the deed all the while. The Lizard Trial intelligently challenges the player and merges all of the game's mechanics into something that feels painful.

It is a shame, then, that much of the game fails to live up to this example, with only a few additional scene reaching similar heights. I intend a full breakdown of the game after the streamed playthrough is complete, but the Lizard Trial is a reminder that Heavy Rain is far less than the sum of even this one scene. It is a meandering mess, but for one brief moment, it really, really works.


    ...distracting misogyny towards the lead character.

    This was a distracting insult. Put up or shut up.

      I have no idea what the writer's even talking about there, or with the line about racism in Indigo Prophecy for that matter.

      I think the article's a little overly harsh on Cage's games in general personally - they're flawed, sure, but I also think there's a lot more that's good about them than they're credited for here - but that particular sentence I just found confusing.

        Me too. I haven't played Indigo Prophecy yet so can't comment on that. I get that David Cage is a somewhat overly earnest and comical figure for some (like Peter Molyneux) but if an author is going to casually accuse his games of misogyny or sexism I'd hope to see at least an example or a link to an article about same.

        It's been a long while since I've played Beyond: Two Souls but I think what Heather might be referring to with that comment is the relationship between Jodie and the male characters in the plot, specifically Ryan and Aiden.

        Spoilers (though somewhat hazy and with poor recollection) to follow...

        From what I remember, Ryan is a jerk to Jodie in most of their encounters and it always seemed odd that the game presented him as such a persistent romantic interest. You could continually refuse his advances, he would keep being awful and yet the game would continue pressing the relationship in your face. There's even a point where he professes his love and, if you reject him, he belittles Jodie as "pig headed" or something, as if the problem is with her for not accepting his love, instead of her being justified in rejecting him. Now you could say this is only the character's view, not an inherent problem of the game, and that it highlights real-world male entitlement. I just remember the game feeling a bit pushy to get Jodie to fall for Ryan, asking the player to brush off his emotionally abusive behaviour because he says he loves her as if that makes acceptable.

        The presentation of Jodie and Aiden's relationship somewhat diminishes the game's claim to strong female lead. Aiden is revealed as the true source of Jodie's powers, so you could argue that the game hasn't presented a strong, independent female lead. Instead, Cage has created a female character that relies on the strength of a male character to navigate conflict (including from incidences of sexual violence). It might be fair to say that their relationship was a symbiotic one and that they relied on each other, but it's hard to get away from the fact that Jodie was often presented as the damsel in distress who's abilities where measured through that of her male companion's.

        How indicative these examples are of a misogynistic undercurrent is obviously very subjective. I could also be be way off the mark with what was being criticised here but at least there's some alternate viewpoints for you to consider.

          That's interesting, and not a perspective I'd considered. When I played it, I always thought Ryan was a jerk and was supposed to seem like a jerk - I didn't feel like the game was trying to push the player to ignore it, I thought you were supposed to be driven away from him. By his jerkitude. But I can see how somebody else might see it a different way.

          With Aiden that whole thing never really occurred to me, probably because I didn't dwell on the gender thing at all, given the whole, uh, situation there... I don't think gender is super important in that case. It feels like a bit of a stretch to claim that it ruins the idea of a female protagonist - Aiden is not exactly empowered in the situation either, but it is an interesting PoV.

          Thanks for offering a couple of possibilities as to what the author was referring to, in either case.

            No worries! Yeah, it does become pretty oblique when you're talking about gender roles of an invisible entity and I think much of it comes down to how you personally interpret the story, but I think it's interesting to think about nonetheless.

    The game might have made more sense if they hadn't cut the paranormal scenes from the game (detailed in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxpdGB6Gbac). The story wouldn't necessarily have been any better, but it might have been a bit more coherent.

    One thing that is in the game's favour though is that it made good use of the PlayStation Move if you chose that control scheme. It gave them far more gestures to play with than you get on the standard PS3 controller.

      I tried both control schemes (played the demo with Move) but ended up favouring the dualshock due to the Move have slight accuracy problems for me and the more physical actions taking me away from the immersion in the story.

    Ho-hum.. I guess its still cool to hate on these games because they're different to the norm

      Also because David Cage is different to the norm. People like poking fun at him (which I understand). But at least back up your criticism with examples or references if you are going to criticise.

      Yeah... no. I hate these games because they are cringeworthy QTE fests with horrendous dialogue and narrative. Also they contain no actual gameplay.

    That scene... it was harrowing to say the least the first time, but I became desensitised hunting trophies.

    Cage makes interesting stories that each struggle to include immersive interaction... with varying results. However, I don't believe said tones of racism or misogyny were meant to so affect the author's sensibilities - but were introduced to make people think about common social issues.

    I mean, I might be wrong... but isn't that generally how the creative mind works? Not, like, "Here's my chance to be a dick" or anything...

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