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Heavy Rain Day#1: Troubling Skies

I took a break from Mass Effect 2 to play Heavy Rain for my class. If you are into interactive narrative, then you know the hype around Heavy Rain has been unprecedented. The previews and pre-release interviews have given it a lot of promise, so I had to check it out. How is it? Well, the beginning is inauspicious. The early parts of the game are finicky and pointless, and the use of agency is just about the opposite I would expect. The basic controls are also quite awkward. However, the later parts of Day 1 start to point to some more interesting stuff, so I’ll stick with it. Spoilers within.

So this is my first PS3 game ever.  Let’s see how this goes. There’s the typical shit-ton of updates for the new console and then the new game. But finally I am starting. There’s a kind of shockingly bland title screen with almost system font asking me about language – I chose English.  I take the middle difficulty (regular player, familiar with controller, not perfectly) and we go to a loading screen that gives me a slideshow teaching me simple origami. The mood is clear from even this early: the frame is stained photo, and the origami has a blood stain on it. It’s a long install, but after five or so minutes, I’m ready to play.

There’s a nice Sony title screen (and Quantic Dream card after it) with rain on black surface. The game starts with some setting text in the lower left corner telling me it’s Saturday at 11:22. The first view is of a room with a man sleeping. We zoom in on him awakening to piano music. This intro is already reminding me of Indigo Prophesy (Quantic’s earlier game), especially the music. I told to make a move with the right analog stick, up to get up, and I hit it. This is a pretty nice character model. There’s white text written on floor, obviously not diagetic, telling me to use R2 to walk and the left stick for direction. When a walk in front of the closet, an icon appears and that seems to be the system here — repeat the pattern the game asks you to. There’s weird motion (right and half circle) to open closet, but I don’t do it yet. I’m told L2 lets me see my character’s thoughts. In this case, he wants a shower before he gets dressed.  On the way to the bathroom, I find a note from my wife. I also find some small balls, and there’s a juggling scene to show QT button pressing is used in the game.

I have to say that it’s annoying that I have NO camera control at all. The left stick sort of lets me look around, but it’s very restrictive and I often find myself walking in circles because of where the camera is. I know they need the right analog for their qt system, but straying from standard action game formula is not winning Heavy Rain points. I head into the bathroom and wow, bare male ass in first five minutes. I hit X to take shower, shown in a CS, and when it’s done, I have to shake the sixaxis controller to dry off. This is followed by some timed analog movements to simulate shaving.  I learn  L1 lets me explore camera angles, but it’s still overly limited.  There’s a nice rain effect on pausing.  This is kind of a laborious intro; I know this is a tutorial to show me the controls, but this is a lot of attention to mundane activity. I do another weird analog move to open the closet and then up arrow to dress, but at least the guy dresses well. I guess you have to use the L2 whenever you’re stuck. Of course, there’s no clear indicator when to do it. I go downstairs to do some work. In the kitchen, I open the fridge, and apparently I’m a slob who drinks orange juice from the carton. I walk to the garden and the movement is pretty uncanny. There’s just lots of crazy camera stuff tied to nothing of consequence.

The kids come home while I’m in the garden. I talk to the kids for a moment, and then the wife comes home. She carrying shopping bags, and oh can’t figure out how the controls to take bags from wife work. I try a couple times and fail, and she angrily takes them into the kitchen.  FUCK YOU GAME — don’t punish me because I don’t understand a set of icons I’ve never seen. My wife asks me to put the plates down and it’s another timed control action. Even this early, I have to say that this control scheme is kind of dumb. I kiss my wife, but she cuts off the action because she needs to work on party for our older son Jason. I  go work in the study for a bit. It’s  lots of qte to draw. Oh please let this game accelerate. I could really use some plot right about now. I play with kids (carry one on my shoulders, swing one around, both qtes) and let myself lose in a swordfighting game. This is an interesting moment — I could easily have done the qte to win, but I decided to throw them so my son would beat me. My wife calls us inside, but my younger son Sean is not there. I find him upstairs looking at a bird that just died. He’s upset and we have a conversation — the theme is death being inevitable.

We cut to a CS of the family walking in a mall.  They do like the cut angle, split screen establishing shots in this game, because they use a ton of them here. The wife and Sean go to a store, and while they’re gone, I buy balloon for Jason as he walks away. There’s a cheap moment where I have to search my pockets for money, and it’s obvious that I’m not going to pick the right pocket until Jason gets lost. I feel like I have handcuffs on here — that kind of futile interactivity only works when I don’t know what the outcome is.  Now that Jason is gone, I wander around looking for him. I look over a ledge and see him downstairs at the lower level of the mall. The game (through my characters thoughts) tells me to hurry, but with these stupid controls, how do I do that? I search for Jason, and it’s a long scene where I look in stores and make a false catch on a different kid with a balloon. I don’t see him anywhere, but after a bit of searching, I  end up outside and he’s across the street. I call to Jason and he crosses to meet me as car approaches.  I CS jump to stop him. The next thing I see is the wife coming out crying, and it’s clear that Jason is dead. This is cheap shit. Why didn’t I have any control here? So it’s ok for me to simulate brushing my teeth with the sixaxis, but in the climactic moment of the scene, I get to just watch? Lame, Quantic, very lame.

We cut to a CS game intro looking around a lower class part of town. It’s 2 years later. The father picks up Sean from school, and to do it I have to mime starting the car with the right analog (ugh). Once the car starts, we cut to home — not the old nice house, but a crappier rundown one. I’m supposed to give Sean a snack, but I’m not sure how to give him one. As I try to do that, I wander around and find some other things. There’s an article about the Origami Killer in paper. I drink more stupid orange juice. I  force Sean to do his homework and help him do it when he sits down. I cook him a cheap microwave dinner. He eats, and I send him to bed. He reluctantly goes up, but he wants his teddy bear before he falls asleep. I search the house for the teddy. It takes a while but I find it.  Sean’s asleep when I get back up to his room. I tuck him in and kiss him. When I walk out, the camera shakes and I black out. We cut to a street I’m on, and I’m holding an origami piece at C- Corner North. I run, and we fade to black.

The next scene is a new character, and it’s Tuesday at 00:06 am with .0-something inches of rain listed in the lower left.  (Hmm…isn’t a precipitation count familiar in a Quantic Dream game?) My character looks like a cop or something. I enter a motel and ask clerk for Lauren Winter. When I give him 5 bucks, he remembers who she is and sends me up to to her room. I go up to her room and knock. She opens the door. She’s a prostitute — am I a john?  I put money on the table as she tells me too. Oh, I’m a PI asking about the Origami Killer and it seems her son was one of the victims. I try some tactics to get her to talk about her son, but it doesn’t work until I trick her by talking about the other mothers who might lose children. She talks about her son, and says she has no suspects.  I leave but put my card down first.

In the hallway as I’m leaving, I have an asthma attack, and I have to go through EVERY FUCKING STEP to fix it — getting the inhaler out of my pocket, raising it to my face, shaking it, and pressing it. I know this is supposed to be immersive, but after having to shave in the first section, my patience for this is low. While I’m recovering, an abusive guy shows up to enter Lauren’s hotel room and beat her up.  I knock, and the guy answers and threatens me away. As he shuts the door, I see Lauren on the ground. I have the choice to knock again, but I instead do an action to kick the door in. FIGHT in QT.  Fighting in this game is watching a movie happen and then hitting the button it tells you to when it tell you to to get a positive rather than a negative outcome. I do poorly because I can’t remember where the buttons are on the PS controller, but I win and the fight is pretty cinematic.  When the guy runs, Lauren thanks me and I leave. I get two achievements (one for her talking about her son and one for me saving her), and that’s the scene.

Next scene is Tuesday, 6:08am with a little more rain, but I’m tired and I call it a night. Some of this has been painful, but there’s enough here that I’ll try more.

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