When it comes to Heavy Rain, it seems that there are two schools of thought.
Some people consider it to be one of the most important and ground-breaking games ever developed, a challenging mystery where nearly every decision that you make will effect what happens next in the game. Unlike other games, there’s no easy do-overs in Heavy Rain. If you get one of the four playable characters killed, the game will continue without them. At a time when people had just started to get bored with games that featured a handful of endings, Heavy Rain revolutionized the entire concept with not just a good and a bad ending but instead with over 20 possible endings. Your goal is to both discover the identity of the Origami Killer and also to save the life of little Shaun Mars before he drowns in a cage. Fail and the chances are that the last thing the game will show you is an image of the flooded cage with Shaun nowhere to be seen.
Other people consider Heavy Rain to be a game where the main goal is to get Madison Paige naked as many times as possible.
Madison is the photojournalist who, suffering from insomnia, checks into a cheap motel and happens to meet Shaun’s father, Ethan. Madison seems to spend the entire game either undressing or getting threatened by men who want her to undress. If the player chooses, Madison and Ethan can make love in his hotel room. The bra removal mini-game is actually one of the more challenging parts of Heavy Rain. For the record, it is possible to play the game without Madison taking a shower, stripping for a club owner, having sex with Ethan, or even getting attacked by the crazy doctor who repeatedly tries to stab her in the crotch with a surgical tool. It’s possible but I doubt many players have done so.
How does Heavy Rain hold up after 9 years? Surprisingly well. The game has its flaws. There’s the infamous and much parodied scene where Ethan searches for his son in a mall while calling out his name in a flat monotone. Quantic Dream is a French company and, when you play the game, it is obvious that some of the voice actors were more comfortable with the English language than others. But the the game’s rain-soaked and doom-heavy imagery all hold up well and the multiple endings make this a game that’s worthy of multiple replays.
All four of the main characters are intriguing, even the much-criticized Madison Paige. The best of them is Norman Jayden, the drug-addicted FBI agent who uses VR technology to solve his cases. Unfortunately, the game also seems to be determined to kill Norman. If you can make it to the end without Norman either dying or abandoning the case, you will have truly triumphed at Heavy Rain. My only complaint is that Lauren Winter, the prostitute who joins forces with private eye Scott Shelby, wasn’t a playable character because she had one of the most interesting storylines. If Lauren and Scott both somehow survive the game, you’ll get one of the best endings that Heavy Rain has to offer.
Scott Shelby, the private investigator, gets some of the game’s best scenes. He is big and slow and he always seems to need to use his inhaler but he can still handle himself in a fight. He gets the game’s big action set piece, where he takes out an entire army of armed guards in just a matter of minutes. At the end of the scene, he also gets to make one of the game’s biggest decisions. Do you do the “honorable” thing or do you leave a bad man to die? Whichever decision you make, it is one of Heavy Rain‘s most satisfying moments.
The majority of the game centers on Ethan, the father who has has to avoid the police while trying to save his son. He is given a set of challenges by the Origami Killer, all designed to prove whether he’s worthy of being a father. The bra-removal mini-game may be the most challenging part of Heavy Rain but the sawing off your own finger mini-game may be a close second. A close third would have to be the diaper-changing mini-game. It’s amazing how many different things you end up doing while trying to keep a little boy from drowning. At the same time, I was as proud of myself for changing that diaper as I was for unsnapping that bra. I was less proud about sawing off Ethan’s finger but it had to be done.
Ethan and saw
9 years after it was first released, Heavy Rain holds up better than I was expecting. It’s flaws are still there and the plot holes become even more obvious with each time that you play it. A frequent complaint that I’ve read about the game is that, in order for the mystery’s solution to make any sense, you have to be willing to accept that the Origami Killer would not only lie to other people but would also lie to himself. The challenges that Ethan are put through are sometimes too reminiscent of Saw and even the rightly celebrated atmosphere sometimes leans too heavily on the obvious influence of Davids Fincher and Lynch. (That Norman Jayden is based on Twin Peaks‘s Dale Cooper should be obvious to the most casual of viewers.)
Norman and Mad Jack
But, flaws and all, it’s impossible not to like this game or to appreciate the influence that it’s had on many of the games that have followed it. Even it’s cheesiest moments are fun. With the way the storyline branches out and changes depending on almost every decision that you make, this is a game that rewards frequent replays. Each decision you make, you find yourself thinking, “What would have happened if I had done something else?” Fortunately, with this game, you’ve got a chance to find out. For that reason, Heavy Rain remains one of my favorites and a game that I’m looking forward to replaying soon.
Ethan, moping. Madison, helping.