Double Buffered

A Programmer’s View of Game Design, Development, and Culture

Heavy Rain: Thank You For Supporting Interactive Drama

Posted by Ben Zeigler on April 19, 2010

I started playing Heavy Rain at around 7pm on a Saturday a few weeks ago, and finished it at 1am Monday morning. The thing was damn compelling, though it’s certainly heavily flawed. The walking controls suck, a few of the voice actors were pretty painful (looking at you Lauren and Sean), and the aesthetic was uniformly European and foreign to the purported setting of quasi-Philadelphia. Which apparently has two non-white people total, unlike real world Philadelphia which is a majority minority city.

Why did Heavy Rain work for me? The key scenes for me came late in the game where I was being told, both by the game mechanics themselves and a driving character in the plot, to do things that my player character would never do. I only had a few seconds to make a decision, and damn if I didn’t start sweating a bit. I knew I wouldn’t be able to redo the decision if it turned out poorly, because the game makes it just difficult enough to restore old saves. In every thriller I’ve seen and games I’ve ever played the hero would have gone one way, but I was going to try the other, unexplored path.

That particular decision ended up being very satisfying, as I was able to solve a puzzle using some subtle clues, and I avoided a fairly horrible fate. The simple existence of those decisions, and several others, are why Heavy Rain succeeds as an extremely inventive form of truly interactive drama. Sure, it’s just a choose your own adventure book, but at least in my play through it was a very consistent, well thought out, and challenging one. It also has the best implementation I’ve seen so far of quick time events, as the analog nature of the inputs really helps bring across subtle details and draw you into the character’s motivations.

Heavy Rain really reminded me of why I disliked Uncharted 2 so much. Uncharted 2 put tons of effort into recreating the film experience (even doing full performance capturing) in real time, but what was the point? At no point were you able to influence the important actions of your characters. Uncharted 2 is two only loosely connected halves: a game and a movie. Frankly I’ve played better games and seen better movies. Heavy Rain on the other hand, really is the full merging of Game and Movie, because your choices are strongly informed by the narrative, and likewise dramatically influence it in return.

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