Monthly Archives: March 2010

It’s Raining It’s Pouring

So one of Sony’s most anticipated exclusive releases came out last week and I have had the pleasure of borrowing it off someone else to play it. I am speaking of course about Heavy Rain, The highly enigmatic noir styled murder mystery game by Quantic Dream. Over the weekend I got the chance to really sit down and sink my teeth into this game. So gather round children, while I tell you a tale!

Lame North American Cover

Now writing about this game is going to be tricky for me, chiefly for two reasons. First, it’s not a game in the most conventional sense, more of what the game designers themselves label it as interactive drama. This is to say, its a choose your own adventure story in video game form. Secondly, the game’s appeal is mostly in the unraveling of the mystery and as such divulging too much about the story would potentially ruin it for you. Given that I am prone to prattling on in my reviews going into at times excessive detail this will challenge me, and I will do my best to walk the fine line between description and spoiler.

So to give you a brief overview of the premise, the game is set around a string of murders being committed by the origami killer who’s m.o. seems to be drowning children. The game is narrated through the perspective of four different characters which you will interchange between throughout the various chapters. As the game progresses, more and more details are unraveled by the games multiple protagonist until leading up to the games climactic final scene. Through the game you play as: Ethan Mars, the family man and architect, Norman Jaden, a FBI investigator, Scott Shelby, a private eye hired by the victims of the origami killer to investigate the murders, and Madison Paige, a photographer.

Gameplay in Heavy Rain is a sticky issue for me to address, because it’s very minimal. The game is based mostly on quick time event interactions while scenes play out, with your correct cues or misses effecting the particulars of the scenes choreography. While some of the decisions you make will have a profound impact on how the game plays out, most of it is really just token interaction, as you will do menial tasks like dry off after a shower or push your kid on the swing set. The little touches add a bit of attachment to the character but it is minimal at best. There are also several times where you will find yourself walking around, this is by far the game at its worst. The control is clunky and often you will find yourself getting turned around or walking in the wrong direction because of how poorly the mechanic works. It’s a minor flaw, however it is a glaring one which will seem to constantly make itself apparent. There are scenes where you get to search for evidence and later examine it with Jaden using CSI gadgetry that seems to fall somewhere between Batman and Minority Report, this is probably some of the most engaging gameplay and I found it to be a fun challenge to try to divine out as many clues as I could, using my holo-files.

ARI the forensic program Jaden uses in Heavy Rain

The Future of Internet Porn?

Without going into too much any detail, the story is an entertaining one. The mystery is maintained throughout the game, with several red herrings and plot twists to keep the player guessing. Speaking for myself, when I discovered who it was I was quite surprised because I had already suspected and then dismissed the person as not being the killer. The plot moves at a deliberate pace constantly taking strides to draw you in and become emotionally attached to the games many characters. The tactic is effective, as suspenseful moments had me itching to hit the cues and make sure my characters got through unscathed. When someone dies in this game, you feel it.  Such feeling is rare in a generation of games fraught with shoot em ups and hack and slashers, where someone dying is nothing more than another multiplier on your combo. The point is to feel cinematic, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this Oscar worthy, it certainly achieves its ambition.

The visuals are inconsistent, but they range from being breathtaking to acceptable. Being a game where the player mostly takes the backseat while the story unfolds you would expect nothing less. Its obvious playing the game the focus was on the characters and more specifically on facial animations. The tactic is extremely effective, as the vivid visuals allow for unparalleled levels of emotional range through facial expression. Environments look gritty and real, typically having a dingy feel. Throughout the game it is raining, which is represented very effectively, with a sort of hazy look to outdoor environments. The game does suffer from it’s limitations however, with moments where more nuance physical interaction ends up looking like a scene played out by your kid sister with her Barbie dolls…

Take me Ethan, take me now!

The sound is phenominal, and it certainly helps to create the heightened tension in the atmosphere that makes the game so gripping. Music is well used with a recurring brass driven theme that seems to come in and out at strategic moments, creating a gritty noir cinema style. Voice acting is also excellent, with one caveat which I will get into in a moment. The actors almost all do an excellent job of hitting their marks and using effective emotional range to make the characters believable. However one problem I found was that given that the game was developed in France, the use of European voice actors in a story voiced with north american english makes them sound at times very bizarre. I have to admit there were moments where emotions were supposed to run high but I ended up finding myself giggling at the odd accent characters were speaking in.

wat else can I du? I need to save 'im!

All in all the game is not without its flaws. If you’re a hardcore gamer looking for a game that will take playthrough after playthrough to master, this game is not for you. However the unique experience offered is something I really feel anyone can enjoy, and for the hardcore gamer I would even still suggest renting the game and running through it at least once. Heavy Rain continues Quantic Dream’s attempts to fuse video games and cinema to create an interactive cinema experience. The story makes the game in this case, and while it does have a couple of plot holes and at times borders on the incredulous, it is overall a very entertaining story. I really enjoyed playing this game, and I think this sort of game will become more and more prevalent over time, engaging a different audience from the modern warfare players, that allows for something you can casually enjoy and get sucked into a story.

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Hell Hath No Fury…

So back to talking about things I like talking about, derivative video games! The latest game I have chosen to waste my valuable time on was Dante’s Inferno. For those of you unfamiliar this is based on the epic poem written by Dante Alighieri of the same name. If at this point you’re wondering to yourself ‘why in the fuck would anyone make a video game about 14th century guided tour through the underworld!?’ don’t worry, you’re not alone. This was the story that nobody ever fucking asked to be made a video game. I mean even Ghostbusters, a game made based on a franchise seemingly dead for nearly 20 years made a bit of sense as a video game, but Dante!?

who ya gonna call?

So anyhow all ranting aside the question remains, how does the game measure up? well that’s ultimately the biggest problem, not only is this a bastardized literary classic, but the game is a bastardization in itself! This game is, with only a few minor details, God of War. everything from controls to presentation right down to art design. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering God of War is undoubtedly one of the very best in frenetic action adventure games, it brings me back to the question of ‘why should this game exist?’.  To sum it up quickly I’ll break the gameplay down into its core segments. You run around getting locked into battles with hordes of piddling minions while you flail your long reaching weapon around in circles until they all explode and little orbs fly out of them (God of War). Occasionally you find sinners who you can either chose to punish or absolve, punishing leads to gory death while absolving means a timing based mini-game where you hit buttons as they are prompted (Parappa the Rappa or any controller based rhythm game ever made). Once you collect points you can use either holy or unholy points to level up skills on either side of your skill tree (infamous). Also, along the way you come across relics which you can equip into slots which will give you bonuses and will get leveled up to increase their usefulness the longer you have them equipped (Call of Duty Modern Warfare). If you look very carefully there, you might just see a pattern…

Now normally, I don’t have a problem with derivative games. The way I see it when a great game is made it makes sense to take what made it great and apply it to other games. The problem I have with God of War Dante’s Inferno is mainly that it doesn’t even try to differentiate itself from the material it borrows from. enemy designs, cut scenes, quick time events, attack animations, IT’S ALL IDENTICAL! Also, the gameplay on normal was at times downright difficult, not to be confused with challenging. To distinguish my point, solving a sudoku puzzle in the Sunday morning paper is challenging, putting your fist through a concrete wall is difficult. There are some points which I should address though which I did like about the game. First, it looks pretty, visuals are polished with some very cool effects and cut scenes are among the most impressive I have ever seen in a video game. Second, for all of my harping and whining the gameplay is very playable, and though I died on several occasions without having any fucking clue why or how to fix my error I still managed to enjoy the bloody carnage. Lastly, Trophies are handed out in that game like candy, so if you’re the sort that likes trophies/achievements/digital phallus’ to prove your worth then this game will treat you very well.

I almost feel bad disliking this game as much as I do looking back on it. However with a story that shames its source material, gameplay that fails to innovate on a game that came out for the Playstation 2, and because at times the game could be an exercise in frustration aggravation this just fell hopelessly short for me. It’s not a terrible game, in fact it’s probably better than a good deal of crap out there, but if you have a Playstation 3 you may as well just wait for God of War 3, or even simply buy the God of War collection (if you have a Xbox 360 you should probably only be playing mass effect 2 anyway). However if you need to play some medieval christian allegory or if you just want to see a buttload of tits, then maybe you should give the game a shot.

Beatrice, Dante's extremely liberal sweetheart

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