A Heavy Rain Upon Interactive Storytelling, Part 1

So Let Me Get This Straight:

A retired burnt-out cop, is the technically-sophisticated mastermind behind a spat of serial killings. The fat drunk is… ? Sorry, I don’t buy this shit in the slightest!

Sorry, I guess I should have warned you that this posting would have a few spoilers in it, huh? Especially, as you would have never guessed the ending to this particular interactive story. I’m sure that the developers thought that it was in particular a “clever” twist to add an ending that makes no sense whatsoever. Stroke of genius!

Though, I guess this could simply be just “one” of a number of possible endings, but, I’m just not that stupid to buy the “nonlinear / dynamic” storytelling hype – it’s fanboy rubbished spouted by those that should know better. All stories have a: beginning, a middle, and, an end. So I know that this particular story, will have the same of all three for every player who plays it.

So, for you that have played, as I have played it, the killer is a fat drunk of a retired cop. Or am I wrong, was it the spoiled rich-kid in your version? Maybe, the detective? The drug taking wet-behind-the-ears FBI agent? No, the fat drunk you say… well then with that consensus, let’s move on with the show.

Heavy Rain is a game, trying to be a film, and not ending up very good as either. The development team seem to be more focused on presenting “experiences” to the player – of the mundane everyday variety for the most part – rather than actually entertaining through engaging us via a well-crafted narrative told through an interactive medium.

Bit harsh you think?! Well, let me go through my reasoning in what is probably too painful amount of detail for the average blog then.

Let’s start with the high-tech nature of the killings. Not the “puzzle” nature, but, the use of technology in these elaborate ploys to test a father’s affection for his (sissy) son and his determination to save him – even if it means sacrificing his own life to do so.

As the killer, we get to live a part of his life even if we don’t realise that he is the killer yet. We see into his world, into his apartment. Now, do you recall seeing a VCR in that guy’s place at all? No, I don’t either. It’s most likely because he doesn’t know how to get one to work, or, just doesn’t care for technology.

He’s old fashioned, everything in that place screams this, and since he’s a loner, probably has no one to call and wouldn’t need a mobile phone. So, he probably doesn’t know how to use one of those either; and, don’t get me started on the laptop… I don’t know, maybe he’s really into the internet porn, though, he seems more like a strip-club and cheap corner-hooker kind of “old-fashioned” guy to me.

The guy might be able to fix his antiquated toaster, but, create elaborate puzzles using mobile phones and other high-tech gizmos from his local RadioShack? What utter rubbish.

You know, I guess I come across as angry about all this in that the developers seem to think that we as players are complete fucking idiots?! That we just won’t spot the threads and want to pull on them to see if the immersive illusion will unravel. Not that they’re all that hard to spot mind you.

The number one clue (thread) that stuck in my mind, was the origami figures themselves. Of all the evidence, there was only one store in the city that dealt with them. But, do you as the player playing the part of an FBI agent, ever, go to this store to investigate the owner about what he might know or could shed possible light upon, that being the origami element of these murders? No, you don’t.

Perhaps if you did, the owner would say something along the lines of:

Geez, I wish I could help you… you know what. You should ask that fat retired drunk cop what he thinks?! He’s always in here buying shit in a stupor; mumbling under his wino-breath, always something about a dead brother, dead kids and deadbeat dads.”

I in particular I like the “clue” that is the apparent nail in the coffin for the case. The tacky gold watch. It’s so blatantly put on display for the player to spot, yet, our killer never seems to ware one like it unless he is attempting to kill our wimpy FBI agent and failing miserably at the task – yet, he took care of armed private security guards belonging to the rich-guy with ease when I played it!

At no time actually playing as the killer, do I recall seeing a gold watch on my person.

Another thing, do you recall the shop keeper’s death? I was there, as were you. Remember? Do you recall killing the shop keeper…? I most certainly don’t! And no reasonable explanation is given for this. Yet, I don’t recall ever relinquishing control of the supposed origami killer during the whole episode. I went into the back room to investigate something, I come back, he’s dead. I then proceed to clean all evidence that I was there and… no, I do believe that I didn’t kill anyone at that particular moment in game-time.

What’s the deal here, were we trying for some kind of pop-psychology multiple split-personality thing like from that alright but complete crap movie Identity (2003)?

Please, Suspend-Your-Disbelief at how Crap it All is…

Actually, what I don’t buy, is the whole “augmented reality” bullshit that the developer’s cooked up as a contrived “detective” gameplay device.

As much as I thought the beginning of the game was too long, and, too self-indulgent in “experiencing” this man’s life and his imminent sense of art-house loss. As soon as the young FBI agent put on those glasses and Michael Jackson’s glove; which with the game being set in roughly our time-period, is never explained in any way – there’s nothing in a research lab currently that comes close to what these glasses suggest in way of sophistication and functionality. All “suspension-of-disbelief” for me, was thrown out the window with this interactive “detective” storytelling attempt at gameplay.

I mean with these, there actually is NO detective gameplay at all! The work is done for you; all you have to do is press a button.

I honestly don’t buy that, at all. I also don’t buy that an FBI agent is going to take any shit from a local detective. I don’t care how young he is, he is going to have “rank” in any pissing contest. As soon as he shows up, it’s his show, not some college drop-out’s – at least that’s what many a film and TV cop show has taught us.

How would I attempt to “fix” this you ask?

For one, the whiny sounding FBI youngster shouldn’t be a playable character. The detective should be. The hot-shot university-educated agent, should be the one arrogantly demanding that the protagonist (father) be caught, not, the detective. Whose years of experience working actual homicide cases – not just reading about them at the Bureau  – working as a street smart detective; tells him that this just doesn’t add up.

It’s too easy, too convenient.

Frankly, the FBI agent is actually mostly an irrelevant sub-plot that only convolutes the story; in my opinion. You can do away with him, his glasses and glove, and most of all, the ill-developed druggie thread that goes with him – you’d have a far better story because of it. It just gets in the way and isn’t all that well developed. Sure, the augment reality thing is kinda cool. A virtual reality within a virtual reality; very cyberpunk.

But, this ain’t no cyberpunk story! And as much as I liked the virtual alien-planet-scape, it in no way, makes up for how this game lacks in fundamental gameplay.

I’m not even sure what the point of it really is; did the developers do it just for the sake of doing it, like with everything else, because their title is about a series of ill-connected half-baked “experiences” for players to presumably enjoy and this is one of them, or, because they just couldn’t come up with a better set of game mechanics in order to progress the story with… ?

My detective “gut-instincts” tells me that it’s a mix of both, or more precisely, its the latter but dressed up as the former.

Speaking of which, a detective has hunches, has gut-feelings about things – at least it’s not that hard to imagine that they do. You could easily craft a set of mechanics based on this as a basis for the “detective” gameplay. You already have the “inner-monologue” floating around the head conversation topics; this could be easily broadened or retooled to also represent actions – you know, a compulsive “hunch.” You can then add in other aspects, such as a line of questioning or inspection leading to a in-game scripted cut-scene – he sees something that grabs his attention, we hear his thoughts, he walks over to it and we now have a new set of interactions / actions available, etc.

Will it be any less contrived? Possibly not, but, I’m not the one picking the control / interface schema here – and at least it sticks to the games setting. You want to do adventure gaming without the traditional shooter / adventure mechanics we’re familiar with, so that you can force people to do a series of tedious push and hold the right sequence of buttons and/or perform the right motion with the controller joysticks, interactions…

Well, it’s gonna make a potential mess in other areas of the game – especially if you want to use an awkward “cinematic” camera that ends up being opposite to it’s intent.

I guess you just have to ask yourself what’s more important: contrived “interactive” storytelling or actual gameplay with at least the illusion of depth of interaction? I know which one I’d go for.

Anyway, back on track… read: part 2!

2 thoughts on “A Heavy Rain Upon Interactive Storytelling, Part 1”

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