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I came into work this week, and all everyone seems to be talking about is Heavy Rain. I think this means it’s safe to start talking about the game’s story (even so I’ll try to keep this spoiler-free).
Heavy Rain is a great game, as you can see for yourself in our review. In fact, the game’s overall reception has been fairly positive. However, in order to put some perspective on the title, I thought I’d talk a little bit about an area of the game I found lacking.
Let me also say this (again). Overall I liked Heavy Rain’s story.
Now to the point. My main problem with the game’s narrative has to do with believability. I’ve often felt that believability is one of the most important aspects of creating an engaging tale. This doesn’t mean a story has to be realistic. Certainly there are many aspects of Lord of the Rings that are very unbelievable, but once you get dropped into Tolkein’s fictionalized world there is so much color to his universe that it’s hard not to get lost in the moment and – at least for a time – feel like you are somewhere else.
Lord of the Rings is a good story.
This power to transport is what makes any story compelling. It’s what makes horror movies scary. It’s what make’s comedies funny. It’s why we cried during Rudy and Forrest Gump (just admit it).
But a story has no power over your emotions if you don’t buy into the action that is taking place.
The key to pulling off this trick is making sure your characters – not your situations – are authentic. It doesn’t matter how ridiculous the world is as long as we can connect with the characters and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Let’s look at a game that does have a story I consider to be engaging: God of War.
God of War’s world is about as unbelievable as you can get. It’s filled with mythical flying beasts, giant creatures whose forms blend with the environment, and the main character, Kratos, performs one ridiculous feat after another. But none of that matters because we’ve bought into the game’s tale of revenge.
In God of War we know that Kratos seeks revenge against Ares, the god of war, for years of personal enslavement and the god’s involvement in the death of Kratos’ family. We all understand Kratos’ motives, because revenge resonates inside us all. We all know what it’s like to hate someone. We all know what it’s like to want to seek revenge against someone (even if it is on a much pettier scale). We all have people we love, and we all know how we’d feel if they we’re murdered. That kind of hatred is in our DNA.
So when Kratos hunts down Ares and kills him we understand why.
In God of War, Kratos eventually has his revenge, but what if things had played out differently? What if at the end of the game, as Kratos was approaching Ares, Ares said, “Kratos don’t you get it? Remember how often you spoke of how your family drove you crazy. Remember how you said, ‘Sometimes I just want to strangle them?’ Well, I just fulfilled that wish. Don’t you get it? It was all a big joke.”
And then what if Kratos started laughing. “Hahaha, oh boy, I see what you did there, Ares. You really got me good that time. Let’s go share some ale.”
We’d go, “huh?” We’d think that was a ridiculous way to end the game. We’d think that the writers of God of War had all hopped on the crazy train. That kind of story betrays everything we know about human nature. Our heroes are supposed to fight injustice, not let it slide. Characters have the freedom to react to situations in many ways, but if they betray common sense it upsets us. Kratos could have forgiven Ares, and that could have been a good story, but that’s a much more challenging story to write.
There are basic rules by which all characters operate in fiction. This is ultimately the problem I had with Heavy Rain’s story. In many situations I found the characters acting in ways that seemed to betray their sensibilities, morals, or intelligence. This isn’t always bad, but I saw it happen enough that these situations began to pull me out of the moment, and the game lost some of its gravitas. In short, I think Heavy Rain lacked a certain amount of verisimilitude. For a game so focused on putting you in the role of another person this was a problem for me.
It’s hard to reference specific moments without giving away spoilers. So I won’t, but I will leave this open to discussion.
Anyone out there have a similar experience?
Anyone out there feel like disagreeing with me?
Email the author Ben Reeves, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.
God Ben! Why do you hate everything?!? This blog is so biased! Someone with more experience should have written it!
I'm currently enjoying Heavy Rain. It is the only game I've ever played that required the use of my tongue as a button-pressing implement. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
So far, I've enjoyed the story plenty, but I see what you're talking about. On one hand, I think the characters are extremely malleable, so it's hard to say that they're contradicting their pathos. On the other hand, there have been a few instances where I've molded a character into being one sort of person (a moral, non-violent peace keeper) and the options I was later presented with didn't jibe with the character I'd "created." And I found this to be frustrating. It's like the game gives you too much power to mold the characters and not enough at the same time.
well, i really dont know any other games but ill check them out again to see this
I've found that almost every video game has that element of unbelievability (by this, I means its loose grip on realism), and that's why it's a video game. None of what I have to say deals much with your idea of "the basic rules by which all characters operate in fiction," so I doubt it'll be very helpful in terms what rebuttals can be offered, but it is what it is.
I hope I'm not stepping over any boundaries of spoiled/unspoiled territory in "Heavy Rain" when I say this, but I was very much caught in the moment of Ethan's story. Perhaps not so much the others, but definitely in Ethan's involvement and his quest to save his son. It was as effective, at least emotionally, and at least to me, as "Forrest Gump" was. I won't go further so as definitely not to spoil the game, but yeah.
I agree with you, in part, but I also disagree. Maybe I'm just not understanding the point you're trying to get across.
Now, I haven't played Heavy Rain, but I think the problem with a game that gives you the option to take the story in any direction you want to with set characters is that it gives you the option to take the story in any direction you want to with set characters. Kratos's story played so well because everything that happened is what we expected to happen. Choice is a great thing, but not when it goes against a character's design. The only way to correctly implement choice in a video game is to either have A) an entirely customizable character (Shepard), or B) have all of the choices fit with the character in question.
I, as well, have not played Heavy Rain. However, it looks more like you are addressing the problem of when a character does something he wouldn't rather than the game. What always kills me with games where you control who characters are like that is that at some point I know I'm going to have to break what I've created. There will be a point where theres no option I'm content with. Kratos has a scripted story thats why he works. Heavy Rain is partially scripted. You arent quite the creator, you dont have complete control. So at some point no matter your choices you have to fit back into a mold. Pieces must chip off in the process.
Maybe the problem isn't with Heavy Rain's story, maybe it's the fact that we've been shoehorned into expecting a certain thing out of the characters in our game. Perhaps the problem is that they put too much emphasis on what human nature is really like, unpredictable. We've become so spoiled by these epic movie theater fairy tale stories that we come to expect that no matter what.
There is no way to predict how someone is going to react. People's emotions change and that effects their decisions. Human beings are fundamentally insane, so trying to say someone did something they wouldn't have is silly. I've spent years with a friend who said he would never drink heavily, and guess what? The guy now gets sloshed out of his mind every chance he gets.
What about the Mass Effect series? It works in exactly the same way, and I had moments in that game where my Shepard, who isn't necessarily your Shepard, did things that he may not have normally done because I was partially tricked by the wording of the conversation option. My calm clean collected Shepard became a bloodthursty balls to the walls Dirty Harry Shepard thanks to my conversation choices and an accidental, and poorly timed, drop of the controller onto the left trigger. You didn't bring that up with that game so why bring it up now?
Wow. I definitely disagree and I have to say I no longer have any faith in anything you have to say, due to the fact you just said God of War's characters had more believability than the characters in Heavy Rain. The whole point of Heavy Rain is that the characters are doing everything spur of the moment. Everything on a moments notice. Of course they will act outside of normal sensibilities. When people are put in extraordinary situations they are bound to act differently then they would on a normal basis. That holds true to everything that is human. They are all racing with the clock to save the life of a young boy. It is far more engaging and connected to the human condition than any other game I've played.
I think there are fundamental differences between Heavy Rain and Mass Effect. I've played both Mass Effects and I'm finishing up Heavy Rain. In Mass Effect, the game does provide you with some choice regarding character development, but those choices are really binary and Shepherd isn't a terribly deep character. (No hate! I love both Mass Effect games). Essentially, the choice players are presented with is either to make Shepherd a virtuous, moral character who takes the actions required of him for admirable reasons or to make Shepherd a hard-talking, angry antihero who takes the same exact actions as good Shepherd but does so for less admirable reasons. There is not a lot of exploration into Shepherd's past (aside from the fact that you can pick what that past is) and how that might effect his choices. Essentially, the player chooses Paragon or Renegade based on the player's preferences, not based on what the Player feels "fits" with their idea of who Shepherd really is.
Heavy Rain isn't like that. The back-stories of the four protagonists are deeper than Shepherd's is (particularly those of Jayden and Ethan). In Mass Effect, when presented with an apparently character-forming decision, I find myself asking, "What is the best way to bring my character closer to achieving the ultimate goal?" Sure, if the Paragon and Renegade options seem equally efficient, I'll lean towards whichever choice fits with my attempt to make an ultimate Paragon or ultimate Renegade. But if one option seems clearly better, I'll take it regardless of whether it jibes with my idea of Shepherd. In Heavy Rain, the primary question I find myself asking is "What would Shelby (or whatever other character I'm currently playing as) do here?" And I'll go with that option. The game demands that you pay more attention to the characters' personalities. I can't articulate why that is. It just is. This is why I find it frustrating when I'm given a set of options that does not include an option my idea of a given protagonist would take.
Venturing into spoiler territory, my Jayden, while a drug addict, is an ultimately rule-abiding good guy who believes that people have rights and that rules are there for a reason even if they're inconvenient. He would not beat a confession out of a suspect. Then, suddenly, he's in a shrinks office trying to convince the shrink to break his oath of confidentiality. My idea of Jayden would never even attempt to get a doctor to break such an oath, but I wasn't presented with a "leave the doctor alone" option, even thought that clearly would have been an option in real life. This is why I say that Heavy Rain ultimately gives us not enough and too much influence over the direction of our characters at the same time. On one hand, the game gave me great freedom to create the Jayden I felt was appropriate. Then, suddenly, I was left with an unpalatable choice of forcing Jayden to take actions he wouldn't take even when other options would be available in real life. This breaks my immersion into the game.
This is nitpicky, I know. Ultimately, I'm very much enjoying Heavy Rain, but this aspect of it is a bit frustrating to me.
@Demon of Elru Glad you're just willing to agree to disagree:) Don't worry my option isn't always wrong. I think Eric made a some good points. That's kind of what I'm talking about, but there were many other moments where I felt the hand of the writer pushing each characters in a certain direction. I know a lot of other people in the office didn't have this problem with the game, but I thought some of our readers might have some interesting things to say on the subject.
Story is something that attracts me to a game. I have played games before that had questionable gameplay, but the story was enjoyable. Heavy Rain does represent a game that delivers an impressive story that has great support from its characters and enough emotion to make anyone empathize. And what makes Heavy Rain unique in this generation is the fact that the story can change. Whatever choices you do make influence the reactions of the characters. What makes it different from games like Mass Effect and Fallout 3, is that there is no waiting time in your actions. They occur in real time. You have just a finite amount of time to execute your actions. And you, like anyone around you, may use your own feelings and logic to judge the best course of action. That is why I feel Heavy Rain is a genuine success. You know how the story begins. It is all a matter of how things lead up to the end of the story.
That's what happens to me all the time. Unless I feel connected to the characters, i won't feel intrigued to play that game anymore.
Additionally, the settings also play an important role, too. If we're interested in, say, the Greek mythology, it'll be easier for us to get into the game. That said, the characters are still the essential element of the whole package.
This is so true
I totally agree with you. That's always one of my biggest complaints when I see a bad movie. I'm just like, "He wouldn't do that! It doesn't make sense!" Now that I think of it, I said this same thing tonight while I was watching the newest Lost episode. The things they are doing to Sayid doesn't make any sense and it's really making me frustrated with the show.
I only had a problem with one scene in the game, and that is the accident....everything about it is wrong!!! Think about it. I know my physiscs, and I have been in similar situations....its not right...just not right.
I'm only about 60% through the game, but I agree with you completely. It is like it tries WAY too hard, and the most dramatic parts of the game just feel... off.
I also like Heavy Rain, and I like what it is trying to do - I just think if you're going to go all out with the tech, also go all out with the voice acting, writing, and maybe get some feedback from an audience or two.
I'll comment again after I've played more, but in general - I have not felt like this game was able to suspend my disbelief at all. And if the game's antagonist ends up being who I think it is (not a playable character) - then I will be even more upset.
It reminds me of Phantom Menace. So much potential, so much hype, and I want to love it so much - but there are just too many things keeping this from being what I want it to be. These are not the people I wanted to see on the screen.
@ Eric Chad: Hey man, I required tongue use too...
"Heavy Rain" is definitely not a game for everyone, but it still a great game. I understand wanting to get attached to the characters you control and be immersed in their story, and personally, I feel you get this with "Heavy Rain". I have only played through the first two chapters thus far, but after the second chapter, I was almost in tears, I had become so attached. Scoff if you want at a grown man being moved by a video game, but the fact is the characters and story had me totally hooked in and attached to the characters, as well as everything going on.
@Oblivionator I've had to do it a few times now. Each time I do, I look around the room to make sure my fiancee didn't enter the room without me noticing
I wish I could discuss it more, but I still haven't bought the game. Although if the narrative really does feel off in certain moments, does it really ruin some parts of the game that could have played out very well? Or are the non-believable moments on a much smaller scale?