Status: Complete to “Four Heroes” ending.
Most Intriguing Idea: Making a playable thriller.
Best Design Decision: Using QTEs to make almost every action of a mystery playable.
Worst Design Decision: Too many main characters.
Where most games trying to be films have trended towards pure action or criminal drama, Heavy Rain aims to be a playable thriller, with mixed success. A significant part of the problem is that this is not a very good thriller. Serious plot holes appear, which is hardly a surprise, and many supporting characters are simply broad caricatures, but the real problem is that the story is flabby. Norman and Madison are almost completely superfluous characters whose storylines contribute nothing besides a problematic sci-fi angle and a creepy rape obsession. Compressing Norman’s storyline into Scott’s and condensing Lauren and Madison into a single character would have made for a shorter, more taut experience.
Structural issues also help make the game sag when it should snap. In film, cross-cutting between plotlines helps build tension and excitement, but in a game the intercession of loading screens allows the player to relax during the cut, which makes each chapter play out more like an individual story than as a continuous ride up the tension ramp.
An additional weakness in the game construction is that its film portion doesn’t do a very good job of showing the player’s success on screen (i.e. in the resuscitation scene the player can nail every cue but appear to “fail” before Shaun miraculously recovers without player input). This is particularly noticeable in fights, where succeeding at a QTE often seems to put the player at a momentary disadvantage. Of course, each cue entered could be viewed as a way of succeeding at the scene (dramatic), rather than at the action (operational).
An excellent place to clarify what the game is going for would have been in the swordfight against Jason at the start of the game. For operational QTEs, correct cues should lead to Ethan winning the fight, while success at dramatic QTEs should make him lose. The way it happens in game suggests that the QTEs are operational, but that’s not how they always play out. Ultimately, the game’s intentions felt unclear, which kept the QTEs from being immersive for me, as I couldn’t always connect my success to the action in a meaningful way.