Heavy Rain – “Brooding Emotions”
Tempestuous weather, “Heavy Rain’s” leitmotif, serves not only as the perfect mood setter for the crime novel Cage is telling, but also as a fitting metaphor for how his game was envisioned and created: a whirling storm of conflicts and clashing ambitions. Remember “Fahrenheit“? Well, “Heavy Rain” is not all that different from its messy predecessor: they share similar narrative themes, plot scenes and even structural skeleton. The only new element lies in the contextual button presses, which metaphorically relate player’s input with character’s on-screen actions, in essence making your physical and psychological interactions with the game as similar as possible with character’s own experiences. David Cage intended to suck players in as far as possible into the diegetic realm of his story, and this clever (if somewhat limited) device, fulfills its function beautifully, going well beyond the gimmicky nature it could acquire in the hands of a less devoted auteur.
However, one must question what is this that Cage is trying us to relate to? A gamey blockbuster-like sci-fi epic, as “Fahrenheit”? The answer is, rather surprisingly, no. Somehow he actually learned his lesson and understood that the fabric of good narratives does not lie in fantastical plots or teenager power fantasies or heart-pumping action chases, but in the subtle characterizations of human beings: their feelings and livelihoods and emotions and thoughts and, well, in one word, life. This is “Heavy Rain’s” finest, this simple realization, so absent in the video game medium, that all media is about people, just… people. The initial scenes are perfect in this sense, presenting some of the finest non-ludic segments in the history of video games, as you play out the simple joys of life: watching the subtle facial expressions of your face in the mirror while you shave, noticing your body relaxing as you take a hot shower, gently sipping the morning coffee as you see your neighbors passing through the window, or simply standing in your backyard, beneath a tree’s shade, on a bright sunny morning, doing nothing as you wait for your dear family to return home. These are subjects which so many games avoid like the plague – because they are not action-packed or ‘fun’ or cool – and yet “Heavy Rain” addresses them whole heartedly, with a naive ingenuity that reminds us of silent film.
This is not to say that “Heavy Rain” is the perfect accomplishment of a dramatic video game. As the story develops, with the stormy weather ever-looming and you enter the dark, brooding, decrepit halls of the neo-noir, all the fissures that interactive narratives live by crack open. Sadly, even the emotional bonding scenes eventually pave way for the menial tasks of unfolding conflict according to game design cannon, with an over-indulgence in Q.T.E.-ladden action sequences, even in cases where there are known game-play templates that would fit these better. And Cage’s ever-recurring lack of aesthetic sensibility occasionally shows its true face, as he blindly cites the oddest things – C.S.I., Johnny Mnemonic, Minority Report, etc. – and in doing so severely breaks the game’s moody Fincher-esque atmosphere… Yet somehow, none of this really matters, for these are mere trifles which in other cases we wouldn’t even notice, but in a work so ambitious and bold and provoking we can’t help but lament, such is its ideal. But what you will fondly remember is that rare genuine character expression you’d never seen in a video-game, your own real smile as you joyfully play with children, the panic you’ll feel when you play the father who loses his own son, or the empathy towards the sad lives of some of the more miserable characters. Genuine glimpses of emotion: what game does that to you?
Cage is aware of why video games are bad and emotionally shallow and redundant. He knows film is not. And so, he tries to use cinema as inspiration… we would argue it is not the best of ways to get there, but Cage doesn’t seem to mind that at all. Let’s be frontal, he’s the only mainstream designer that is, at least, trying to go in the right direction, perhaps for all the wrong reasons and in all the wrong ways, but he’s trying. And though he pushes and pushes, absurdly, with such folly and impetuousness, you can’t help but sympathize and even admire his foolishness. So the origami killer asks: “How far would you go to save someone you love?”. Well, one thing is for sure, Cage is willing to sacrifice everything to save video games as a form of mature media, so maybe we should lend him an ear and listen to what he’s trying to say.
[Much is left to say about “Heavy Rain” that this already excessively large review could never cover. I may return to this subject in the near future. Cheers!]