Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ain't No Sunshine


I am rarely interested in games that involves regular people. Most of the time I like video game protagonists that are supernatural or supernormal with attributes that move them beyond the realm of hum-drum realism. This is one of the reasons I like playing-I get to be someone else and usually their story is epic beyond my own routine existence-pure escapism into a fantasy world. This is why I have never been a Sims or Second Life participant. Escaping the real world for a real world simulator seems depressing and isolating. I play games like I read fantasy novels-to get something ‘else’ out of my experience. Knowing all of this about myself, however, I still sought out Heavy Rain, where the characters are regular people without swords, magic or health packs. The buzz was enough to spark my curiosity-crime drama, kidnapping, urgent race to find the killer. What I didn’t know is how connected my normal gameplay 'disconnect' would become while playing.

Heavy Rain is a game about choices. Not necessarily character choices, though, but YOUR choices. Not terribly original, I know...it’s a ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ game where the story evolves according to your decisions. But unlike any other game I have played, I felt morally responsible for what happened to each character based on those decisions. This wasn’t just an innocent hallway of doors, it was like a room full of mirrors where every bad choice you made for each of the four main characters reflected back on you. Ethan Mars is the father figure in the game, Madison Paige is the female lead, Scott Shelby is a PI working for the families of the victims and Norman Jayden a drug-addicted FBI agent searching for the killer. The game makes each of them playable characters, sets each scene and lets you decide the outcome via a series of button choices ranging from simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ all the way to ‘Forgive’ or ‘Reject’. There is a HUGE difference between forgiveness and rejection, so some of the choices weigh heavily on your conscience. And the game can be cruel, oh so cruel-if you were injured you stayed that way during the rest of the game, bandaged or limping as a visual reminder of choice you made. It got to the point where I started to see them as poor innocent souls with the unlucky hardship of having me pulling their strings. This being my first Playstation game in a long time (I have been an 360 player for awhile now), I occasionally mistook the circle for a square and made unwanted choices but still had to face their unfortunate consequences. One of the times this happened I was devastated by the outcome. Sometimes your sense of urgency is greater than your cognitive process and you make quick, reactive decisions that you may regret.

All of this sounds terribly depressing, I know. Although the game is emotion-heavy and some gaping plot holes remain at the end, it truly is unique and great. Several times in the game Ethan has to make horrible decisions associated with the tagline…How far will you go to save someone you love?...and since the game leaves it in your hands you can really consider these choices according to how far YOU think you would go. And I was often very proud of the revealed consequences of my decision. As I moved towards the end of the game I started to think like a researcher, muttering to myself such things as “well, I know that she already knows A, so if she knows A then if he does B then C will likely occur so I need not do this”. I was incredibly satisfied with the ending I received (they are varied based on how you played the game). I became emotionally invested-especially in Ethan’s character-and related with Madison’s sympathetic role. I wanted desperately for everything to turn out for him and I wanted to be the one to help him get there.

For my initiation back into the PS world, I am glad I chose this one because I am now super familiar with the button labels again. With so many QTE’s and Twister-like button pressing (seriously, I have to push X, triangle and L1 at once?), I am now a semi-expert again.

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