If you’re in tune to video game news in any way, you’ve probably heard about the ambitious “interactive fiction” project Heavy Rain coming to PS3 later this month. On the surface, the game is nothing all that new: It’s a faux-noiry detective procedural following the case of a Zodiac-esque serial killer told from several different viewpoints in a nonlinear way. Adventure games had been doing this kind of narrative since literally before I was born, though they obviously didn’t have the lush visual accompaniment that modern games can afford. But the graphics aren’t what people are getting excited for with Heavy Rain. I mean, just look at it:
No, the real innovative aspect that’s making headlines, the whole philosophy behind the game is that you’re less “playing” it and more watching it happen while occasionally providing your relatively ignorable input. It’s sort of the inevitable conclusion to the trend that a certain “games as art” contingency has been pushing for the last several years, where in an effort to gain the legitimacy of film, certain studios have forgone everything that distinguishes the medium from film in the first place. Rather than learning the story by exploring your environment, as has been basically the standard of video games for the past fifteen years, Heavy Rain strings you along through silly quick time events and pixel-hunting charades in order to get to the next cut scene which will tell you what’s going on. It’s like a movie that pauses every couple of minutes and won’t start up again until you press the right button.
Which would be one thing if the movie you were watching was any good at all. Every stupid teaser of this game makes it out to be unwatchable in every way: the story seems a cliched mashup of boring crimes, the voice acting is stilted and lifeless, and the motion capture looks like it was done with a Lite Brite. Jesus Christ, just look at their mouths. I’ve literally seen Muppets with more nuanced speech mechanics than these lock-jawed turtle-people. Seriously, look at it in motion (horrible talking really gets started at about two minutes in)
I would be much more lenient with Heavy Rain, perhaps so lenient as to not say that it represents everything that is bad, if it put more effort into making its stupid story more enthralling, or even novel. But it clearly doesn’t have that much interest in making something worth consuming underneath all the layers of banal polish. Its supposed innovations are the opposite of progress, and its touted visual attraction is boring and plastic. Other video games have done well because they realized the limitations of their medium and succeeded within it. Heavy Rain, like some figure of myth, struggles against itself miserably to create a weird-looking garbage product that I hate. Just like that one myth.
This kid’s face says it all: