Wednesday, 15 April 2015

We need to talk about Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain is a problematic game. I had hoped to be mainly talking about my experiences with playing it with the Playstation Move, which I think added another layer of immersion with the game, but I can't shake the feeling that so many things were wrong with this game. I don't think time has been kind to Heavy Rain, and while at the time it must have been seen as a trailblazer in the cold light of a new day it feels derivative in style of films like Fight Club or Seven. But my main problem is how the game treats women. Maybe it's all the more jarring after coming from a game like Mass Effect.

No matter how you dress it up this game is sexist, with its lingering shots on Madison's behind and uncomfortable allusions to sexual violence. Being made to strip at gunpoint was presented in such a gross way I almost walked away from the game. The game had already made my eyes roll when you had to dance on a podium to gain a guy's attention and progress in the game. Now I'm not saying all art or media has to be politically correct, boundaries should be pushed - titillation and sleaze can work well. It's just a disparity between what this game presents itself, a thinking person's thriller, to the reality. It stopped me from enjoying the game, it took a layer of immersion away. And with a "game" which focuses on Quick Time Events, immersion and experience is paramount.

I quite enjoy playing as unlikeable protagonists, for me it was part of what made L.A. Noire enjoyable was that Cole Phelps was no Ed Exley of L.A. Confidential. But what felt wrong with Heavy Rain's Ethan Mars is that he was so overwrought and it was like David Cage desperately wanted you to side with him and feel what he was feeling, it just didn't work for me. Ethan wasn't compelling or even compellingly uncompelling. It felt like lazy shorthand, a guy who will do anything for his son. The over-the-top nature of the trials Ethan went through and his reactions also jarred with the realistic experience.

I could not help but think when playing through this game: "C'mon Quantic Dream - you're better than this!"

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