Typically we hate quicktime events, QTEs, ‘press X to not die’ segments, or whatever you want to call them. We hate them with a passion. Even at the best of times they’re indicative of naught but lazy game design, usually summoning a memory of the old developer axiom ‘Never show a player something cool that they can’t actually do in-game.’
So, it’s kind of baffling that we like Heavy Rain quite so much. As has been oft-repeated, the game is really nothing more than an extended quicktime event in many regards. The difference is that these events and prompts for specific action from players are done well. The events are all unique and include branching paths – so it’s never as simple as ‘Press X to not die’ or ‘Hammer X to hijack the tank’.
Who does he think he is, Freeman?
The game’s story doesn’t quite hold up quite as well. In fact, the opposite is true. The control system might sound silly and prove not to be, but the story sounds enthralling, but often falters. That’s especially true in the early hours of the game, where the plot is slow to get going and the four player characters are introduced without context. It takes an age to find out some of the information required to be comfortable with the game.
The first time you get to play as photographer Madison Paige, for example, there’s no intro whatsoever. A load screen drifts by and suddenly you’re controlling a scantily dressed girl in her apartment. You pop into the shower and are treated to some hi-res nudity, complete with ‘waggle the controller to towel dry’ moments. Some more stuff (which we don’t want to spoil but which isn’t ultimately important) happens, then it’s the end of that sequence.
The result is that you’ve had a twenty minute segment of the game that doesn’t mean anything and you’ve sat through protracted and needless nudity before you even know the name of the girl in question or what she has to do with the game at all.
Rain. Heavy stuff.
The opening acts of the game are full of moments like this, where you’re shown things without context and are left wondering. FBI profiler Norman Jayden enters with similar abruptness. When he shows up at a crime scene players have to start investigating the murder and looking for clues before they know who the Origami Killer is, what they should be looking for or who exactly they are playing. It’s baffling.
As time wears on though, the threads entwine and the feeling of being a fish out of water lessens. You learn that the Origami Killer targets young boys and drowns them over a period of days in rainwater, with each of the four protaganists tied to him in one way or another and desperate to save the latest victim. Ethan is a father looking for his son, Scott is a PI hired by the families of previous victims, Jayden is a new FBI profiler in town and Madison is the one who has to bandage everyone's wounds.
When you reach that point of familiarity and you know what you’re supposed to be doing then the game comes into it’s own as an interactive drama, but prior to that the confusion can sour the experience. You’re too busy filling in the blanks that shouldn’t be there to focus on the larger mysteries that are supposed to be driving the story forward.