A few years ago, Roger Ebert caused a stir, stating that videogames will never be art because of their open-ended stories. Heavy Rain is the exact type of story telling he was referring to. Nearly all of Heavy Rain’s problems fall back on the choices it allows.
By giving the player a choice, they have the option of writing a story that is nonsense, with mood changes and actions that do not fit the previous developments. You are never sure what the artist has intended, what ending, or what course the writers wanted the story to take. The experience of Heavy Rain will be different for everyone, and how they feel about it as a whole can be decided by a button press.
Minor actions can be accomplished despite previous choices that, perchance, ought to have negated them. The game leaves them open. At one juncture, a character could leave a mother to die in a bathtub, a baby to starve, and ignore it all. The choice could be made to intermingle these decisions, which is where character development takes that odd shape, beginning to bend the story and possibly hampering the experience.
For Heavy Rain’s closed off gameplay, which in reality offers limited actual control, the title is readily open to letting a player write the script. It is easy to make a mistake, sending a character away from a scene unintentionally, or simply choosing the wrong answer because the developers felt tension was derived from shaking words over someone’s head.
Reviewing Heavy Rain as a narrative is thus made almost impossible. Plot holes that appear for one player could potentially be solved by another who made a different choice. What may be an emotional moment for one could have limited impact for another based on their prior actions. Without replaying the game to make every decision in all directions, and considering each as its own story, no critique could be properly made.
This is also what Heavy Rain does right. No matter what you do — who dies, who lives, and who is killed, you will feel emotion. You will be drawn into its world of virtual actors, seedy nightclubs, and private investigators. You will be interested in who the Origami Killer is, and have a genuine soft spot for the agony a father will go through to save his son.
None of this is real mind you, it's all done with polygons and various technologies well beyond the understanding of most players. Your story becomes the art, because you are not necessarily playing Heavy Rain so much as you are creating it. The game is a canvas, like most videogames are, and you are free to make decisions based on your own feelings and thoughts.
It does not matter what the writers, animators, or director wanted. You do not have to take what you are given and thereby be disappointed when the script takes a turn that is unsatisfactory. You can alter the tale, however slightly, to put it on a path your own mind has decided is right. Maybe those choices are not the problem, but the basis on which to make a glowing recommendation for Heavy Rain.
There is no question this is not traditional narrative art. It is too open, too free, and too easily manipulated. In that sense, it is hard to call Roger Ebert’s thinking wrong. Videogames have their own style, a freedom if you will, and that creative process is the art. Heavy Rain is able capture that artistic element with flair, regardless of one's choices.
Heavy Rain is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs.Powered by Sidelines