Game Description: Heavy Rain is an interactive, single player, action adventure game in which every decision players make influences the evolution of a desperate quest to catch a deadly killer poised to strike again. Featuring a complex and dark storyline meant for mature audiences, the game is a PlayStation 3 exclusive featuring a variety of possible endings, advanced crime scene analysis, replayable chapters, four playable characters and the ability to continue play as remaining characters in the event of your current character's death.
HIGH The Saw-esque anticipation of something horrifying.
LOW The weak, head-scratching reveal of the murderer's identity.
WTF The install screen that made me bitterly regret never learning how to properly fold a paper airplane.
"I don't know if this genre will be still called point-and-click adventure in the future but games where the story, puzzles and relaxed pace are the main characteristics, will definitely stay here."
The above excerpt is from an interview I did with Machinarium lead designer Jakub Dvorsky, responding to a question about the future of point-and-click adventure games. While I don't have any idea if Heavy Rain was the kind of game he was alluding to, it certainly fits the bill (along with its spiritual predecessor Indigo Prophecy) as an evolutionary step forward from the adventure games of ages past.
The player is in control of one of four main characters trying to find a serial killer before he/she claims their next victim. The film noir feeling the game is gunning for is expressed beautifully through the cinematography and the player-induced insights into the characters thoughts. Like Indigo Prophecy, traditional adventure mechanics like item usage and problem solving are integrated with QTEs to heighten the player's interaction. All the pieces are in place for Heavy Rain to be an absolute knockout that pushes forward into a new genre borne from adventuring's ashes. Make no mistake—Quantic Dream is swinging for the fences here. Unfortunately, they'll have to settle for a shallow pop fly in every sense of the term—eliciting the "ooos" and "ahhhs" of a home run at first, but eventually just lazily dropping into nothingness.
First, the game has a number of technical problems. While it never crashed on me, there were a lot of audio and frame skips which were particularly bad during QTEs when they caused me to miss a button. There were also several instances where the subtitles were badly out of sync with what the characters were saying, which wasn't so much of a problem for me, but I can imagine this causing a lot of confusion for non-English speakers who rely on the subtitles. Still none of these problems were bad enough to break the game. Those honors go elsewhere.
I'll be blunt about it—Heavy Rain has bad controls. The "hold button to move" mechanic is absolutely ridiculous, as every single action I took could've been handled better by a simple joystick push, like in...well...almost every other joystick-using game ever created. The fact that the mere action of moving around the world was a chore that left my finger sore is a crippling flaw big enough to derail the control scheme by itself, but unfortunately that isn't the end of the control problems.
I was constantly fighting my character to keep him/her facing in the right direction, as turning is extremely sluggish and unresponsive. All too often I would go right past an interaction point several times before I was finally in the right spot and facing the right direction. The problem magnifies itself when the camera angle suddenly shifts when I'm moving. It's very easy to get turned around during these shifts, and as I said, getting set in the right direction is a pain. The sequences involving moving and turning in tight quarters are brutal, and as a result I spent very little time reveling in the suspense that was intended in these spots.
Picture this: I see a potentially torturous situation in front of me, and I cringe a little at the thought of what my character is being asked to do. I take a deep breath and head on into something that will certainly be hard to watch. I take the first few steps into this trap, and after a while I reach an intersection. Fortunately the game gives me a way to figure out where to go, so I attempt to turn in the correct direction. Nope. I'm stuck. The suspense level is obviously meant to be rising, as the music's pitch is growing higher and higher the further I go, and the pain my character is being made to endure is increasing with each step I take. However, instead of reveling in all of the wonderful aesthetic that was so clearly intended to take me in here, I am instead stuck, cursing the inability to simply turn in the direction I want to go. This particular instance was the worst of its kind, but there were several others throughout the game, and they only serve to highlight the game's flaws rather than allowing me to take in what the game is doing right.
However, pinpoint controls aren't why one plays Heavy Rain. An adventure game is its narrative. It is the heart and soul of the game, and no other aspect can even come close to its importance. Even with poor controls, the story can still wash all that away and make me push on just to see what happens next. Surely this is where Heavy Rain truly excels, right?
Wrong. Heavy Rain manages to drench its narrative in mediocrity too. When the whole driving force behind a game is the story and the player's connection to the characters, those two elements damn well better be good, and in Heavy Rain they're far from it. Obviously I won't throw any spoilers out here, but the plot is so full of holes, out-of-place characters, and illogical decisions that one would think George Lucas was brought in to write the script. It seriously feels like this was written on a weekend (especially the reveal of the murderer's identity) and then put into production without anyone editing it or noticing that major plot developments made no sense.
The one thing Heavy Rain does do quite well is express the emotion and tension in the individual scenes. The game wields the threat of horrific acts like a weapon, slowly building up the tension in a Saw-like anticipation of something terrible happening and then bringing it down with the force of a sledgehammer. Again, I won't describe any of them specifically, but this is the one area where I think they really nailed what they were going for. When they hit the high notes with these scenes, they hit them hard. Unfortunately, even this aspect falls kind of flat without a strong overall story to support it.
Let's take a look at what we've got here. The controls and interaction with the game world are suspect at best and downright awful at worst. And even looking past that I still come away disappointed. The script is weak, the characters' interactions/motivations are often left unexplained, and the voice acting is mediocre in some places and bad in others. The only thing Heavy Rain really has going for it is the composition of some of the individual scenes, and that's not nearly enough to carry the whole game on its own. So in the end we don't have much of anything except the spectre of what might have been.
It's an important step forward to be sure, and I think when we look back on the history of adventure gaming Heavy Rain will be listed as a milestone in its own right. However, it succeeds only in showing us what might be possible, and not what is possible. I really, really wanted to like Heavy Rain, but it has far too much working against it. So here's my advice—play it. Take a look at where the genre is going and try to see the potential here. Then discard it while it's still worth something at GameStop or wherever else and wait for another game to truly fulfill that potential.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 8 hours of play was devoted to completing the game once on normal difficulty.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language and use of drugs. Lots of disturbing imagery and other stuff going on here, folks—keep the kids away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All audio is subtitled and I only saw one significant audio cue in the whole game. The cue was not a game-breaker. However, deaf players may have some trouble due to the occasional lack of sync between the text and the spoken lines.
HIGH Surviving the climactic battle with Mad Jack.
LOW Glitches can absolutely kill the impact of some scenes.
WTF Clown: "Sir, you haven't paid me yet!" Ethan: "Keep the Change." Clown: "Sir, you haven't paid me yet!" Ethan: "Keep the change." Clown: "Sir, you haven't paid me yet!" Repeat 10 times.
Back when survival-horror games were a capital-T "Thing," the gaming community was blown away by the discovery that video games—kids' toys, really—could inspire genuine emotion. In that case: fear. The decline of the genre was accompanied by the rise of a question: What other emotions can games inspire? Apart from the low-profile efforts of Fumito Ueda (ICO, Shadow of the Colossus), woefully few have approached this issue directly. Cue Heavy Rain, which elevates the question of emotions in games to mainstream status, skillfully handling the topic itself in the process. (Reader beware: To better discuss the game, I've included some spoilers in the review.)
In the game's opening moments I assumed control of Ethan Mars, waking to a beautiful new day in his incredibly stylish house. Aside from Ethan's own thoughts suggesting that he get some work done while the family was out—he's a work-from-home architect—I was given free reign over how to spend my (his? our?) time. After a bit of probing around, I was shocked to find that there were actual cartoons on TV. Not a few still images in rotation, a typical way of handling TV in games, but a fully animated (though brief) show with a plot and characters. I was fascinated by this cartoon, surprised by the amount of effort put into something so peripheral, but my trance was abruptly broken when the wife and kids came home. What's that? How much work had I gotten done this morning? Er... I spent all day watching cartoons.
It was at that instant that I drank the Kool-Aid. Experiencing that flash of "oh shi—", while an embarrassingly familiar sensation in my daily life, felt completely alien (and completely refreshing) when the source was a video game. Heavy Rain is filled with sequences that trigger the mundane but complex emotional responses that are mostly reserved for the rigors of real life. The stakes are often much grander than typical day-to-day affairs—at one point Ethan must choose between cutting off his own finger or missing out on a clue to his missing son's whereabouts—but the decision making process closely emulated real life. Instead of basing my choice on which option yielded the best rewards or most experience, I found myself relying on totally foreign (to games, anyway) criteria. Do I really have to do this? Can I piece together the clues I already have? Will there be repercussions if I don't do it?
There is usually no correct answer. Often there isn't even a narrative consequence, which may sound unfulfilling, or even lazy from a development perspective, but this yet another aspect in which Heavy Rain reflects real life. In reality, we are often confronted with choices where the only consequence of choosing is a newly-adjusted perspective.
The aforementioned finger-removal scene is a great example of this. After choosing to do the deed, Ethan must find appropriate tools for the job. Weighing my options, I decided to go with the wire cutters (ouch!) and made sure to have some disinfectant ready post-dismemberment. Ethan cuts off his pinky in one (relatively) clean motion, then douses the wound with disinfectant. When my girlfriend played the same scene she grabbed the nearest implement, a rusty saw, and made no other preparations. Ethan proceeded to painfully butcher himself, and then stumble out of the room with a fresh, bleeding stump where a finger used to be.
The results were the same in both instances; Ethan received a new hint, and pressed onward in his quest. What changed was the context. In one scene, Ethan was resigned to his gory task, but was collected enough to think of his own well-being. In the other, Ethan was a desperate, self-destructive father willing to do anything to find his son. The genius of these seemingly pointless decisions is that they allow different gamers to view the same character as a totally different person. Though the narrative arc might be similar across groups, the four heroes end up with unique personas depending on whoever is holding the controller.
After finishing the game, I was interested in seeing how scenarios might develop when played differently. On attempting a few critical chapters, I found that I couldn't motivate myself to continue. All of the new paths and interactions felt hollow and illegitimate after having experienced the ups and downs of my original playthrough. While this is seen as a weakness by many, I counted it as one of the game's greatest virtues. I had a real sense of ownership of that original experience. More than just the curious experimentation of a gamer, the events that transpired over the course of the story felt like they belonged to me. It might sound pretentious, but the replay value was undermined by the fact that additional attempts violated the sanctity of my initial experience.
This isn't to say that Richard's appraisal of the game was wrong. On the contrary, it was entirely correct. The controls are awkward, technical glitches abound, and the storyline jumps the shark in magnificent fashion. Even so, Heavy Rain's most grievous missteps are inconsequential in the face of its achievements. Playing around with the kids in the backyard instead of helping my wife set the table for dinner is one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had in my gaming career, and no amount of audio skipping or plot holes can diminish that memory.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time).
Lots of cool looking horror/thriller stuff coming out of this year's E3.
Heavy Rain, a PlayStation 3 exclusive from developers Quantic Dream, looks like something of a spiritual successor to their earlier hit, Indigo Prophecy. Details about the game have been fairly scarce, but we do know that the title will be a dark noir thriller without any supernatural overtones. The game is said to revolve around four main characters (and someone known as "The Origami Killer") and apparently focuses on the blurred line between what is good and what is evil.
Expect to learn more about Heavy Rain as E3 rages on. In the meantime, take a look at the trailer.
Find more on The Horror Geek blog.
So, Heavy Rain. Pretty much everyone has at least heard of this game by now whether they play or not. It's been all over Twitter and the Internet, it's been featured in dozens of magazines, both game-related and otherwise, and the vast majority of people I know have either just finished it, are playing it right now, or are about to start it. Regardless of anything else, no one can deny that Heavy Rain has got some serious presence.
I got my copy in the mail yesterday and was thanking my lucky stars that I wasn't going to be incredibly late to the party with this one. In most cases I don't really feel much impetus to keep up with the Joneses... I've got quite a backlog of things to go through that's only getting bigger all the time, and GameCritics doesn't live or die by being the first with coverage. However, I was a big fan of developer Quantic Dream's first console game, Indigo Prophecy, and Heavy Rain looks like nothing so much as that title taken to the next level. My eagerness to jump into it was pretty high to start with for that reason alone, but there was also another reason why I was keen to play it sooner rather than later: the possibility of having the plot inadvertently spoiled.
On this issue, there seems to be two major camps: those who are absolutely anti-spoiler, and those who think that trying to discuss games without revealing the important details of the plot is silly, or at least, inconsequential to the greater experience of actually playing. My personal take on the matter? I am definitely of the belief that people should respect others' rights to not be spoiled, and if a review or article is going to reveal relevant details, there should be (at the very least) an attention-grabbing spoiler warning before there's any chance of accidental exposure.
That's not to say that I don't think plot details should ever be discussed, but I firmly believe that having foreknowledge of a game's contents absolutely has an effect on the degree of immersion, discovery, suspense and ultimately, the enjoyment of the player. It's really no different than reading a book or watching a film—the craft and care put into quality works means that partaking of them will still be pleasurable after they've been read or watched, but it's impossible to deny that repeat visits are fundamentally different than the first. Heavy Rain is probably the ultimate example of this, videogame-wise. Unfortunately, I was spoiled in a couple of ways.
The first? After starting Heavy Rain yesterday, I became engaged in the drama almost immediately, but ran into several technical problems during gameplay. A few times the audio skipped (which was annoying, but I have the subtitles turned on so no information was lost) but a more significant issue was that the game froze multiple times, necessitating several complete restarts. Upon being faced with repeating sections I had already completed, it was amazing to me how something that was interesting and fascinating the first time became tedious and tiresome the second time around. With the unknown stripped away, my sense of being in the moment was completely gone and it was all I could do to push through the parts I had already seen to get back to where I had left off before the game froze.
That sensation of being unwillingly quasi-spoiled due to data loss was bad enough, but not exactly a true spoiler in the proper sense of the term. However, on a larger level, I actually did feel somewhat robbed of the full impact that could have been delivered thanks to the little bit of knowledge I had about the game prior to ever playing.
Although I've done everything I could possibly do to avoid Heavy Rain plot spoilers short of disconnecting the Internet from my home and wearing a blindfold and earplugs for days on end, this game has been so pervasive that it's been practically impossible to not learn something about its content. As a result, the power of the prologue and some of the chapters immediately afterwards (freezes notwithstanding) were not nearly as significant as they would have been had I not known anything about the game prior to sitting down with it. Rather than following along with the story as it unfolded, I couldn't help but instead wonder when X, Y, Z was going to happen. Rather than being caught by surprise, I was anticipating the events and was therefore less moved when they actually occurred.
I realize that it's not realistic to spotlight a game without discussing any aspect of it, but Heavy Rain lives and dies by its plot and the impact of its scenes, and I definitely believe the game can be promoted and discussed without anyone spilling anything that would potentially detract from someone else's enjoyment of it. Although this game is certainly the ultimate example of why spoilers are bad thing, I think the same goes for just about any other game that features a storyline or dramatic elements. Seeing a great blockbuster scene for the first time, coming across a scary enemy, or being hit with a mindbending plot twist without any prior knowledge of its existence is something completely different than having heard about it, read about it, seen a picture of it in a magazine, or watched a video of it on the Internet.
Spoiler warnings may not carry the same significance to all players, but to those of us who care, we're glad that they're there – being spoiled is like having someone else make a decision for you without your consent and being deprived of an experience that's impossible to reclaim. You can't un-see something… you can't un-know it. Call me silly or outdated, but I'll never be okay with careless spoilers. Though I was unsuccessful in experiencing Heavy Rain in a totally pure, absolutely unspoiled way, I'm glad to say that I honestly don't know what's going to happen later in the game—and I'm doing everything I can to keep it that way.
When I was writing my Heavy Rain review, there were a lot of specific things concerning the plot that I wanted to talk about, but couldn't due to the spoilerness. So those qualms are going to go here, safely hidden behind that big bold spoiler warning you see below. So, shall we?
[WARNING: THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS HEAVY RAIN SPOILERS]
1. I really, really did not buy Scott as the murderer
Nothing Scott does leading up to the reveal makes sense with him being the killer. Why is he "investigating" anything? Is he just taking stock of his victims? And why does he even consider taking Lauren with him? Is he just reveling in her pain? And why did he bother calling the police after he kills the antique shop owner? None of Scott's thoughts make sense with him being a cold-blooded murderer either. He's awfully concerned about Lauren's safety for the guy who drowned her son.
Granted, Scott is supposed to be crazy, but at least make it seem like he was taking stock of his work or something (in retrospect after the reveal) when he meets all the victims. Making Scott the killer just seemed like a really cheap way to work a totally unseen twist in. After the reveal my opinion of the game went waaaay down and continued to do so when these questions started popping up.
2. Why doesn't Ethan give the box to the police right away?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but did Ethan ever get a message with the box telling him to do everything alone? I never saw it, and nobody else that I asked about it did either. So why is Ethan dead set on completing all the trials alone? There's no apparent restriction on getting help. In my game, Ethan got caught after the lizard trial, and the whole time he was being interrogated I was yelling TELL THEM ABOUT THE BOX at the TV. Jayden could probably just use his scanner thing on it and find Shaun in like two hours.
Hey Ethan! I found it! It's under the floorboard! You don't have to---HOLY SHIT
And if that didn't work, the police could just investigate all of the trial sites at the same time without having to do them in order, and since the video chips were all nearby they probably would've found them fairly quickly. They definitely could've found the one in the car in no time (how hard can it be to smash open a glove compartment?), and they could've just had the power plant shut down temporarily, so then we don't have to deal with all that transformer shit. Jayden could've found the third one in no time without anyone losing a finger or anything. I chickened out for the fourth trial where I was supposed to kill the drug dealer, but I imagine that one was close by too. And the on the last trial they could've looked at the "poison" and figured out that it wasn't poison at all, and even if they couldn't I only got one freaking letter for that anyway.
(pant....pant) So anyway, while I thought the individual trials themselves were well done for the most part, the setup for them was extremely weak.
3. Why is Madison in this game?
Madison's involvement in the plot never really sat well with me. She's the only main character with no real connection with the killer, and it almost feels like she's only in the game to have that stupid strip scene in the night club. For almost every single scene she has in the hotel with Ethan, I found myself asking, why is she still here? What does she care about some random guy that keeps getting injured? Why is there medicine in the bathroom of the hotel? Is it complimentary? Is this hotel meant for people on sadistic quests that they can't tell anyone about?
Honestly I felt that it would've been more appropriate if Madison had been replaced with Grace (Shaun's mother) since she's much more connected to Shaun's disappearance than Madison would ever be. On top of that, the ordeal of trying to find him would be a avenue for potentially rekindling their relationship, as opposed to the awkward, inexplicable infatuation Madison develops with Ethan. Speaking of Grace...
4. Where the hell is Grace during all of this?
I actually thought Grace was the killer for most of the game simply because of her conspicuous absence. She went through the same emotional trauma that Ethan did in regards to losing their kids, so if people suspect Ethan to be the killer then it would be natural for them to suspect her too, right? But instead she's just...gone. Even at the end (I got the "happy" ending where everyone survived) when Ethan saves Shaun she's still nowhere to be seen. I find kind of hard to believe that the kid's mom wouldn't insist on being involved with what was going on every step of the way, especially after losing one son just two years earlier. Hell, they were willing to throw Lauren into the mix, so why not Grace too?
5. What was up with the Origami in Ethan's hand after his blackouts?
The single most inexplicable thing in the whole game. This was something really central to the beginning when the game is trying to convince the player that Ethan is the killer, but I never saw an explanation. There's no way Scott could've known about Ethan's blackouts, right? So how did he keep ending up on that street with the Origami in his hand? He said himself that he doesn't know how to do origami, so where did it come from? I mean, we're talking Battlestar Galactica series finale level of plot hole here.
So there we have it. What we have here is a story driven game with a bad story, which is an instant recipe for disaster. This GamesRadar post does a great job of summing up a lot of the plot holes as well-probably better than my rantings at any rate. So, am I alone here? Were there explanations to all this stuff that I just missed? Let me know how dumb I am if there are.
I was a reserved supporter of Indigo Prophecy. I liked the fact that someone out there thought that the Shenmue "Interactive Movie" genre was worth pursuing, but I was less enthralled with some of the turns its story took. I appreciate writer/director David Cage's desire to let the player control the parts of movies that don't normally make it into video games, but I question the need for three separate sex scenes. Or Matrix-style battles with helicopters and cops. Or that scene where you're chased through an office by giant dust mites. Then there's the fact that the story was so convoluted that even if the main character had been given a chance to interview Cage it's doubtful he could have made sense of his own situation:
So it's fair to say that I don't have the greatest confidence in David Cage's ability to create something that makes sense. Still, I decided to delve into Heavy Rain and see what he'd produced this time around. Now, four hours in, just having completed "The Bear" I'm ready with some initial comments—and these are just going to be plot things, since this isn't an official "review" of the game. Also, unless it gets really egregious I'm not going to comment on the awkward phrasing caused by the game's sometimes iffy translation.
Although people constantly calling referring to vacant lots as "Wastelands" was pretty distracting.
(SPOILER WARNING—I WILL BE SPOILING THINGS—BECAUSE IT'S HARD TO CRITICIZE WITHOUT DOING THAT)
Heavy Rain is the story of a man who gets depressed because his child is too stupid to live.
I'm not questioning the decision to open the game with the tragic loss of a child—if anything it's nice to see a game that delves into the psychology of its characters a little more deeply. I just wish David Cage knew the slightest thing about children's development, or was able to remember his own childhood. I'm speaking specifically about the events leading up to Jason's death, which left me dumbfounded. Jason begs for a balloon, then wanders off with it into a crowd. Ethan (the dad) chases after him, and finds Jason has wandered outside and across a street.
How did Jason manage to get so far? Ethan is too much of a pussy to push people out of his way while chasing after his child.
Upon seeing his father again Jason immediately sprints across the street into traffic—he's killed by a car, and Ethan is knocked into a coma trying to save him.
Nothing sounds too outlandish about that, right? That's the kind of tragedy that befalls families all the time. Except for one point: Jason's age. After playing this section of the game I described the events separately to three friends, all of whom agreed that it was a plausibly melodramatic way to open a story. Then I asked each one how old they assumed the character Jason was. The answers were: "4 or 5", "5", and "in kindergarten, or maybe a little younger".
Jason is ten. We know this because his tenth birthday party opens the game, right before the mall incident.
For the record, North American children aged ten are in Grade 4. They've mastered long division and are working their way around fractions. Reading full Young Adult novels. Complaining about not being old enough to see PG-13 movies, and badgering their parents into letting them see the movies anyway. They're allowed to go off biking on their own, with the assumption that they've learned the rules of the road. Ten-year-olds are not begging for balloons, getting distracted by shiny things, and running into traffic without looking both ways.
Unless, of course, they're too stupid to live. Which might have been what David Cage was trying to say with the character. Who knows.
Did the character have to be ten? Could it have been the death of a five-year-old? The age has been given an air of significance because the Origami killer only targets children around that age—of course, that could only be relevant if, in an idiotic twist, Ethan turned out to be the Origami Killer, and his blackouts that end with him standing in the rain, clutching a piece of Origami are when he's arranging these elaborate, Scorpio Killer-esque trials for people. Of course, the possibility of that twist is nonsensical because the Origami Killer's been at it for three years, and Ethan only got out of his coma 18 months ago, so David Cage would have to do a hell of a lot of clever explaining to get around that one. Clever explaining, as mentioned above, not being his strong suit.
It's possible that Jason came by his stupidity naturally.
Ethan is either the dumbest or most self-destructive character I've come across in ages. The defining event of his life seems to be the fact that, because of a lack of attentiveness (compounded by an idiotic child), his son was murdered by a car. Then, while his other son is with him as part of a joint custody arrangement, he goes into a fugue state that sends him wandering off into the night for four hours, and when he wakes he's clutching an Origami figurine. Despite the fact that he knows that there's an "Origami Killer" running around murdering children, he does not contact the police with this information. Even when on the same day he went into the fugue state he received an anonymous letter about children being murdered.
You know what? Let's give Ethan a pass on this one—maybe he's scared to go to the authorities because he suspects that he might be the Origami Killer. We're given no indication that he believes this, but because it's the only possible reason not to go to the police, I think it's fair to assign that motivation. But if he does suspect that he may be the origami killer without consciously knowing it, then why does he keep his son around? He and his wife have joint custody of their ten-year-old son Shaun, and he's suffering from blackouts (presumably) related to his brain injury. Would she, or anyone else for that matter, find anything suspicious about him sending Shaun away until he got his medication worked out a little better?
The fact that Ethan keeps his son around even after he knows that he's suffering from blackouts and might be a serial killer makes it almost impossible to sympathize with him when his son is, in fact, kidnapped by the Origami Killer.
If Ethan's stupidity ended at that massively bad decision it would be one thing, but he goes on to make boneheaded move after ridiculously idiotic choice. When talking to the cops about his missing son Ethan neglects to mention the creepy serial killer letter he received in the mail threatening the life of his child. You know what? He was stressed—maybe he forgot about it. The next day, though, when he finds a ticket in the letter telling him there's something waiting for him in a train station locker, why doesn't he contact the police about it? It's not like the letter says "go to the police and your son dies" or anything. It's just a nebulous threat and a claim ticket. So why not get the police's assistance? The answer isn't "because then there would be no game", because I'm also playing as the police, who would go on to investigate the lead!
Finally Ethan's stupidity reaches a depth that I couldn't have imagined in the scene when he gets his hands on a shoebox from the locker. Inside are five numbered origami figures and a video of his son about to be drowned in a concrete pit. The game, as proposed, is simple—if he completes the challenges laid out on the five pieces of paper, Ethan will get an address, presumably where his son is being held. Again, Ethan does not go to the police with this information. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. But he does something even more ridiculous than not calling the cops in this scene—he only reads one of the challenges! That's right, after getting the first clue and a lead on a garage, he rushes out to investigate without checking the rest of the paper—which he proceeds to leave in a shoebox in a ratty motel!
With Ethan being established as this much of a moron I guess I can't be too hard on him when, after getting to the garage, he doesn't inquire who left a mysterious car there two years earlier. The attendant says that Ethan did, but it's unclear whether he literally means that he knows Ethan put the car there, or whether he just assumes Ethan's the one who paid for two years of car storage because Ethan's the one picking the car up. We, the audience, don't get to find out because Ethan is too dumb to clarify the point. Seriously—either answer would be incredibly useful in the situation, but he doesn't even think to ask. Nor does he find it suspicious that the car has been under lock and key for two years, but the Origami Killer still managed to plant clues inside it within the last few days.
You know, information like that is the kind of thing that the FBI could use to start tracking this guy down. Just saying.
David Cage doesn't understand what the word "clue" means. Or how the police work. Or possibly anything.
So there's this drug-addled FBI Agent who's come to town to solve the crime, and he's partnered, as FBI Agents tend to be in these situations, with a belligerent a-hole of a cop who doesn't like Feds muscling in on his territory. The two debate the best way to solve the case—cop thinks it's by cracking heads, FBI Agent thinks it's by using technology he apparently salvaged out a Timeship that crash-landed from the twenty-fourth century.
They don't make much progress because, fundamentally, they are both terrible at their jobs.
How do I know this? Through the intervention of a third investigative character, Scott, the Private Detective. Scott, it seems, has been hired (by who? Is he really the father of one of the early victims?) to discover the identity of the Origami Killer, and stop him from killing again. He's more successful in two days than the cops and FBI had been in three years. How does he manage it? By asking questions! I know it seems like a stretch, but Scott is willing to do what the regular law enforcement wouldn't: Ask the most basic questions imaginable!
Seriously, the entire private eye storyline has been moronic up until this point. If you want to have a character offer some kind of brilliant insight that allows him to show up the authorities who are hampered by their linear, procedural thinking, by all means, that's a pretty standard device in detective fiction. David Cage doesn't do that. No, he has Scott succeed by asking the families of the victims if they have any clues to offer, and having those people say "As a matter of fact, yes we do."
We're told time and again by the police that there are absolutely no leads or clues to the killer's identity. Here are a few things that aren't considered leads:
1. One day after a victim's kidnapping his father disappeared, never to be seen again. He left behind a mysterious cell phone that didn't belong to him.
2. Immediately after a child was abducted by the Origami Killer his father received a shoebox full of origami made from paper with notes written on them. Not the one Ethan got. This exact thing happened more than once.
The cops don't seem to know that either of these things occurred. Try to imagine a situation in which, during an intensive police search for the victim of a serial killer, during the dozens of conversations the grieving mother and distraught father must have had with the police, neither of these subjects came up. It's impossible. Why didn't they volunteer this information to the police? Why didn't the police ask?
How could the police have not asked? Even a question as simple as "can we speak to your husband" would have resulted in "Oh, he mysteriously disappeared right after my son. And left this phone that I've never seen before. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about." David Cage tries to hand wave his way out of this giant plot hole by having the mother say that the dad must have left because he couldn't deal with the son having disappeared. As if that makes any sense at all—your child goes missing for a single day and you decide to immediately skip town before you know what's happened? How could she possibly think he wasn't kidnapped or murdered? How did the police and press not notice his disappearance?
The shoebox full of clues is even more preposterous—so let's assume that, at some point, the cops asked the father if he had any idea who took his son. Somehow it didn't seem relevant to him to mention the box full o' clues that the serial killer had dropped off?
The only way to explain the police department's abject failure in this situation is if every single member of the police department is involved in a conspiracy to commit these Origami Killer crimes.
So, you're on notice, David Cage—if that's not the ending, you're a terrible goddamn writer.
Seriously, though, I look forward to seeing where the story goes from here. Will it get stupider, or have I massively underestimated Cage's ability to tie together what seems like a jumbled mass of loose ends and bizarre mistakes?
Only time, and continuing to play the game, shall tell.
(PS - Do you think Shaun killed that bird? I do.)
Continue on to Part 2.
This is Part 2 of my live-critique of Heavy Rain and, as such, it is basically one long SPOILER if you haven't played the game.
An embarrassing admission.
Okay, I'm going to say this now just to get it out of the way. I feel so stupid having to write it down it all and I'll probably look like an idiot tomorrow when I've (hopefully) finished this thing, but I'm going to put it out there anyway, because I'm writing about my reactions to this game as it's happening. So here goes.
For a second there I thought Scott was the killer. I was playing the sequence where the hooker visits his office. She hands him the letter and he looks it over. Looking it over, he observes that the letter was clearly typed on a manual typewriter… EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE SITTING ON HIS DESK!
Okay, he doesn't say that last part, but the typewriter is right there the whole time, so it's kind of hard not to notice.
Sure, you could write the ending so that Scott's the killer, and it would fit a little. I've spent something like eight scenes with the guy, and I've still got no idea who he's supposed to be working for, which is pretty damn suspicious. But just like the idea that Ethan's the killer, there's a giant hole in the plot keeping that theory from working. We have access to Scott's thoughts, you see, and more than once he's referred to the killings in a passive sense, in a way that the killer never would. So, unless this turns out to be one of those "I'm a crazy person" situations where Scott doesn't actually know he's the killer, he can be pretty clearly dismissed.
Unless David Cage is an even worse writer than I thought.
Speaking of awful writing…
It's up to four. Four family members of the Origami Killer's victims have received suspicious murder-themed letters that they didn't bother telling the police about. I was so distracted by the stupidity of Ethan, Suicide Mom, and Bodega Dad that I didn't even notice that Hooker didn't seem to have any evidence. But then she turned up at Scott's office, holding a letter that had been delivered to her dead son's father. It seems he'd opened it, read the contents, and then ran off somewhere, never to be seen again.
Again, apparently she didn't bother to mention this part of the equation to the police. Because why would you, really? I mean, seriously, it's not like your baby-daddy's mysterious disappearance immediately following the arrival of a threatening letter could have anything to do with the kidnapping of your son, could it? Especially since no one's ever seen the father again?
At this point we've got to stop and consider just how bad the police in this game are at their jobs. Now that we've got a solid confirmation that the four fathers-of-the-victim we've heard about all received a threatening letter and a box of origami clues, it's fair to assume that this was the case in all nine of the kidnapping/murders. We know for a fact that the method of murder (drowned in a pit that fills with rainwater) is exactly the same every time, and there's no reason to kill a child over that amount of time unless it's part of a plan to create a Jigsaw Killer-esque series of trials for the fathers to endure in their attempts to rescue their sons.
This means that all nine victims' fathers received a threatening note. At least four of those fathers followed the note's instructions and grabbed the shoebox full o' clues. Three of them definitely followed the clues inside the box, and of them two were likely killed in the pursuit.
So, to sum up, nine people whose children were kidnapped had a vital clue that they chose not to give to the police. At very least three of the fathers disappeared without a trace at the exact time their sons were kidnapped. Yet the FBI doesn't consider this a pattern. Possibly because the FBI agent in charge didn't bother interviewing anyone involved in the case. Which, as I understand it, is the SOP for serial killer investigations.
Seriously, it's time to dial 911.
Last time around I didn't mention Madison, the game's fourth lead. That's because her segment, apart from featuring the second of the game's two (so far) gratuitous shower scenes, was entirely unrelated to the main plot, and not badly written enough to be of note. Is it odd that she dreams about being attacked by men with knives? Sure—but I'm sure we'll get an explanation for it soon enough. It's not like they were lobstermen or anything like that.
So why has she suddenly become worthy of mention? Because she's intruded quite rudely onto Ethan's storyline. Heading to her motel room she sees Ethan, fresh from his car accident—and presumably also from the garage where he must have picked up the car he drove to the scene. She helps him into his apartment and takes it upon herself to nurse his injuries. She also agrees not to call an ambulance because he's insistent that he's okay. Which is all well and good, and fundamentally not my problem with this storyline.
No, that's the two characters' next interaction, when Madison finds Ethan collapsed on the floor of his motel room, his chest badly burned by electrical shocks, and his arms torn to ribbons by broken glass. At this point, no matter how insistent he might have been in their last meeting, she has no excuse for not calling an ambulance. The man has second degree burns across most of his chest and deep lacerations all over the inside of his forearms. Yet somehow Madison feels this is a situation she's got well in hand. Her solution? Bandage his chest, give him some medicine, and hope he sleeps off these critical, life-threatening injuries.
She also doesn't bother to even toss a blanket over him during his hours of unconsciousness. Nor does she take that time to investigate the mysterious shoebox he'd left lying on the hotel room desk after grabbing the last clue.
Again, maybe I'm calling this too early, but nothing Madison is doing makes any sense at all. Sure, respecting someone's desire for privacy is all well and good when you're keeping quite about some broken ribs, but Ethan's too far gone to even insist on not being taken to the hospital at this point. If Madison hadn't come along he would have, likely as not, died lying on the dirty carpet. So whose wish is she obeying by not helping him now?
Unless she's the Origami Killer…
Prayers for cyberjesus.
Remember last time, when I made the declaration that Ethan was a bad father because he'd continued to be around his son after having a blackout that led him into the middle of nowhere? Turns out that I was, if anything, massively understating the problem. According to Grace this whole blackout problem has been going on for over six months. Which means Ethan has been knowingly putting his son in danger that entire time, whether from suspicions that he might be the Origami Killer or simply from run-of-the-mill abandonment at a key moment.
So our main character is far onto the scummy side of things. He's not our least likeable character, though. No, while Ethan's awful parenting is certainly contemptible, Druggy the FBI Agent's inability to do even the most basic math rates him as the most ridiculously inept investigator in the cast—and given that he's supposed to be an expert profiler, that's quite a disastrous performance. Consider the scene right after they find out about Ethan's blackouts. Druggy and his partner head out to visit Ethan's psychiatrist, who seems to work in a church dedicated to the worship of technology. It's all floating computers, stained glass icons, and a giant sign that reads, simply, EGO. Unless the office décor was designed specifically to instill religious mania in his patients, I'm thinking the good doctor needs a new space.
Also on the list of the things the doctor needs to do? Not be a such an obstructionist dick. Rather ridiculously, the psychiatrist refuses to talk about Ethan's case until bad cop roughs him up a little while Druggy looks on disapprovingly from the sidelines. Sure, the doctor's stance could be considered "ethical", what with doctor-patient confidentiality and all, but there's a pretty famous exemption for that confidentiality when you believe that your patient is about to kill someone. An exemption clause which would almost certainly be met by the certain belief that your patient is the Origami Killer.
That's right, the psychiatrist thinks Ethan is the Origami Killer. What is his basis for this? Ever since Ethan's coma he's been having blackouts and dreaming about drowning children, and in his last appointment he dropped the origami figurine that he discovered after his blackout back in chapter three. This is all pretty damning evidence, bad enough that the psychiatrist really shouldn't have forced the cops to rough him up before spilling the beans. This revelation immediately causes the cops to assume that Ethan must be the Origami Killer.
Oh, and for the record, this raises the number of people who had important knowledge about the identity of the Origami Killer but chose not to tell the cops about it to anywhere between 12 and 19. That's all the fathers, at least two of the mothers (but possibly all), and now a psychiatrist. And these aren't nebulous hard-to-piece together clues, either, like when four different people have access to seemingly innocuous pieces of information, and if they'd just get together and talk about it they'd know who the killer was. In that situation you can understand why the individual people don't come forward—they don't understand the significance of their information, and how could they? That's not the case here, though, where all of those characters are holding on to letters from the killer, and possibly origami with clues. Hell, the doctor had a patient who talked about drowning children and then left a piece of Origami in his office! Who wouldn't call the cops in that situation?
Even more egregious, come to think of it, is something I didn't realize about Bodega Dad yesterday. He must have called the cops, right? To come and arrest the skel that Scott beat up? And how would that conversation have gone?
What happened then, Bodega Dad?
Well, the private detective snuck up behind the robber
and knocked him out.
Private detective? What was he doing here?
He was asking me questions about the Origami Killer.
Oh, and you said you didn't know anything, right?
Because that's what you told us.
Actually, no. I gave him a shoebox full of clues to the
Origami Killer's identity that I've been keeping under
my counter all this time.
You gave him what?
Just a gun, a digital camera, memory card, and five
pieces of Origami that are filled with clues that could
lead someone to the killer.
Why didn't you mention this to the police during the
fifteen interviews you had with them about your son's
BODEGA DAD pauses and thinks for a moment, then-
Because David Cage is a terrible writer.
You don't have to tell me. I played Indigo Prophecy.
Now for the math that our FBI Profiling friend hasn't been able to do. Their entire theory of the crime is that, having gone nuts after the death of his son (and being a little brain damaged from the coma), Ethan has started killing other people's children. Which is a fantastic theory except for one tiny fact. Jason died in Spring 2009. Ethan got out of his coma in late fall 2009. If the killings had started then it would be merely preposterous; how could a guy just out of a hospital bed develop and execute a villainous supervillains persona? But the killings didn't start in 2009. According to Jayden they've been going on for three years. Which means they started in fall 2008. A full year before the horrible trauma that would have given birth to Ethan, the Origami Killer.
Somehow the entire Philadelphia police department and the brightest drug-addicted profiler that the FBI has to offer can't follow the most basic logic imaginable—that if B follows A, then B cannot have been the incident that caused A to occur.
Unless I've been misreading the name of the studio responsible for the game, and we're dealing with a story about "quantum" cops, who can see that cause and effect are just differing points in the four dimensional starfield of reality, linked only in the mind of man, who prefers the tyrannical illusion of linear time to the terrifying, disorderly omniscience of the universal now.
And now, scenes from the parallel plot about which I could not care less.
While I was laying out my crazy theory above, I neglected to mention what Scott's actually been up to. Investigating red herrings. Seriously, it's some pretty hard-core timewasting the private dick's engaged in. It seems that a sleazy prick was seen with one of the victims, and Scott (along with his hooker sidekick) wants to have a conversation with him. This villain is so profoundly a red herring that I couldn't be bothered to learn his name. Also seemingly pointless is the scene where his influential father tries to scare Scott off the case.
Yawn. Can we get back to Ethan's grotesque self-torture now?
It's the sincerest form of flattery. Really.
Look, we all know that this is basically just another Saw game, and given how bad the actual Saw game was, I understand why hopes were high for Heavy Rain, and why we'd want to give it a pass for its unoriginality. But I thought I'd take a moment to acknowledge just how similar the premises are. They're both stories about a crazed killer who kidnaps people and then creates elaborate traps inside crumbling edifices deep within America's post-industrial wastelands, designed to test how much a victim will sacrifice to save a life.
The difference is that the Jigsaw Killer gives people a chance to save their own lives, while the Origami Killer (note how Origami is a totally different kind of paper-based puzzle) has fathers sacrifice to save their sons. They both enjoy shocking people, making them cut off pieces of themselves, and forcing them to crawl through broken glass. (Another clue that Scott can't be the killer—someone had to put all that broken glass in the crawling tunnels, and Scott is way too fat to fit in there)
We can safely assume that they're also similar in that the tests are rigged to ensure that the players can't possibly win them—otherwise at least one of the Origami Killer's victims would have escaped by now. Yes, that's right, the Origami Killer is every bit as much of a dick as Jigsaw—perhaps even moreso, because Jigsaw offers the pretense of a moral lesson, while Origami just kills for the fun of it.
Actually, maybe his lack of pretense makes Origami less of a dick… I'm going to have to wait for his (her?) elaborate "here's why I did it!" speech before I can really judge that sort of thing.
Continue on to Part 3.
Welcome to part 3 of my SPOILER-intensive analysis of Heavy Rain's story!
My embarrassment was premature.
So yeah, Scott's the killer. He couldn't have fit in the tunnels and we don't have enough information about him to even slightly guess a motive, but he's completely the killer. How do I know this? Two things:
1. He completely killed that guy in the antiques shop, and
2. He's a filthy liar.
Perhaps these seem like stretches or jumps to conclusion, and maybe I'm reading way too much into bad writing, but this first scene in Manfred's store simply defies any other explanation. Let's look at the relevant events: Manfred goes into the back room to look for a set of files listing everyone who had one of the typewriters that the letter was typed on. For absolutely no reason the camera spends the next twenty seconds in extremely close-up on hooker as she examines a music box. Then the clocks all chime on the hour and hooker notices Scott standing exactly where he was when she picked up the music box. Now a sane person might say "but Dan, there wasn't enough time for Scott to walk into the back room, stab Heinrich to death without getting any blood on him, and then make it back to the main room without Lauren noticing." Excellent observation, hypothetical reader, but you're forgetting one thing—in a badly-written game, anything is possible!
Why am I so sure that he's the killer? Because Scott doesn't seem very interested in catching the killer. You know, for a guy who's supposedly been hired to do that. Manfred goes back to check on the files, and what does Scott think to himself about the fact that hooker's eagerly anticipating the information? "Lauren thinks she's about to find the killer. I'm afraid she's going to be disappointed." Seriously? Who would say that other than the killer? Why else would he be so sure that they weren't going to find a clue, unless he already knew that Manfred was dead?
Add to that the fact that, like everyone else in this game, he's not interested in calling the police when he finds a dead body, and you've got a prescription for him being the killer. What other reason could he possibly have for not wanting to let the cops know about the friend of his that just got murdered? Oh, sure, he claims that he doesn't want to spend all day in the police station, and that's reasonable, but consider the flip side—if Scott's not the killer, then the killer was literally inside that building less than thirty seconds earlier. Which means that he's still catchable with the help of local police. Not to mention there's likely proof in the office about the Origami Killer's identity—after all, why kill Manfred if there wasn't—so they've got no reason not to tell the police what's going on.
Of course, all of that can be explained away by Scott being the killer, which gives him one hell of a motive to not get the police involved. What moves this scene into the "terrible writing" category is the next sequence, where Scott and hooker are interviewed by the police. Scott keeps quiet about why they were in the shop for reasons we've already discussed, but hooker does the same for no apparent reason. She's got a clue to the Origami Killer's identity, she knows another murder that was committed to keep the secret hidden, and she doesn't tell any of this to the cops because… um…
Again, David Cage's hand-waving to the rescue! He hopes that by not showing hooker's interview no one will wonder why the cops don't think it's suspicious that the mother of one of the Origami Killer's victims has turned up at another crime scene, nor does bad cop interact with her, despite the fact that, as the lead investigator on the Origami Killer case, he should already know her pretty well.
But all of that isn't why I'm now convinced that Scott is the killer. It's because, as I mentioned above, he's a filthy damn liar. How do I know this? Back at his office, Scott announces that he's been working on the case for two years. Which would mean that someone would have to have been paying him all that time. But only poor people's children have been killed, so who hired him? He's certainly not saying, which is suspicious enough, but couple that with the fact that Bad Cop knows Scott from back when the PI was a cop, but he doesn't know that Scott is working on the case, and you've got pretty conclusive proof. After all, how could a private detective be working on an active serial killer case for two years without once crossing paths with the detectives officially investigating it?
That's not possible, so Scott's the killer. Which is deeply inconsistent with his thoughts and abilities. But we'll cross that terribly-constructed bridge if and when my theory turns out to be correct.
I think Madison may be allergic to the numbers 911.
Just when I'd accepted the flat-out crazy idea that Madison wouldn't get Ethan the medical help he needs, she goes and out-crazies herself. Not only does she follow Ethan to the apartment building where he cut his finger off, she then helps him dodge the cops afterwards, and allows him to wander off on yet another crazy adventure—this time after he reveals to her that he's probably the Origami Killer!
Setting aside for a moment the problems in Ethan's bizarre claim (don't worry, they're coming soon), let's look instead at Madison's next move. She decides that Ethan can't possibly be the Origami Killer, and chooses to follow a completely valid lead, tracking down the owner of the apartment that Ethan cut off his finger in. Really that's something you'd think the police would be better off investigating, but Madison's a… um… checking my notes… magazine photographer, so obviously she's got the detecting chops necessary to crack this case.
Okay, I'm being facetious there—Madison was obviously lying about her job, and I'm not going to make any judgments about her decision to keep investigating until I know who she actually is, and what she does for a living.
I can, however, pretty severely criticize her reaction to the place that her investigation takes her. Madison checks in with the doctor who owns the property, only to wind up knocked unconscious with a baseball bat. She wakes tied to a table, prepped for vivisection, near a corpse that the doctor claims was a government spy pretending to be a census taker. Actually, the crazed killer may just have a point here, as the corpse was pretty fresh, and since it's late 2011 the census ended a year ago.
After the doctor is distracted by a knock on the front door (as someone who watches a lot of horror movies, let me say that "serial killer being called away from victim by Jehovah's Witnesses at the door" is one of the top five cliches) Madison frees herself and manages to kill Doc in the scuffle. Then she elects to not call the police and mention the serial killer that she just stuck a power drill into the heart of.
At this point, unless she's a crazed objectivist who doesn't believe in using any public service supported by taxes, her refusal to call the police has officially entered the realm of mental illness. After all, look at it from a sane person's point of view. Madison is hoping to find some connection between a non-Ethan serial killer and the apartment. She checked out the apartment's owner, and discovered that he was a serial killer. Wouldn't any logical interpretation of the events suggest that Doc was the serial killer she's looking for? After all, he's been without a license for years and makes his money as a drug dealer, meaning he's got the spare time necessary to be the Origami Killer, and he owns the building where the last trial was set up, meaning he had access to the location.
Instead of calling the cops and announcing that she's just stopped the Origami killer she rushes off to a dance club to interview the supposed tenant of the apartment in question. This leads to an unpleasant little sequence where Madison narrowly avoids a sexual assault and then brutally tortures a man for information. And then, when she gets the information, she proves to be as bad an investigator as Ethan and the cops—when dealing with a person who actually met the Origami Killer face to face she accepts a name, "John Sheppard", without asking the logical follow-up question that any human on earth would, "What does he look like?"
Why doesn't she ask this? Because David Cage doesn't want the player to know that "John Sheppard" is a heavyset man in his 50s, because that would give away that Scott is the killer.
But let's not move on before taking a hard look at Madison's reasoning that led her to the club. She doesn't even entertain the possibility that Doc could be the Origami Killer. Which means that she was assuming that, in a coincidence that defies all statistical probability, the Origami Killer was renting an apartment from a second, wholly unrelated serial killer. And this assumption proves to be correct.
Doesn't that seem a little… what's that word that David Cage doesn't know?
Ah, right. Contrived.
My god, but Ethan's a moron.
So Ethan thinks he's the Origami Killer. He flat-out announces this to Madison. It's his theory that during the blackouts he's been setting up these trials to test the depth of his love for his son. It's not a terrible theory, and there's certainly some circumstantial evidence to support it, but he leaves out a key element in his reasoning. If testing himself was the goal, why kill those eight other children?
Of course, that question is moot, because Ethan's not the Origami Killer. He can't possibly be. And I'm not just saying that because I've targeted Scott with my suspicions. At this point in the game Ethan has concrete proof right at his fingertips that demonstrates conclusively that he is not the Origami Killer—but what's worse is that even if Ethan had a good faith belief that he was the Origami Killer his actions still make no sense. In fact, his actions make less sense if he believes that he's the killer than if he was sure that another man was running him through this gauntlet.
Okay, that's a lot to unpack from one paragraph, so let's break it down. First, there's the evidence that Ethan can't possibly be the Origami Killer—and I'm not talking about the fact that he couldn't possibly have killed Manfred—right now we're just looking at facts that are readily available to Ethan, and he doesn't know Manfred ever existed.
1. Ethan's theory is based on the idea that he's the killer during his blackouts.
2. Ethan has not had a blackout since Shaun was kidnapped.
3. The memory cards left for him at the various tests show the water level in Shaun's cell rising, meaning they are being filmed over a period of time, and placed shortly before he arrives.
4. Since he hasn't blacked out in days, Ethan could not have possibly filmed that footage.
5. When he cut off his finger, a camera was watching, and a moment after he'd done it the location of the next tape was revealed. This means someone (not him during a blackout) was watching that feed.
6. When he was dispatched to kill the drug dealer, he was supposed to send a photo of the body in exchange for a clue. If he's the killer, who would he be sending that picture to that would confirm the content of it and send back a clue?
Here, by comparison, are the clues that point to him being the killer:
A. He has dreams in which children are drowning.
B. After each blackout he wakes at the same street corner, holding a piece of origami.
The first clue will be addressed momentarily, but I've got to admit I have no idea about the second. Although if Ethan wanted to figure out why he keeps showing up at that corner maybe he might want to try heading back there during the day sometime, you know, figure out why that place is important to him.
So Ethan is operating under the mistaken apprehension that he's the Origami Killer. That's supposed to explain the boneheaded moves he's making. Except it actually does the opposite, making his decision more baffling and unrealistic.
To explain this better, allow me to remind you of something: At no point did the Origami Killer tell Ethan not to go to the police for help. Yet Ethan operates as if the OK did. I can kind of give him a pass on this one—I'm sure Ethan's seen plenty of movies, and is just assuming that the killer would murder his son if he broke from the game. Except for one thing—Ethan doesn't believe that the Origami Killer exists as long as he's awake. Which means, based on Ethan's assumptions, there's no one to punish Shaun for his father's refusal to follow the rules. So why is he following them so slavishly when he could be getting help looking for his son without fear of repercussion?
Ethan says that the only important thing is finding his son, and that he'll turn himself in to the cops once that's been accomplished—which is all well and good, but doesn't he understand that the cops would be much better at looking for his son than he is? Right now the cops are splitting their time between two priorities: Finding Shaun and finding the Origami Killer. If he were to turn himself in they could focus entirely on locating his son—an activity that ten thousand cops would have a much more success at then one addled, brain damaged man.
It's not like the origami clues are specifically aimed at Ethan, requiring some measure of his genius or knowledge to figure out. This isn't the Da Vinci Code, he's just told to go places and do things. And the cops wouldn't have screwed around with the directions, they just would have done sensible things like fully searching the car, popping open the back door to the power plant, and torn apart the room for places a memory card could be hidden…
Hold on for just a second… you know what? Forget the police. Ethan just needed to bring along a crowbar. A locked glove compartment, a closed emergency door, some loose floorboards—the Origami Killer has devised nefarious schemes that, in their entirety, could be defeated with the application of a little leverage.
The funny part about all of this is that it would have been such an easy fix at the writing stage—since time immemorial writers have been deftly dodging around the "why aren't they involving the authorities" question with seven simple words: "Call the cops and your (kidnapee) dies."
How hard would that have been to include? It would justify a decent portion of Ethan's stupid actions, and what would be the cost? Just another tick in the column for "reasons Ethan can't possibly think he's the Origami killer"—but that column is already so full, how could one more addition to it make a difference?
He's not just a bad interior designer. He's a bad doctor, too.
Above I mentioned, in passing, that I thought it was ridiculous that Ethan thought he was the Origami Killer just because he'd been dreaming of drowning children. I think this because Ethan has a perfectly good secondary reason to be having those traumatic dreams, which we discovered in a flashback brought about by that famous Shakespearean device: The Gravetender who has a suspiciously large amount of helpful exposition to offer.
In the flashback we see a couple of lower-class children are playing out in a construction yard—one of them drowns, the other witnesses it, and is screwed up by the sight. The dead child is John Sheppard (not coincidentally the name the Origami Killer uses), and the other one is his little brother Ethan, who would go on to be adopted by the Mars family. Okay, we're not actually told that part of the story just yet, but it's all that makes sense. After all, the gravetender goes out of his way to mention that the other child was adopted, but can't remember his first name. And this is the most logical explanation for Ethan's recurring nightmares, which were kicked off when Jason (Shaun's brother!) was killed at the same age as his own brother had been.
Which all raises the obvious question: Why doesn't Ethan know any of this? It's possible to jump to the conclusion "Well, he's just blacked it out because it was so traumatic"—of course he did. Totally natural. Except for one thing: Ethan's been under intensive therapy at a science-church for, at the very least, six months now. How did his childhood not come up once in that time? Maybe David Cage has never been to therapy, and never talked to a therapist, but, at one point or another, he has to have seen a movie about therapy, hasn't he? Doesn't he know that "tell me about your childhood" is one of the big three questions every therapist asks, along with "tell me about your parents" and "tell me about your dreams".
Perhaps Ethan doesn't even remember having a brother at one point, but if that's the case he would have had to have basically forgotten his entire childhood before age 10. Which would be one hell of a red flag to a therapist that was any good at all.
(Note: This entire entry is based on my theory that Ethan is the little boy I played as in the flashback. If that turns out not to be the case, I will sit in the corner wearing a funny hat.)
The only piece that doesn't fit my theory is when the red herring's dad (Mr, and this can't be a coincidence, Kramer) shows up to lay some flowers at John Sheppard's grave. I've got no idea what the connection between him and the Sheppard boys is—he might be the stern father shown throwing them out of their trailer at the beginning of the flashback. I suppose time will tell.
But I've got to give David Cage credit: it's at this scene that I became committed enough in the story to care how the pieces all fit together. I'm still reserving the right to complain about details of the story and the stupidity of the characters, but as of right now, I'm officially excited to get to the reveal. Full disclosure, though, I've never stopped reading a mystery, no matter how awfully written, so my reaction may have no relation to David Cage's level of competence as a storyteller.
I mean, seriously, his Ethan is so stupid that he doesn't even bother trying to fake a photo after not killing that drug dealer. Come on, man—you're willing to cut off your own finger to save your son's life, but you're not willing to grab some red food colouring, smear it all over the guy's chest and neck, then take a poorly-framed photo?
Jesus, haven't you even seen White Men Can't Jump?
Remind me to, if I become a violent criminal, only commit crimes in the city where Heavy Rain takes place.
I know I've been hard on the writing of policework up until this point in the game, but that's only because it's been so ineptly written. Which, sadly (unless you like awfulness. Which, apparently, I do…) didn't get even a slight bit better over the past few chapters.
Remember how I mentioned that Madison helped Ethan escape from the police? What I didn't mention is that this assistance required no particular cleverness on her part, but depended entirely on the police being incredibly bad at their jobs.
Permit me to set the scene: The cops have located Ethan's car outside of the Doc's apartment building. They assume, correctly, that this means that Ethan is currently inside the apartment building. Then Madison comes driving up on her motorcycle, and the cops let her enter the apartment. Why do they do this? Because "maybe she lives there". So, just to be clear—you guys believe a monstrous serial killer is holed up inside that fire-ravaged, uninhabitable building. Then a woman shows up, intent on entering it. There are two possibilities for why she might want to this:
1. She is in cahoots with the serial killer.
2. She's an innocent bystander, which means she's about to become a hostage.
In which of those situations would it be prudent to NOT detain her?
But that idiocy pales next to how Madison and Ethan get away from the cops. Despite the fact that they are theoretically highly-trained and experienced investigators, neither bad cop, Druggy the FBI agent, nor any of the dozen other cops on the scene are familiar with the concept that buildings can have more than one entrance. Nope, they all sit outside the front door, completely ignoring both the rear of the building and the alley running along one side. Guess how our heroes make their getaway?
This scene is especially insulting because it's such an easy fix. Step 1: Make it so Ethan had to park down the block from the building. Step 2: Have the cops both watch the car and search the buildings one-by-one. 3: Have Madison arrive shortly before the cops get to the building Ethan's in.
Had it been written that way you'd still have the time pressure that makes the sequence thrilling without fatally crippling the idea that your police officer characters could ever be looked at as anything but utter morons. Did David Cage never have an editor take a look at his script? These seem like profoundly basic things that almost anyone would have caught.
Also hurting the perception of Druggy and Bad Cop as serious investigators? Druggy's failure to bring any backup with him when he goes to interview a violent criminal who might have some connection to the Origami Killer's car. The man in question, a chop-shop owner named "Mad Jack" who, amazingly, is not the roguish third-lead character from a JRPG about sky-pirates, is known to be "armed and dangerous", but Druggy goes alone because Bad Cop was "busy". What about the other five thousand cops in Philadelphia, Druggy? Were they busy too?
Actually, apparently the other five thousand cops in Philly don't talk, because one of them went to interview Mad Jack recently, was brutally murdered and thrown in an acid vat, and somehow no one's noticed he's missing. Add to all this abject failure the fact that Bad Cop releases two murder suspects without bothering to find out in any detail why they were at the crime scene—when one of them happens to be a major player in a separate (but completely related if you'd have just asked her) crime that you're investigating at the moment, and you've got a recipe for unimaginably bad policework.
Oh, and for the record, I don't actually know that the game is set in Philadelphia, I've just been assuming that because the killer's letter had a stamp with the Liberty Bell on it. If there have been any other clues to its location, I haven't seen them.
(Big unanswered question of the moment: What's Scott's connection to John Sheppard? He's not old enough to have been the father figure in the flashback, is he?)
Continue on to Part 4.
Well, I finally finished Heavy Rain, and was startled by a lot of things about the last few chapters. The identity of the killer, the lack of resolution offered to many parts of the story, and a certain twist that invalidates nearly everything that occurred. My comments start just under the spoiler warning.
SPOILERS BELOW—SERIOUSLY, THE HUGE SPOILER STARTS LIKE TWO LINES DOWN. I OUTRIGHT SAY WHO THE KILLER IS. SO DON'T LOOK DOWN IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW. ALTHOUGH, AS THE LAST PERSON ON THE INTERNET TO PLAY HEAVY RAIN, I'M NOT SURE WHY I'M BOTHERING.
I was totally right (and spectacularly wrong).
To summarize the last section of the plot, Scott's the killer, it wasn't Ethan in the flashback, and it's all pretty badly written. I'll get into the mystery's solution a little further down, but for now I'm going to take a look at the questionable decisions and baffling plot turns that get us there.
Fool me three times, I should lose my pension.
Bad Cop just can't get a handle on this whole "arresting people" thing, can he? And I'm not talking about the time he had a murder suspect sitting in his police station and let the guy walk out with no coherent explanation. Although that was pretty bad. No, this time I'm addressing Bad Cop's fundamental inability to grasp basic law enforcement techniques for apprehending suspects.
First there was his innovative "put all your men at one of the exits, hoping that's the one he'll take" strategy. Predictably, that was something of a disaster. So when he got a second chance to capture Ethan, he decided to try an entirely different strategy—line up all of his officers on the balcony, and then have them run after him, hoping that men wearing fifty pounds of entry equipment will be able to catch a car crash/electrical burn/hypothermia survivor. It's actually a pretty close chase, but after Ethan makes the daring choice to jump onto some conveniently-placed scaffolding Bad Cop is forced to give up. Because he had every single cop with him, chasing Ethan up and down staircases and across a rooftop, so there's no one to chase after Ethan once he steals a cab and drives away. Because not one single cop remained in or near a car, prepared for this eventuality.
So obviously they had to give up the chase, right? I mean, it's not like Bad Cop had a helicopter hovering overhead, ready to monitor the cab's location until cruisers could intercept it, right? Oh, what's that? They did have a helicopter hovering overhead for just that purpose? Well then why didn't it chase Ethan? Ah, bad writing. Gotcha.
Hell, I'm still confused about why they chased Ethan onto the roof at all. There's nowhere a person on the roof of a building can go that a person on the ground can't go faster. I was watching a show about police chases a few months back, and it featured a burglar who tried to escape the cops by climbing out onto the roof of a building, then running and jumping from building to building. How did the cops catch him? They waited on the ground until he got tired. No climbing, no chasing, nothing. They just surrounded the block, and hung out until he was ready to climb down and take his medicine.
I'm not saying games need necessarily feature stunningly realistic chases that mostly feature the police calmly pursuing someone from a distance until they run out of steam. I'm just saying that if you want a chase to be both exciting and dramatically interesting, you have to have the protagonist put up against incredible odds, yet still escape using skill and cleverness (if you have good writers) or luck and coincidence (if you have mediocre writers). If you have terrible writers, then the protagonist escapes because the antagonists were incompetent. Obviously this is the least satisfying resolution to a chase.
It's also the only kind that Heavy Rain features.
Bad Cop gets one last chance to redeem himself, though, right at the end of the game. He's discovered that Ethan is holed up in Scott's warehouse, and he rushes over there with ample backup and some SWAT snipers, who all line up… right at the front of the building.
God damn it, Blake. Also, why are you telling the snipers to shoot to kill? It's not like you have reason to believe he's armed and dangerous. The Origami Killer has never used violence that you know about, and your main suspect, Ethan Mars, has fled like a spooked deer every time a cop entered his eyeline. So isn't bringing out the rifles kind of an overreaction?
What's that? David Cage asked you to act like even more of a dick than usual because he needed a completely artificial and contrived way to ramp up the tension, not trusting that the simultaneous conveyor belt fight scene and nail-biting resuscitation would offer enough?
Come on, bad cop, by know you should know better than to trust David Cage's dramatic instincts.
Jayden should really find another line of work.
Because "catching criminals" doesn't really seem to suit him. He arrived at the scene of one of the Origami Killer's crimes while the guy was still in the room, had a quick fight, and then followed the killer out into a dance club just ten seconds behind. Now imagine you were in this situation—when you saw the guard standing next to the door that both you and the killer just walked through, what would be your first question to him? I'm guessing "Which way did he go?" or something like it, right? Not Druggy, though.
Much like Bad Cop on the roof, Druggy gives up any hope of catching the Origami Killer the second he gets out of sight. Because it's easy to get lost in a crowd. At a modern high-tech dance club full of scantily-clad young people. When you're a big guy in a blue trenchcoat. Wearing a fedora. And with a scarf wrapped around his face. Yeah. He'll blend.
Also, and this is a pretty minor thing, but I'll ask it anyway—why did Scott change trechcoats before going to kill Paco? Was he worried that someone would recognize him as Scott Shelby if he wore his trademark tan coat, but felt he was totally unrecognizable in his navy one?
Oh, and this brings to a total of 2 the number of characters who were talking to someone who knows the Origami Killer on sight, and asked for a name, but not a physical description. Because that twist was just so worth protecting. Other things Druggy does to protect the twist in this scene include: not calling for backup to try and intercept the killer. Not inquiring about video surveillance of the entrances and exits. Not interviewing anyone in the club about the killer's appearance or identity. Not reporting the murder in any way, or calling in an actual forensics team to perform a proper, not-magic-assisted analysis of the crime scene.
I'll give Druggy this—at least he's already figured out that Ethan wasn't the killer before meeting the actual killer and discovering that they bore no physical resemblance to one another. But I've got to call him on his explanation for why he's so sure that Ethan isn't the killer. It's not because there's no evidence except for a piece of Origami, or because the timelines don't match up—he's dismissed Ethan as a suspect because he doesn't "fit the profile".
But that's not true, is it? Here, let's take a look at Druggy's profile using that most illustrative of forms: Point form!
White Male – Check.
Aged 30-45 – Also check.
Owns a car – Yup.
Employed, but with free time – Architect who works at home on his own schedule, so yes.
Calm – Fairly enough.
Organized – Definitely.
Intelligent – Debatable.
Determined – He chopped off a finger, so I'll say yes.
Other than Ethan's intelligence level being questionable he fits every single criteria that Druggy lays out. So how on earth did he use the profile to exclude Ethan as a suspect?
There's always time for love.
Well, at least there was just the one sex scene. I was kind of dreading it a little, the first time Madison ran into Ethan the writing was on the wall, but I still had hope the story wouldn't turn that way. But ever since that cop had sex in a freezing cold abandoned subway car with the SuperZombie she'd just met I knew that I couldn't trust David Cage to control himself when it came to story-inappropriate sex scenes. Literally every other line out of Ethan's mouth has been a reference to the ticking time clock hovering over his head, counting down to his son's brutal murder. Also he's monstrously injured. Yet some hot loving followed by a leisurely nap? He's able to pencil that in without too much trouble.
If you're not familiar with the film Commando, it's a story about a man whose child is kidnapped, and he's given a tight deadline to do something for the kidnappers, lest she be killed. Knowing that you can never trust a kidnapper's word, instead of going along with the scheme he immediately begins working against the people attempting to manipulating him. I'm not going to go into the whole plot, but he ends up killing Dan Hedaya.
I bring this movie up because Heavy Rain reminded me of a story I read about it in a Tribute magazine around 20 years ago. While promoting another movie it came up that Commando's script had originally featured a sex scene between Arnold's character and the stewardess who helps him prepare to invade a fake Central American nation, but Schwarzenegger had apparently vetoed its inclusion, and not just because he preferred to only star in remarkably chaste action movies. Apparently he felt that the character's focus on rescuing his daughter should never have any distractions—that he'd look like a terrible person if he paused for sex while the clock was ticking down on his daughter's life.
Just wanted to put it out there that a man named "John Matrix", who used circular saw blades as deadly disci and shoved a steam pipe through Wez' chest, is a more attentive and responsible father, not to mention an overall more admirable person than the main character of Heavy Rain.
Ethan smartens up, and I thank him for it.
It happened after the second trial. As the letters came up, it was painfully obvious that the second line said "Roosevelt". After the third not only had my suspicions been confirmed, but I had a numerical address to work with. "Why doesn't he just start looking for the building now?" I wondered. The rain was hovering somewhere around 4 inches, and I figured that there couldn't possibly be more than a few buildings that fit the criteria in the city. In Philadelphia (not necessarily where the game is set, but used to illustrate a point), for example, there's just one street named "Roosevelt". So all you'd have to do is drive down it, looking for "852", or the maximum of ten buildings that start with "852", in the unlikely event that street numbering got that high.
That's a maximum of eleven buildings to search—and since the building in question would necessarily have to be abandoned, the search might be even shorter than that.
I wasn't given this option, even though it seems like a little driving around would be a preferable alternative to murdering a stranger (which Ethan didn't even wind up doing anyway). And it wasn't until I'd also balked at the prospect of drinking poison that the idea finally came up again.
Ethan's only half-smart, though. While the memory card in the gun was something that no one could have guessed, in every situation where he's been asked to do something in order to have a card revealed to him the card has been hidden somewhere within the immediate vicinity of the test. So, in addition to being able to drink poison, wouldn't it make sense for Ethan to have the option of tearing the room apart? The card might have been behind a mirror, taped under the table, at the bottom of the vial of poison, even tucked into the chandelier. Why not smash it all to pieces before giving up?
But I'm not here to discuss the things Ethan doesn't do—I'm here to talk about the things he does. The, for god-damn once, smart thing he does. The guy looks at the partial address, and figures out the five possible places that the clues could possibly lead. Then he frets about only having enough time to get to one of them, which wouldn't have been an issue if you'd done this yesterday, moron, but let's move on, because I'm trying to be positive here.
The drawing of the three.
Even with the plot rapidly drawing to a close there's still time for some rank stupidity. First there's Druggy, who figures out the killer's identity based on a terribly contrived clue being dropped when they were fighting in the dance club. The thing about the gold watch is a nice callback, and a decent reveal—it's just too bad that he has to cross-reference with the awfully convenient gas station receipts. This bad writing is especially egregious because it's completely unnecessary—there were two people at the bar that Druggy could have gotten a physical description of the killer from, but David Cage's desire to have characters act like idiots to protect his twist continues to have ripple effects, dumbing down all the parts of the story that touch it.
Then there's the fact that he rushes off to the warehouse alone. Yes, I'm sure that Bad Cop wouldn't listen to him, and time is too short to waste trying to convince a brick wall. I'm even more sure, however, that there's an FBI office in the city that he could have called for help.
Madison has to get to the final conflict as well, and it's preposterousness that leads her along. Look, I know she's a journalist, and she wants a "scoop", but after finding out the Origami Killer's identity (by asking his mom), she proceeds to not tell anyone else about it. Because it's not like the police have the resources to track down a serial killer's property (where he's likely keeping Shaun) faster than she does. No, instead she heads over to the serial killer's apartment alone, without telling anyone, and unarmed. Didn't she have a gun like two scenes ago? What happened to that?
Naturally she's cornered by Scott, who proceeds to not shoot her in any meaningful way. Instead he locks her in a closet and set the apartment on fire. Why doesn't he shoot her? He didn't have a problem shooting those dozen guys a couple of scenes earlier. Maybe he doesn't want to attract police attention, but, again, just a couple of scenes ago he was crashing a car through the wall of a house in a ritzy upper-class neighbourhood, then leaving the scene of the crime on foot, and he didn't seem overly concerned about the neighbours calling the police then.
The whole scene would have worked better if Scott had tried to shoot Madison, and she'd locked herself in the secret room for protection, forcing him to burn the apartment down to get her—but I'm not here to fix the story, we're about five years too late for that. So let's just look at what Madison does next. After escaping the apartment she rushes out to her bike, determined to call someone to tell them about Shaun's location! But who does she call? Druggy or Ethan?
Two questions. 1. Why not call both? It takes like five seconds each time. 2. How do you have either of their numbers? I'm pretty sure it's not easy to get an FBI Agent's work cell phone number, and the phone Ethan's using isn't his own, so I'm fairly sure he doesn't even know what its number is, so how could she? Really, why doesn't she just call 911?
Oh, right. The allergy. I'd forgotten.
As for Ethan—well, we've already covered how he gets to the warehouse (great work, E!), but I just wanted to briefly mention something I found unintentionally funny about the scene. After going through three trials that could have been easily defeated by a crowbar, Ethan noodles out the location of the warehouse and drives over there, to discover that his final trial is… he has to pry a padlock off a grate!
Once again, the Origami Killer could have been foiled by a crowbar. For a supervillain, that's one hell of a weird weakness to have.
Absolutely nothing Scott does makes sense.
David Cage had a heck of an idea for his game: let the audience play as the killer without knowing that's what they were doing. Give him, Agatha Christie-style, actions and thoughts that make sense two ways, once if he's a private detective investigating the case, and in the second viewing, if he's a killer cleaning up evidence of his crimes. It was a fantastic idea… if only David Cage had been a good enough writer to come up with things for Scott to do that could make sense both ways.
"I needed the rest. I haven't been sleeping well since the murders started up again."
That's what Scott thinks to himself when he wakes up in his office just before hooker arrives. It's also a lie. The killer would never think of something he was doing in such passive terms. It's a line that exists only to create the impression in the player that Scott can't be the killer. The fact that David Cage resorted to using such a baldy deceptive trick puts him on par with Tom Savage for lying to his audience.
Which, for people unfamiliar with the thriller genre, is a very bad thing.
It's not just Scott's thoughts that don't make sense upon second viewing, however. Every single thing he does makes little to no sense when interpreted as the actions of a serial killer looking to cover his tracks. First off, let's acknowledge that Scott is something beyond a realistic serial killer—he's a cinematic superkiller with a theme, nefarious machinations, unlimited resources, and a level of planning that has never appeared in reality.
The fact that he's one of these cinematic superkillers raises the question of why he needs to go around collecting evidence at all. From everything we see in the game we have no reason to believe that his equipment is anything but untraceable. He doesn't leave fingerprints, there's almost certainly no paper trail leading to the cell phones, and the typewriter, while incriminating, isn't so incriminating that it could be used to easily trace him. So why is it so important to get the evidence back? If there's something traceable in there, why did he send it when he has no reason to believe (other than an assurance from David Cage that the parents would be horribly written) that the people receiving the letters and packages wouldn't immediately turn them over to the police. He has to have considered that possibility, hasn't he?
More importantly, though, why would he go out of his way to draw attention to himself? One of the first rules of serial killer investigation is that anyone who inserts themselves into the investigation jumps right to the top of the suspect list. Now, most serial killers who come forward to 'assist' the police do it in the hopes of misleading them, or for the adrenalin rush they get from being so close to the people trying to catch them—and if Scott seemed to be doing this, then at least his storyline would make psychological sense. He's not, though—he genuinely seems to be collecting evidence because he's worried that it will lead to him.
But why do that if his fake "investigation" has the potential to draw far more attention to him than the typed envelopes and Origami ever could? All it would take is for one of the parents to mention to the police that this "detective" stopped by, and he's done for. He's not working for anyone, he didn't turn evidence over to the police, and he doesn't have an alibi for the crimes. Hell, he's doing all the investigating under his actual name!
We're asked to believe that this brilliant killer would voluntarily put himself into a situation whose only logical outcome would be to make himself the police's prime suspect, for no other reason than to convince the person playing the game that he can't possibly be the killer.
And that's not even the worst of it. Post-revelation Scott's entire main plot line, investigating Kramer Jr., makes no logical sense. What is Scott trying to accomplish here? He focuses on Junior because the wastrel was seen with the one Origami Killer victim that someone saw being abducted—and since he knows that he didn't kill one of the victims attributed to him, Scott's pretty sure that Junior is the culprit. Which raises a pretty important question: why does Scott investigate him so doggedly? Now, it's possible that Scott just wants confirmation that Junior is the copycat—and that's a motivation I can understand. Here's the problem, though—Scott receives that confirmation almost immediately. The very fact that Mr. Kramer attempts to pay Scott off is an admission that his son killed that child. So why does Scott refuse the payoff and piss off a powerful man? He claims that he's going to continue the investigation, but he has no intention of doing so—again, the only reason for Scott to put his life in jeopardy like this is to reinforce the player's impression that he's a good guy, and refusing payoffs from the fathers of serial killers is something that good guys do.
But Scott doesn't know he's being watched by a gamer. All he knows is that Junior is the copycat, and if he doesn't let it go, Mr. Kramer will have him killed. So what could possibly be his reason for pursuing it? It's not like he can hope to frame Junior for his crimes—he was already discounted by the police as not being a viable suspect because he had alibis for other murders.
Which brings me to another rather gaping plot hole: How did Junior recreate the Origami Killer's MO so perfectly? It's a common practice in investigations for the police to keep certain details out of press reports so that they can be used to test the authenticity of confessions. Hell, this fact even gets mentioned in the press conference, so obviously David Cage was familiar with it. There are only four useful clues in the case of the Origami Killer: 1. Killed 3-5 days after kidnapping. 2. Drowned in rainwater. 3. Orchid left on chest. 4. Origami dog is placed in victim's hand, then hand is closed to protect it from the elements.
Number one is known by the public because the kidnappings and deaths are reported. The specific cause of death (that they're drowned in rainwater, as opposed to tap or river water), species of flower, and specific kind of origami are all facts that the police would likely keep to themselves. In order for Junior's crime to be thought of as one of the actual killings, he would have had to know all of those things. If he'd gotten even one wrong, it would have raised alarms. But he didn't. So how did he know?
It honestly seems like he knew because David Cage needed another suspect to protect his twist. His awful, awful twist.
That's the frustrating thing about the game's twist: it's the worst kind. In a good twist the audience is led, by artful storytelling, to an incorrect conclusion that makes perfect sense given the facts available. But then, after the twist has been revealed, and they know the truth, all of those facts take on a second, deeper meaning. On subsequent readings the story plays entirely different, as the characters dialogue, thoughts, and actions make sense in multiple ways at once. This wasn't one of those twists.
In a bad twist the writer doesn't care about the second viewing, they only care about providing the biggest shock possible to the audience. Instead of adding another layer to the plot the bad twist strips all meaning away from previous scenes, leaving us with characters who say and do things for no other reason than to propel the plot forward and set up/disguise the twist. It's one of the most egregious kinds of bad writing, and it's all David Cage has to offer.
But Ethan had to be the killer. Only he couldn't have been.
In the last part of this analysis I tied myself in knots trying to explain away Ethan's connection to the crime, since he obviously couldn't have been the killer. Because none of the characters' ages are given (save the kids and, for some reason, Madison), it's impossible to guess who's supposed to be the little boy in the flashback. The children look and act much younger than 10, but that's David Cage's thing, so it's hard to fault him for it. This puts flashback character's age at 44. Ethan doesn't look 44, but he could be 39, my original guess based on the perceived age of the kids. The bigger issue, though, is that Scott sure as hell doesn't look 44. I don't know how old the actor playing him actually is (but apparently he was in Batman!) but I'd be shocked if he wasn't on the far side of 50. Maybe hard living has put another decade on the man's face, but it's still one hell of a stretch. Maybe if Cage had been nebulous about the date of John's death this would have played better.
It wasn't just the ages confusing me, though. No, the key thing that pointed me in the wrong direction was the fact that Ethan acts as if he's got the killer's backstory. He dreams about drowning children. During his blackouts he makes (or finds?) an exact replica of the Origami dog that John used to obsessively create as a child. When he wakes from his blackouts he's always traveled to the same place: the exact spot where John Sheppard lost his life.
Based on the flashbacks and testimony of the Sheppard lads' mother, this behaviour should be attributed to the killer. But it's not. Ethan didn't do it. He just dreams like the killer and suffers blackouts wherein he lives out the killer's history. I have found no explanation for this within the game.
As far as I can tell, there are only two possible explanations for Ethan's behaviour.
1. David Cage is lazy: In an earlier draft of the script Ethan was the killer. As the script developed and he hit on the "you play as the killer but don't know it" twist, he changed his mind. But he couldn't figure out a way to make the police suspect Ethan, so he just left the suspicious behaviour in and hoped that no one would notice.
2. David Cage is crazy: Okay, even I feel a little weird writing this down, and I have no evidence to back it up (because I don't know Ethan's age), but the only other concept that makes sense is that Ethan Mars is John Sheppard, reincarnated. He's roughly ten years younger than Scott, so the dates kind of work, and in this theory after the death of his son and traumatic brain injury he started having blackouts during which a past-life regression occurred. The "John" persona would be confused and scared, trapped in a body that wasn't his own. He would travel as quickly as possible to his home (the building that was formerly the construction site where he died), on the way finding a square piece of paper and doing the one thing that calmed him, making another origami "Max". When he arrived at the site and saw that it was now a building the shock would allow his current persona to re-emerge, leaving Ethan confused, suffering from lost time, and clutching an origami dog the significance of which he couldn't possibly understand.
Which of those two theories is more likely? I can't say. I'd love to believe the second one—while obviously nuts, it does serve the purpose of tying up a loose end that would otherwise cripple the entire plot—but I don't know David Cage's mind, or anything about the development of the game, so I can't say for sure.
But here's some evidence that David Cage is, in fact, lazy.
My favorite genre is mystery, and my favorite moment in mysteries is when someone (detective or killer, it doesn't matter) explains how and why they did it. Heavy Rain had a great moment at the beginning of his confession where he announced that he'd fixated on Ethan because he witnessed Ethan almost dying in his attempt to save his son's life. Now, apart from the fact that this means Ethan has already passed Scott's BS test, I was really excited by this revelation. "OMG!" I thought, because I think in texts, "This means that Scott was there in the background during that movie, and David Cage put the solution right in front of his audience in the mall scene, trusting that they wouldn't notice it, and giving them a mind-blowing easter egg to find upon a second viewing!"
So then I played that scene twice, and watched the movie close for a guy with a white shirt and brown slacks. He was nowhere to be found.
Because David god-damned Cage couldn't be bothered to make his game internally consistent, even when doing so would have provided the player with a great incentive to go back and start another playthrough.
But seriously, folks.
Obviously I've had a lot of fun analyzing Heavy Rain. I've adored this genre ever since Yu Suzuki was calling it "Free Roaming Eyes Entertainment". I love the world interaction, I love the quick time events, I love that it's the most story-focused of all videogame genres. I even had a good time actually playing the game—except for a single freeze during one short scene I didn't have any technical difficulties, and I thought the action sequences were well choreographed and entertaining to be a part of. And I did really feel like I was part of the action, because that's what the interactive movie genre can offer when it's done well.
The problem is that the movie that I felt like I was a part of was bad. Really, really bad.
Yes, I love this genre of games. I just profoundly wish that the one person making games in that genre wasn't an Andre Emerson-level bad writer.
A few loose ends that didn't warrant full write-ups:
What happened to Ethan's Ex-wife? She seemed like she was going to be an important part of the story, but then no, she disappears after revealing her husband's mental problems (which, again, were never explained), never to be seen or mentioned again.
I just want to reiterate, Scott was way too fat to fit in that tunnel.
So Junior doesn't get punished? Or is his dad's bodyguards getting killed punishment enough?
Gee, Scott sure got around fast enough at the end of the game for someone who drove way out to the suburbs and then crashed his car.
I'm not going to go back and check the timeline, but I'd be willing to bet there was at least one instance where Scott would have had to have been in his back room to watch/get a message from Ethan but he was with Lauren at the time.
Why doesn't the montage that runs at the top of the credits reflect the actions I took in those scenes? It's kind of weird to watch a recap of things that didn't happen while I was playing the game. More laziness from Cage?
During the sex scene, why was Ethan unbuttoning Madison's zipper?
Seriously, why weren't the cops looking for Scott after the mansion rampage? It's not like he killed Kramer—and he has no evidence to implicate Kramer in anything that might keep the old man from calling the police.
Okay, so kids went with him because he was dressed like a cop. Fine. How did no one notice a cop escorting Shaun out of a crowded park and into a crappy '83 Chrysler?
How does Madison know how "John Sheppard" is spelled when she just hears it spoken? Also, it's a pretty common name—how does she know it's referring to a dead kid from 30 years ago?
Look, there's Shaun in the epilogue, demonstrating that David Cage still has no idea how ten-year-olds act!
Was the content in Madison's dream meaningful in any way? What was the stress she alluded to that caused her insomnia?
And now, a glossary of terms for anyone who doesn't understand dialogue translated directly from French without consulting a native English-Speaker. These terms are presented with context, for ease of comprehension.
It's on the "last floor" = It's on the "top floor"
The serial killing doctor was "taken off the medical register" = The serial killing doctor "lost his medical license"
The dead body was found "on a wasteland" = The dead body was found "in a vacant lot"