Hopefully, Heavy Rain gets better from here (Part 3)


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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.