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"