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:
a new ice age. Hence the title.
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.