The narrative impact of Heavy Rain

Warning: This post will contain spoilers for Heavy Rain, the adventure video game on PlayStation 3.

When I finished Heavy Rain, I had to take a moment to catch my breath. A moment to be able to take in what I had just experienced and digest some of the finer plot points. Regardless of the choices, mistakes or revelations that you make in the game, it is undeniably an emotional roller coaster.

I should probably provide a brief summary of my personal path in Heavy Rain. As Ethan Mars I managed to find and save the child – this was achieved by cutting off Ethan’s little finger and choosing to take the poison at the final trial. By refusing to shoot the drug dealer, I was left with three possible choices for the location of Shaun. Luckily, by listening to the mobile phone and deducing that some kind of ship(?) was nearby, I chose to drive to the warehouse closest to the river.

As FBI profiler Norman Jayden, I didn’t find out that the killer was Scott Shelby. Despite finding the gold watch in the clip of the origami killer, I didn’t want to accuse Blake and didn’t think of geo-analysing it for further evidence. As I rooted through the rest of Blake’s evidence, I was aware that Norman would soon die from the ARI and chose to log out. This meant that I ended his scenario with a rather unimpressive resignation.

Regrettably I left Lauren to die in the car, allowing Scott Shelby to escape to the surface. I felt a little tricked by this section; the buttons didn’t seem to correspond to their contextual counterparts and what I thought would wake Lauren up actually resulted in Scott leaving. Out of frustration I left Charles Kramer to die in the mansion (the man deserved it in my opinion) and I also missed cleaning the telephone in the typewriter store.

Although I was never particularly sold on the quick-time controls, the intriguing plot and deep characters really pulled me in. It was a great piece of storytelling and up there with some of my favourite crime novels. To make the experience ‘pure’ I never turned off the console to retry a section, nor did I spoil the story by looking it up in advance. As a result Ethan’s final choice was a very difficult decision for me. The revelation that Scott Shelby was the origami killer was also completely unexpected.

Hopefully Heavy Rain will spawn more video games with this type of mature, intelligent narrative. Although I was confused with a few of the minor plot points (what was Ethan’s blackouts really about?) these were addressed in some of the ‘Making Of’ videos and I agree with their decision to make the game less supernatural. Although I always felt a twinge of the fantastical in Heavy Rain (Norman’s glasses were always a little far-fetched) maintaining a sense of realism helped to focus my own personal theories throughout the game.

I’m not usually one to advocate video games as an art form, but Heavy Rain certainly fits into this category. The narrative is engrossing and will likely stay with me for many months to come. If you own a PlayStation 3 and haven’t played it yet, I heartily recommend checking it out.

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First trailer drops for No More Heroes: Red Zone

No More Heroes was always a pretty gruesome and erotic game. Now Suda51 and the guys at Grasshopper Manufacture reckon that they can top it with No More Heroes: Red Zone. The zany Wii title has already been ported to the PlayStation 3 in the form of No More Heroes: Heroes’ Paradise, but this version promises to be a little bit special.

This new trailer shows off the game’s exclusive features and a restoration of its original adult Z rating. In comparison, Heroes’ Paradise was changed to fit a more socially acceptable D rating. Players can expect Red Zone to have support for PlayStation Move, online rankings, five returning boss characters from No More Heroes 2 and ten missions that were cut from Heroes’ Paradise.

The end of the trailer also reveals a download code that unlocks four new beam katanas, four bike colour variations and a “Forbidden View” mode. Konami states (found via Joystiq) that Red Zone is the same version being released as Heroes’ Paradise in America.

I’m not a Wii owner, so I’ve always been very excited to try out the No More Heroes franchise on a HD console. The compatibility of PlayStation Move means that the PS3 should be an ideal platform for carrying over the gameplay from the originals. Fingers crossed eh?

Serena Williams struts her stuff for Top Spin 4

When this video flashed up on Kotaku, I couldn’t help but let out an exasperated groan. For every baby step that the industry makes to try and improve the perception of gamers, it takes just one video like this to put it back at square one.

I’m not much of a sports fan, but Top Spin 4 has piqued my interest in the last few months. I loved playing Virtua Tennis in my local arcade and have been looking for an alternative with a little more depth and realism. Top Spin 4 seems to fit the bill.

Watching this trailer just makes me angry though. The commercial manages to completely degrade the sport, Serena Williams and the use of the Sony Move in the space of less than 60 seconds. Is this really what it takes to get players excited about a new tennis title? Come on 2K Sports… you’re better than this.

(Aside: I have nothing against Serena Williams or the junk situated in her trunk. There’s just a time and a place, okay? ;D)

Update: Joystiq have managed to get an interesting statement out of 2K Sports. Apparently the video wasn’t meant to be seen by the public: “As part of the process for creating marketing campaigns to support our titles, we pursue a variety of creative avenues. This video is not part of the title’s final marketing campaign and its distribution was unauthorized.”

Retrospective: Sony in 2010

The PlayStation 3 made a resurgence this year, revoking claims that the console is forever destined to sit in third place. The system has finally come down in price, rivalling Nintendo and Microsoft with competitive bundles and hardware features. As more homes embrace high definition TV sets, many consumers are starting to see the benefits of a competitive Blu-ray player and free online gaming service.

The PlayStation Move had over 30 titles at launch, driving home the point that Sony is taking motion control very, very seriously. It’s a shame that it was dwarfed by the impact of Kinect, as the controller supports longer and more comfortable gaming sessions in my opinion. Sony say that they’re treating it as a ‘soft launch’, which seems completely unnecessary when they’ve already invested so heavily in both the hardware and software. Why would you not go for broke and invest heavily in the marketing too?

The PlayStation 3 has a powerful position on two fronts; as a HD upgrade to the Nintendo Wii and a powerful competitor to the ‘hardcore’ scene on the Xbox 360. If it can prove its superiority in either or these fields in 2011, we could see a serious clawback toward the end of this generation.

The integration of Move into existing titles such as Heavy Rain and The Sly Collection has shown promise for the ‘hardcore’ market, but it’ll be really interesting to see if players choose to use it in future titles such as Killzone 3 or Little Big Planet 2. Move didn’t have a huge amount of marketing in the United Kingdom, but it’s selling at a healthy pace and is likely to pick up over the Christmas period.

Sony has drawn almost all of its attention away from the PSP, presumably focussing on the handheld successor that was rumoured at this year’s Tokyo Game Show. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, God of War: Ghost of Sparta and Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep were all respectable titles, but had very little hype  and suffered from average sales. The PSP has really struggled to keep up with the success of the Nintendo DS and perhaps Sony has decided to just cut its losses. Launching a PSP2 (if it comes out in 2011) will be incredibly difficult alongside the Nintendo 3DS and the growth of gaming on the iPhone and iPad.

Sony is relying on the reputation of Gran Turismo 5 to spearhead the holiday season, presumably content with just picking up multi format sales on Call Of Duty: Black Ops and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Throughout 2011, I think they’ll try and encourage more third party support for Move  and cut the price of the PlayStation 3 in order to start truly competing with the other home consoles. Infamous 2, Little Big Planet 2 and The Last Guardian are my most highly anticipated titles next year.

Final Grade: B+