Culture, Film

Heavy Rain and the New Cinematic Experience

My friends and I watched Quantic Dream‘s latest, Heavy Rain for the last couple of days. I say “watch” for this, a PS3 game, because in reality only one of us played it while the rest watched what happened on the screen. This is not an entirely new phenomenon in my group of friends; we had done the same for games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Batman: Arkham Asylum. what made this one much more interesting to me was that, as a lover of film and the way the medium works, it was really amazing to see how work normally used for film-making could really be applied to video games, and how that in turn can change the way we as gamers play games.

Heavy Rain , for those that don’t know, is an adventure game that relies entirely on Quick Time Events, which doesn’t really sound entirely appealing at first, but this merely serves as the vehicle for what lead game designer David Cage wanted to make, just as he had when he made Indigo Prophecy in 2005, which was to make an interactive movie. This is not a new idea: the first game to try this, Dragon’s Lair, came out 27 years ago, and designers like Hideo Kojima and Tim Schafer have been making games like that for ages. Still, what makes this important is that this one actually plays and looks more cinematic than the others.

What helps this along, of course, is how the development of Heavy Rain is so tied to the auteur approach developed by French critics decades ago actually works in making games. This older article on what did and didn’t work on Indigo Prophecy shows that when they made this game, Cage made sure that his vision was much clearer this time around than in his previous outing. There are still some issues in this game, of course, but if you want to make a cinematic game, it makes sense to use approaches from cinema to get the desired effect.

The most important part of Heavy Rain, however, is how it blurs the line between viewer and player  in a thriller that allows you to take the wheel of the action. This in and of itself is pretty monumental, because although most gamers or moviegoers can call all the tropes and cliches that happen in most of the respective mediums, it definitely affects your reasoning when you in fact can make the calls yourself.

Case in point: during our playthrough, our player in a bout of first-person shooter gamerisms pressed R1 on the controller and inadvertently shot a suspect in the head during an intense standoff scene. The effect was profound, as the player was overcome with grief from the split second reaction. Sure, a reset button could be hit and the whole thing could have been redone, but it left such an impact that the thought didn’t even dawn on the player.

A hardcore gamer would have hit reset the button, however. This goes to my next important point:  a game like this  has the potential to bring in a different sort of crowd, the film buffs, to play video games. It doesn’t sound like a great leap, but consider the indie aspect of both gaming and movie-making, and how that tends to bring out a different sort of fan-base than your regular Modern Warfare 2 or Avatar fan. Film aficionados, who on the whole probably only play games casually, can really become addicted to games that are basically their favorite movies played out how they want it to.

If you are a movie person, I seriously recommend playing this game, even if you don’t play. Go to a friend’s place and play it there. Make sure to bring popcorn.


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