With Beyond: Two Souls receiving a very mixed reception, I think it's a good idea to go back and pick apart David Cage's previous work, Heavy Rain. It's a game with which I'm all too familiar. Having earned the platinum trophy for it, I know the ins and outs of every scene, every line of dialogue, and every permutation thereof. I'll preface this by saying that I know what I'm talking about when I say this is not a good story, or even a good game. It fails to deliver on just about every level. When it comes to stupidity, Heavy Rain is the gift that keeps on giving.
I don't hate this game. I certainly don't love it, but hate isn't the right word. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in David Cage, for holding back the potential of this medium, and in the fans, for taking this garbage as their high standard for art. Sure, no game or story is perfect, but there's a limit. A goof or two or three is one thing. I can understand a discrepancy betwixt shots, or a slight oversight. And Heavy Rain has plenty of those; it's clear David Cage doesn't have any attention to detail.
There's a limit, however. Eventually, those mistakes pile up, and people begin to see through the façade. If you're building an "interactive drama", with narrative at the forefront, plot is twice as important than it usually is (though it's still second to graphics), so it's natural for this game to fall under heavier scrutiny. And when one actually pays attention and uses their brain, they realise that Heavy Rain doesn't just have a few minor mistakes here and there: it's plot is a mangled mess, riddled with holes. The nitpicks I could ignore. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain doesn't just have these minor issues. It has big ones.
Let's start with the little things. I think attention to detail should be extremely important for any artist, but whatever. I might be able to forgive the game when I realise Grace picked up the kids on Saturday, or that Scott never reloads his handgun, or even when chickens are flung at Norman Jayden in an indoor supermarket. In America.
However, dissecting the problems with Heavy Rain's overly ambitious plot isn't just nitpicking. There are huge plot holes too big and too numerous to ignore. This is the game that just keeps on giving when it comes to stupidity. First, there's the inciting incident. For no discernible reason, Ethan's son Jason decides to run away from him. Because, you know, he's mentally retarded. Well, at first, I could forgive him, at least when he got his balloon. He was being stupid, but at least he did a stupid thing for a reason. What follows however, epitomises everything that is wrong with Cage's writing.
After he gets his balloon, Jason runs off, goes through the ridiculously oversized crowd, and runs across the street. Why? Because the plot needs him to be there. When he realises that he's a complete idiot, he runs back across the street without looking both ways. Then, the only car on the road hits him, but not before his father jumps in front of the car, saving him. But wait! He dies anyway. Even though he wasn't hit head on, and the car wasn't moving very fast at all, he dies. Why? Because it's dramatic!
This is quite possibly the worst scene in the entire game, and that's already nigh unforgivable considering the entire plot hinges on this scene. First, he has no reason to cross the street. Now, I could maybe buy this if his son was mentally retarded, but this isn't the case. In fact, had they shown us that he had some sort of mental disorder, this might have actually made me sympathetic, instead of laughing at him when he died.
Second, the entire scenario plays out very slowly. Any one pedestrian could have stopped this from happening simply by stepping two metres out into the road. That's beside the point, however. Even though this car is clearly only going 15, maybe 20 miles an hour. Even though she wasn't driving very fast and stops just as she hits him, and despite the fact that Ethan shielded him from this impact, he still dies. Everything in this entire scene is completely contrived and unbelievable, making the foundation for the entire plot a farce.
Sadly, this sets the tone for the rest of the narrative.
Later on, we get a taste of how certain words were lost in translation. The most prominent example of this is when Shelby is questioning Lauren Winter for the first time. This is supposed to be a serious scene, but the dramatic delivery is undermined both by word choice and the actor's accent. When she says "you don't know what it's like to find your son's body dumped on some wasteland", I'm too fixated on how badly she misused the word "wasteland". A grassy field in the middle of a city on the east coast of the United States is NOT a wasteland. To make things worse, she isn't even the only one who says this. It is later repeated by Scott Shelby and a news anchor, so no, it's not just the French prostitute.
This is only a small part of the story's issue with setting. David Cage really wanted a plot set in America, but he clearly knows very little about the country itself. The actors aren't bad at their jobs per se, they just can't do American accents like say, Andrew Lincoln can. Had this story been set in England, and the actors allowed to actually use their normal accents, a lot of this game's presentation issues could have been fixed.
Later, Ethan goes to a shrink because of how depressed he is, and how that minor bump put him into a coma and caused brain damage. The stand-out mistake in this scene is how the game constantly refers to "schizophrenia", even though it's really referring to dissociative personality disorder. This is a simple mistake that could have been fixed by opening a dictionary or hiring an editor.
After Ethan's child goes missing, he gets a mysterious message and ends up at Lexington Station. After a silly dream sequence with some of the worst voice acting in history, he makes it to the lockers and finds a box. Well, what's in the box? A gun and some origami figures. Nothing out of the ordinary here, right? Well, at least until you realise there's a metal detector on the way in.
Then we have the matter of the "schizo" red herring. This is one of the plot's biggest failures. Originally, Quantic Dream intended to include surreal dream sequences, but later removed these from the game, because they apparently slowed down the pace too much. That didn't stop them from adding in an awkward shark-jumping dream scene in "Lexington Station", though. Thing is, these were supposed to allude to a psychic connection between Scott and Ethan when his son died. Sounds dumb right? Well, not as dumb as removing the explanation, but leaving the false lead. Even though he clearly states he's never made origami, and thus has no way of making them, he ends up with an Origami figure (figger?) in his hand when he comes to from his unexplained random plot blackouts. How is he ending up the killer's home? If he can't make them, is the Origami Killer just stalking him at all times? Well, we know he isn't. This is bad writing. You don't leave unexplained false leads that create plot holes and are completely impossible. That's just thoughtless, ham-fisted drama. Not only is the narrative outright lying to the audience, it's treating them like they're idiots.
And Ethan just rolls with it. This "internal conflict" just keeps on going, even when it's patently obvious he can't be the killer. Even after he cuts his finger off, something which someone had to have seen, he still thinks he's the killer. At this point, they're just hitting the player over the head with this already-ridiculous false lead.
Then there's the Butterfly Trial. After showing up at the abandoned power plant, Ethan decides to crawl inside the dark scary tunnel. After the hatch magically closes by itself, he finds that the entire shaft is filled with glass. Let's think about this for a second. If Ethan can barely fit in there, how the hell could the killer, an overweight middle-aged asthmatic, get the glass in there? The only way this scene could be even remotely possible is if he brought a bag of glass with him, and crawl backwards sprinkling little shards of glass along the way. But hey, emotions, right?
Let's talk about another character: Norman. A lot of his character arc revolves around his virtual reality glasses. As a side effect of using them, he's losing grips on reality. This is kind of an interesting concept honestly, but shoving it into a modern-day murder mystery just doesn't work. Since there's three other playable characters, this subplot isn't fleshed out nearly enough, and the little that's there actually distracts from the narrative. It's a lose-lose situation.
Completely out-of-place cyberpunk elements aside, isn't it a bit odd that no finds Norman odd? Does the FBI not conduct drug tests, or are they the ones supplying him with Triptocaine? This part of the game needed a lot more exposition, either way.
If Ethan fails to escape the police after the Lizard Trial, Ethan is detained and beaten, even though again, there's no evidence against him. He is eventually broken out by a sympathetic Norman. It strikes me as a bit odd how easily he can facilitate the escape of a high-profile suspect (though he shouldn't be). Is it really so easy for such a notorious person to walk straight out of a police station? And how does no one suspect Norman, when he was the last person with him? Oh wait, this is the same police department that can't figure out Scott is the Origami Killer.
More questions are raised in a later Jayden chapter. If the player looks in the acid bath, they'll find the remains of a police officer. Wait, what? Was no investigation conducted? If a police officer goes missing, don't you think investigators should, you know... investigate? A great place to start would be his last known location, where his corpse is literally just floating around.
In fact, It's obvious David Cage doesn't know anything about police procedure. Throughout the latter half of the game, Ethan finds himself the target of a citywide manhunt. Why? Because of the questionable hearsay about dreams from his ex-wife and nonsensical babble from a psychiatrist that was beaten by a police officer. Both of these things are completely circumstantial, and neither would get any Man convicted in the United States. Also, if there's been more than half a dozen of these murders, what do you suppose the odds are he'd have an alibi?
So in spite of the lack of evidence against our protagonist, they still manage to declare him the killer, start a manhunt, put him in jail, get SWAT to chase him down, and eventually gun him down (provided no one else makes it to the warehouse). Here's the thing David. Suspects are questioned, not shot. Even if the culprit is a corrupt cop, there's no way he would ever have a desk to go back to after ordering a wall of cops to shoot an innocent, unarmed civilian without warning.
Another interesting titbit to ponder: why don't any of the mothers of the victims give those strange boxes and letters to the police? You know, the ones filled with origami figures? And if they did give them to the police, they should still be in their possession, because the case file is still open.
One last thing of note about the police. They're blind. Even whilst Scott and Norman duke it out on the top of a conveyor belt high in the air, exchanging blows and throwing TVs at each other, not a single officer spots them? Not even the ones in the helicopter? No wonder the Origami Killer got away with so many murderers. These people have the worst police department ever!
But wait, there's more! I'm not done talking about America's finest just yet. Why is it that they manage to be constantly on the heels of Ethan Mars (a man they've yet to even question), but they're nowhere to be found when gunshots ring out? The scene in Hassan's shop is kind of short, so I'll let that slide, but what about The Shark trial? Even though half a dozen shotgun blasts ring out (which are known for being quite loud) in an apartment building, which can be followed by a handgun shot, not a single officer arrives on the scene. No one calls the police in in the time frame between the first shot fired and Ethan leaving? Are you serious? But okay. Maybe it's just a bad neighbourhood. I'm willing to let this slide as well.
Even if these two scenes are forgiveable, they're dwarfed by the stupidity of Shelby's rampage in the Kramer mansion. After crashing a car into shooting a couple dozen people with his magical un-silenced handgun that never needs to be reloaded, he just walks away, unpunished. This cannot be rationalised, due to the sheer length of the scene. He even takes his time to have a nice long chat with his buddy Kramer. Meanwhile, even after a prolonged gunfight in the mansion of an extremely affluent and influential business man, the police are nowhere to be seen!
Scott's stupidity doesn't stop there. It would seem that Cage caught Shyamalan Syndrome, putting ridiculous plot twists over logic and proper storytelling. The reveal that Scott is actually the Origami Killer has a more botched execution than Ginggaew Lorsoungnern. First, the unreliable narrator trick doesn't really work when the game includes a feature that allows you to listen to the thoughts of the playable characters. Isn't it really convenient that this serial killer rarely ever thinks about the fact that he's a serial killer? Without a doubt, this is one of, if not the worst example of an unreliable narrator.
However, he does think about them, in a roundabout way. This is much more insulting, as he knows what he's doing, and they game just outright lies to the player again and again. Had we known from the beginning that Scott was the Origami Killer, these plot holes wouldn't exist, and it would have added an actual sense of dramatic irony.
This isn't just poorly executed. It's downright insulting. At best, it insults the intelligence of the audience. It outright lies all for the sake of some stupid plot twist. Let's not forget that Scott murders Manfred, then calls the police on himself. Why tie yourself to the crime? Why would you call the cops before you cleaned up your prints? This entire scene, along with the ridiculous reveal, undermine the "mystery" of the game. Being able to read your character's thoughts was a good idea, and having a playable character be the antagonist was an interesting concept. Sadly, like everything else in this game, the execution is utterly botched.
Later in the game, he traps Madison in his burning apartment building, so she can go up in smoke with the rest of the evidence. There's only one problem with this. The police are sure to come knocking when they find Madison's charred corpse in his old apartment. Seriously, how does he even last this long? Scott can kill half a dozen children, murder Manfred, Madison, and Norman, and gun down a couple dozen bodyguards in a high-end mansion. He can leave prints at the scene of one of those crimes, which is more evidence than they ever find against Ethan Mars, yet the force just lets him walk right out. Despite all of this, he can still get off Scott-free (sorry). I don't care what the trophy says, that isn't the "perfect crime" at all. Scott Shelby is the worst serial killer in history, and the only reason he's survived so long is because he's being perused by the worst police department in history.
Let's go back to our protagonist for a bit. After completing The Shark, Madison finds a perturbed Ethan at the Crossroads Motel. What can follow is the most awkward, contrived, and downright cringe-worthy romance scenes of all time.
Most games cut to black or move the camera away from characters as soon as things get hot. This is done for a reason. This is because kissing, and physical contact in general, is complicated when it comes to animation. I'm not saying it can't be done, but Heavy Rain flops here almost as bad as it does with its awful voice acting.
The hilariously stupid "sex" scene aside, it's the implications of this scene that's irksome. If your only surviving son has been captured by and is mere hours from death, you wouldn't get much sleep. For all his dedication, Ethan seems to completely forget his son is about to die. Hey Ethan! Remember how your son is drowning in rainwater, cold and alone in the captivity of a deranged serial killer? Yeah, me neither. Go ahead and do her. Your dying son can wait. No rush.
Things get even more ridiculous the morning after. It only makes sense that one of the worst sex scenes in the history of the medium is followed by the most ridiculous chase scene ever. Even though the police will gladly gun Ethan down in a later scene for absolutely no reason, they seem unable to draw any kind of firearm when chasing him down in the motel. Should the player choose to jump off the roof, Blake and the entire SWAT team sit and watch as their suspect walks to the nearest taxi and commits grand theft auto. They then continue to sit and watch as he drives away. Darn! It's too bad none of them have cars, helicopters, spike strips, or an entire police force or anything right?
And with zero explanation, they still somehow end up at the abandoned warehouse! How do they get there exactly? It seems unlikely that Norman would say anything to Blake, but he might. But what if he can't find it? Well, maybe they were able to track the taxi cab somehow. That's possible, right? No, wait, that makes no sense. If the police were smart enough to do something like that (they clearly aren't), wouldn't they catch up to him much earlier? Like, when he's parked and trying to figure out the address? Also, they never find him if he ends up at the wrong address. Well, one cop car does pass by, but he does just that. He doesn't even stop. Don't worry. It's not like the target of a manhunt was reported stealing a car matching the exact description of that one.
One could say that the stupidity of these cops is outweighed by Norman's sheer genius. Nahman Jahydahn is capable of following the most ridiculously convenient clues in the history of the murder mystery genre. Let's take a look at the string of "evidence" that can lead Norman to Shaun's location. Most notable is the gold watch. Using his sharp vision, he notices that his assailant is wearing a gold watch. He then makes the connection that some police officers get gold watches when they retire. Since no one else in the entire universe but retired cops can wear gold watches, he deduces that the killer is a retired police officer. This would have been fine as a small bit of foreshadowing, but as the crux of Norman's entire character arc, it just falls flat on its face.
He also tracks down where he lives using the receipts he had in his pocket from a local gas station. Y'know, because no one ever buys gas more than a half kilometre away from their home. Tangentially, there are WAY too many flower shops condensed in one location. Anyone else notice that?
Two more plot discrepancies arrive at the final scene. The first is if Ethan takes the poison. This magical vial of poison makes no sense. We're expected to believe that this liquid somehow kills you in exactly sixty minutes, and that you never feel a thing. As soon as sixty minutes is up, Ethan immediately rejoices, reinforcing the stupidity of the protagonist and the plot. That's not how poison works.
If Ethan makes it there alone, the Origami Killer just lets him go, provided he passed the trials. Fair enough, he got what we wanted; he found a father who loves his son. However, if someone else makes it there, he pulls a gun on Ethan as he's saving his son. Why? This makes absolutely no sense. Why does he want to kill Ethan all of the sudden, when he doesn't want to when no one else shows up? Well, the reason is because David Cage wanted to add more drama and less logic to the climax. If no one else shows up, the Origami Killer is cool with Ethan. If someone does, he magically decides he should kill Ethan, even though he doesn't know anyone else is there. Why? Because it's dramatic! This pretty much sums up Heavy Rain in a nutshell. Inconsistent character motives and ham-fisted drama thrown in without any regard for storytelling.
Oh, and did I mention how screwed up the entire timeline is? The website seems to think Shelby is 45 years old, whereas two contradicting in-game sources place him at 44 and the more likely 48. If it wasn't bad enough that the story contradicted himself, it should be noted that there's no way he could have been more than 10 in the "Twins" and "Hold My Hand" chapters. So when you account for the fact that Sheppard died 30 years ago... that make him 18 in the flashbacks. That's not how math works.
David Cage once said that "We need to forget about video game rules — bosses, missions, game over, etc... are very old words of a very old language". If that statement isn't ludicrous on its own, it's made even worse by the fact that he's the one saying it. Even when he gets something right, I still have trouble siding with him. It's like having Michael Moore as your dietician.
This is why it bothers me so much that people love Heavy Rain. Not because they're opinions are different than mine, but because it drags this medium down. As a movie, this would have failed. As a novel, this would have failed. As anything else, the God-awful writing, script, and voice acting would have made it an abomination, and it is an abomination. It's an interactive drama with a horrible plot. The story is at the centre of the entire experience, and it's completely corrupt to the core. It's characters are all paper-thin clichés designed to tug at your heart strings, the "plot" is a farce, and the voice acting ranges from bad to ear-bleeding.
Heavy Rain isn't a good game, and it's certainly not a good story; it’s a rough draft, and a bad one at that.