“The Taxidermist” is the first in what will presumably be a series of a few additional short stories in the universe of Heavy Rain. At first glance, downloadable content for a game such as Heavy Rain seems problematic. Since the focus of the game is its ostensibly self-contained story, telling tales that exist outside the game’s narrative -- yet within the Heavy Rain fiction -- could conflict with the characters and plot established by the game itself.
Heavy Rain Chronicles, Chapter 1: “The Taxidermist” (PlayStation Network)
As you explore White’s house more deeply, you find unsettling clues here and there -- things that hint at a more sinister side to the taxidermist. Since the entire chronicle consists of White’s home and its immediate surroundings, it feels as if Quantic Dream packed more interactivity per square inch, if you will, into this DLC -- although it may just seem that way to me. While some of the objects you interact with and actions you perform may not actually do anything per se, most of the things you can do in “The Taxidermist” combine to provide a sense of foreboding that has a satisfying narrative payoff -- once you head upstairs to the second floor, where most of the windows are obscured by newspapers.
But ignoring the potential contradiction would force me to regard “The Taxidermist” as a story that isn’t a part of the Heavy Rain timeline, when it’s so clear that Quantic Dream wants players to consider it as such. Another curious facet of “The Taxidermist” -- though one that I welcome -- is its ending. When you complete the episode, the game presents you with one of five different newspaper headlines. The next screen lists all five endings, and it prompts you to load your save from outside the house, inside the house, or when White returns, so you can try to see all of the endings. (It only gives you the headlines, so you still have to figure out how to achieve those outcomes.)
Narrative-wise, “The Taxidermist” has a few problems, and it can produce a big one. But it also represents the best of Heavy Rain: character motivations, visuals (most notably, some tension-inducing split-screen cinematography), and game mechanics coalesce to create a gripping sequence of events that quickens your pulse and leaves you panting. I felt much the same way about “The Taxidermist” as I did about Heavy Rain as a whole -- the story doesn’t always make sense, but it’s worth playing anyway for the sheer excitement of it all. If the more mundane parts of Heavy Rain left you unenthused -- and if they didn’t, that’s even better -- you’ll enjoy this exhilarating condensed experience.
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