The bar has been raised.
Heavy Rain proves that A) you can actually do movie style, down to earth drama in videogames, and that B) the videogame part of the equation is valuable.
I have often wondered why there are no adventure games where you would “solve problems” by making decisions and talking with people instead of hunting for suitable items. This is the way you usually solve problems in the real life and by extension, in movies. Heavy Rain proves that it’s possible. You can do meaningful human drama without any fantasy crutches. It’s still a story about a Hollywood-style serial killer, but I can see that Heavy Rain’s character-based drama could work with any type of drama you might expect from the movies. In itself, this is a major breakthrough for videogames.
Some have said that Heavy Rain could just do without the player controls, as it can feel like you’re just going through the motions of “controlling” the characters. First, this is false as the story can and does take different turns based on your actions and second, it’s all in your head. If you decide that this is something you’re not interested in, well, then changing the baby’s diaper or sitting at a table, depressed, are unlikely to provide you with anything you might enjoy. If you do buy into the drama and go under the skin of the lead characters, you’ll find a very, very engaging experience. I found the many tense scenes in Heavy Rain far more engaging, more exciting, more scary than anything I can recall from other games.
Going through the motions of controlling these often very mundane things the characters do, like turning door knobs, brushing your teeth, deciding to take another drink, and so on, really makes you relate to the characters and immerse (yes, there’s that word) yourself in the story. This makes the admittedly very barebones, if competently told, Hollywood story much more interesting than what it would be, seen as a movie.
Also the whole notion of “movie-like” games has been now validated. Done properly, cinematography rules work in a game context. No other game has taken these nearly as close to heart as Heavy Rain, and it’s much better for it. Lots of points for the courage to throw videogame plot exposition conventions out of the window, as well. The story often cuts to a new scene without lingering and lets the audience fill in the blanks. It all feels very natural.
Heavy Rain is one of the very few games I would call mature. Can I please have more? I am only worried that we have to wait until Quantic Dream’s next game before we see the envelope pushed even further. I hope that the sales convince publishers that more mature games for increasingly mature audiences are warranted.