There was nothing typical about Quantic Dream's modern masterpiece, Heavy Rain. It was an interactive suspense-filled thriller, and from the delivery of the narrative, the intuitive mechanics, through to the well-rounded and plausible characters, it turned out to be one of the most unique and memorable games to emerge out of the current console generation.
It was one of the games that are just as interesting to watch as they are to play, offering a deep and involving story that was just a good shared as it was when enjoyed alone. It vaulted from high drama to mundanity (and back again) in mere minutes. While it's easy to ridicule a game where you drink orange juice, and talk about homework, it sure is refreshing to find a title where you don't reload your orange juice and rain bullets on your homework.
The plot revolved around the Origami Killer, a brutal individual responsible for several kidnappings and murders. With several characters in play, and multiple suspects, Heavy Rain kept us guessing right until the bitter end, where Quantic Dream showed us their hand and knocked us for six. Sure there were a couple of plot holes, but nothing that detracted from the quality of the experience; there was enough there to satisfy.
It was the kind of game that brought in newcomers to the fold. People who wouldn't consider themselves "gamers" were able to enjoy the story, its multiple endings, the gritty art style, the bags of intrigue. It was a positive advert for video games, proving to the world what we already knew - that games could go toe-to-toe with any other medium you can care to think of.
One element of design that caused arguments in my house was the way decisions were hurried, with mistakes easy to make, and consequences there to be lived with. For some it frustrated beyond belief, with players used to having the option to go back and restart tricky challenges. All of a sudden failure was an option, one that opened up different avenues instead of the more traditional game over screen.
I'll have to be vague, so as to not mention any spoilers, but there was one moment right before the game's climax, that really illustrated Quantic Dream's design philosophy, and solidified my glowing opinion of the game.
A snap decision had to be made, one that would ultimately impact the game's ending. We had some important information, and we had to make a snap decision: who to call, who to tell. The decision made ultimately proved to be the wrong one, and caused all sorts of frustrated grumblings. The choice made in haste was to prove costly, and while we were most unhappy with the resulting outcome, I marvelled at the studio's audacity to push us into such an important decision, with so much pressure resting on choosing the right path.
But perhaps my favourite thing about Heavy Rain was the sheer amount of variance in the endings. I've not felt compelled to go back and play it through again, I was satisfied that the story we experienced was enough and that it came as a result of the decisions that we made; no more - no less.
There will be some who played it again and again, just to see how it all played out for the different characters, to see what the possibilities were, but I was happy to put a full stop at the end of my story and leave it at that. While far from a unique experience, it was still distinctly the one that we made, a narrative uncovered through hours of searching for clues, angsting over decisions, and pondering over character's intentions. Sure, there were a couple of niggling problems and a control scheme that had the ability to frustrate as much as it dazzled, but as a game it was a huge step forward for the medium.