Heavy Rain Sucks: A Fight to the Death Between Ross and Phil
Heavy Rain was lauded by critics when it was released back in the spring, earning it an 87 rating on Metacritic. There are a few dissenting voices in the midst of the chorus of praise, however, and Phil Owen has been one of them all year. Ross Lincoln, however, took exception to Phil constant bitching about the game, and the powers that be at GameFront decided it’s time for these two mortal enemies to have it out in front of everyone with a debate over the year’s most talked-about game.
Phil: Let me start this off by saying that I think Quantic Dream put together the framework for what could be a really great and powerful game. Unfortunately, the game they made with that framework, Heavy Rain, fails to fulfill its potential because Quantic Dream f–ked it up in a few very basic ways.
Ross: And I’ll start by saying that I don’t think Heavy Rain is a perfect game, and I can think of a few missteps, (which I’ll talk about below), but overall, I think Quantic Dream ended up creating one of most original and in some cases, genuinely thrilling games I’ve ever played. Even with the stupid sci-fi sunglasses wearing FBI agent, it was a pretty revolutionary.
Phil: Sure, it’s revolutionary, but being revolutionary is not directly related to quality. A game like this, which David Cage calls “interactive drama,” you must judge it in all the same ways you would judge, say, a movie in addition to judging it as a game. As a game, then, I think it works pretty well, but when you look at it the way you must in order to properly judge it, huge, gaping flaws become readily apparent; the most important being the mindbogglingly bad voice acting and a nonsensical plot.
Ross: I’ll try to address your points one at a time: First, you’re right – ‘revolutionary’ is a nebulous adjective so let me clarify – I think it is an innovative game, a leap forward in terms of what a game can be, but it is also genuinely thrilling to play. Not a perfect game, because that stupid FBI guy I’ll keep mentioning is still in it, but great nonetheless.
I don’t believe you can separate the “interactive” part from the “drama” part because they depend on each other for the game to work at all. Here’s why: Yes, the plot is, of course, a mishmash of basic movie of the week plots thrown together under a serial killer frame. And despite that, you’re supposed to care about what happens to these characters, particularly the patsy. Making you interact with even the most mundane aspects of their lives via what essentially are extremely wonky quick-time events pulls that task off brilliantly. Learning to shave or go to the bathroom in the beginning lays the groundwork for later, when you’re trying desperately to control a speeding car while evading a police chase, it’s great.
I wouldn’t call the plot nonsensical. The serial killer’s MO is a bit convoluted, but from my POV he functioned much like Tom Cruise’s hitman character in Collateral, framing a patsy for his crimes whenever he gets the urge to kill. The Journalist’s investigation dovetailing with the patsy’s plot made a lot of sense too. I agree that the stupid FBI agent plotline is dumb but everything else I bought. I even liked the schmaltzy bittersweet redemption blah blah blah of the “perfect” ending. But I also thought that least chapter of Blood’s A Rover was awesome too, despite being a major infodump, so I might not be the best judge here.
As for the voice acting? It’s definitely not… authentically American, and if you already hate the game I could see it would be like scratching nails on a chalkboard made of hungry babies who listen to Ke$ha. This might come down to the most infuriating aspect of arguing about art ever, that is, the matter of taste, but I don’t think it’s particularly bad, and actually kind of liked it. Hell, Mark Meer’s acting in Mass Effect 2 can be grating, particularly when you hear his very noticeable Canadian accent combined with his equally noticeable reading-from-cue-card/no-second-takes-ever style of voice acting (this is a problem that plagues the Mass Effect universe).
For what it’s worth, considering that the actors are French, and fluent in English, their inability to master the American accent isn’t even a thing. It has the feel of another English speaking country’s version of English, which is to say, weird to my accustomed-to-British/American tones. There’s definitely the cadence of a romance language to an extent, but it’s not like every other line is “Az an Amereecahn, I am, how to say, loving ze football games” or anything. It’s just sort of weird, charmingly, I think.
Phil: To say the actors, with the exception of those portraying the detective and the journalist, “can’t quite master the American accent” is objectively wrong-headed and misleading. It’s not unusual in movies for, say, an English actor to play an American, and when one of those actors can’t pull it off, they end up speaking with a completely new, awkward accent. (see: Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean). It’s not something to get too hung up over in those cases, because it’s close enough.
But it’s not “close enough” in Heavy Rain. By having French actors try to replicate an authentic American accent, they create a new, weird, offputting accent that is made worse by their still-very-French vocal patterns. There’s much more to an accent than just word pronunciation; tone and inflection are just as important, and most of the actors in Heavy Rain miss all three.
Obviously, there is always room for personal taste to enter the discussion, but I find that defense odd, even so. If Heavy Rain were only a movie and all the voice actors from the game played the same roles in the movie, it would be regarded as wildly unintentionally hilarious, and not one critic would say the weird accents weren’t that bothersome. They would skewer that s–t endlessly.
Ross: Touché. (See what I did there? It’s a French word!) But also, I just don’t think it’s bad. I really don’t. I think the painfully off accents Michal Palin and Eric Idle attempted in The Meaning of Life are way, way worse. (acknowledging they were deliberately parodying American accents, but even then they couldn’t… quite… do… it). But let’s move on and talk about the actual game a bit. The reason I find it genuinely thrilling and enjoy playing it.
Truffaut once claimed that there’s no such thing as an anti war film because combat looks so cool on screen it’s automatically glamorized. I don’t think it’s a completely accurate observation but I agree that glamorization of violence in general is really damned difficult to avoid, and that’s doubly true for depictions of sexual violence. Even well meaning attempts have a tendency to linger for too long on beautiful female bodies, or simply to become so detached or stylized that though you know it’s a horrible thing, you don’t really feel the weight of it. (The infamous rape scene in A Clockwork Orange comes to mind.)
Back to Heavy Rain. The fact that there are as many variables and possible endings as there are Heavy Rain isn’t unique; after all, it isn’t the only game in 2010 where anyone can die. But what is unique is that it actually manages to make you feel the impact of those variables, hard. My friend Angelle observed, and I agree with her wholeheartedly, that this is the first media she’s ever consumed which portrayed a woman in a very violent situation that accurately managed to convey the feeling of menace and helpless terror that the average woman often experiences simply by being at the grocery store too late at night. It’s difficult to really explain to us dudes what the “male gaze” really means, or what is so insidious about rape culture, and part of that is due to the inability to really put ourselves in the shoes of people who actually experience it.
In Heavy Rain, the problem is averted in full by making you personally endure the horrors inflicted on the player characters. The female character is subjected to two particularly nasty incidents in which the fact that she is a woman – smaller and physically weaker than her male assailants – is integral to how the scenes play out. I won’t spoil them for people who haven’t played the game but suffice to say it’s one of only times, if not THE only time, I can remember actually fighting the urge to close my eyes while I was actually playing. It’s brutal, and brilliant, and I kept thinking about the scene for weeks. Heavy Rain is full of individual moments like that, where you feel a sense of real, visceral peril. Whatever the weaknesses of the story, they hold it together, and that’s amazing.
Phil: Some individual moments are good and some are powerful, but they lose some luster in the context oft he full game. Take the first of the two scenes you referred to in which Madison is in danger; it does do what you say it does, but it also doesn’t serve any real purpose in the narrative aside from putting Madison in a position to meet our main protagonist. From a character perspective, too, it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t really jive with how Madison is portrayed later on.
And that takes me back to the first point I made in this discussion. Quantic Dream has a great idea for a game, and they can implement it as far as setting up scenes and, when said scenes are light on dialogue, the scenes can be very successful. Other times, though, scenes are completely undercut by the voice acting, such as the scene early on when Ethan has his son Shaun for the night. That scene oozes an oppressive atmosphere, but since Pascale Langdale delivers every one of Ethan’s lines very awkwardly and the child voice actor for Shaun is even worse, the scene loses a lot of its impact.
And then other scenes, such as Madison’s trip to the hospital and every Scott Shelby scene, just don’t make any sense. Madison goes to the hospital to track down info on the killer, but she’s following a lead picked up by the FBI agent, who Madison has not met. And don’t even get me started on Ethan’s blackouts.
Ross: That’s a fair point, and though I still disagree, it brings me to the one thing that I cannot defend even a little bit. I’m a huge fan of crime genre fiction, and I do mean genre with all the slumming-it-literature the term implies. I read Robert Crais for crying out loud, which means you can officially make fun of me. The best of it tends toward the Improbably Melodramatic Plot Convenience Manufacturing Facility side of things. So the story of Heavy Rain, which I immediately recognized as filled to bursting with some hackneyed shizz, grabbed me anyway. The interactivity I part is key to that, which is why I think it’s a great game after all.
Now, I actually love the origin of the Oragami killer, I genuinely felt bad for Ethan and wanted to get him out of the predicament he found himself in. It’s true Madison the intrepid journalist functions as sidekick even as her individual scenes are still cool. I even like the reveal about the killer that I won’t spoil (though, admittedly, it requires me to accept that he’s both Popeye Doyle and Lex Luthor). But that damned FBI agent might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a game I otherwise loved.
In fact, thinking about those stupid sci fi glasses and his stupid sci fi drug addiction makes me, briefly, come around to Phil’s point of view. The majority of the game does a good job of existing in a kind of Dark City Anycity USA that is most definitely in modern times. Then all of a sudden this douche shows up who has bat vision plus Bad Lieutenant problems and looks f*cking stupid to boot. Every time you’re playing as him it feels like Paz de la Huerta’s scenes in Boardwalk Empire, though thankfully without the constant merkin.
But even with that in mind, no, I still love it. I guess this is going to sound like damning with faint praise but it’s not: Heavy Rain manages to successfully pull off making a hackneyed, hodge-podge crime thriller and still make it a compelling, can’t look away story. And really, that plus the innovative and original gameplay makes it a great game. That there are a lot of variables, which means you’ll never play the same game twice, is added incentive and is the reason I’ll keep playing to see how it unfolds. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect; The story is forgettable, but the (vast majority of the) individual moments themselves are gripping, and that’s enough to keep the story compelling, and worth revisiting again and again, at least for me. Maybe I’ll feel differently about this in a few months, maybe not. But right now, I can confidently say that Heavy Rain, though flawed, is excellent and richly deserves the praise it received.
Phil: Go f–k yourself, Ross.
Ross: No, please, I insist. You go f*ck yourself. You’re a jerk and your opinions suck as much as you do.
Phil: Well, at least I’m not so dumb that I think Heavy Rain is good. Merry Christmas, errbody.