It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a post (that’s what portfolios and graduate applications will do to you)! But anyone who knows me also knows that I’m thinking constantly: ideas, solutions, obsessions. This also means that I enjoy foreshadowing, even in the context of this blog. A few posts ago, someone may have noticed that I made an offhand comment about how I wasn’t “yet” ready to reveal my favourite game of 2010.
Well, now I am!
I should contextualize what I’m about to do here. My favourite game is just that: a game released in 2010 that I played and of which experienced incredible enjoyment. It’s not a discussion of the “best” game in any way. Now that that’s out of the way…
2010 was a strange year. I played a horde of games on the Nintendo DS, and in the latter half of the year I acquired a new PC and got back into computer gaming for the first time since high school. My Wii got very little use, and the PS3 got some, but even it had an easy year. When I compiled a list of all the games I played in 2010, I realized one thing: none of them really jumped out at me as my “favourite game”. Sure, there were some good ones, but nothing that truly made me shout to the masses “OMG U R TEH BEST GAME EVR!!!!11”
In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that I actually found my favourite game of 2010.
That’s right. There was a game that was released in 2010 that, for whatever reason, I just hadn’t had the opportunity to play until 2011. But now that I’ve played it, I’ve got two elegant words to describe it:
The usage of the term “frack” here is used only as the placeholder for which it is intended. With a current portfolio submission to a program that I’ve always dreamed of entering, it’s probably best that I don’t cross the border into profanity. :)
This game is, quite easily, one of the most innovative games I’ve experienced. In fact, I’m surprised that someone has not thought to do it until now. The game?
Oh come on. In a blog that analyzes the relationship between video games and writing, don’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming. But if you didn’t, that’s okay. Because you know what? I did not see this game coming.
The premise of the game is simple: there’s a lunatic out there known as the Origami Killer. The killer kidnaps young boys and places them into a storm drain immediately prior to a rainstorm, then contacts the parents and dares them to save their son. The catch? They have to save the child before the storm drain fills with water, which makes it a race against time (always effective in building suspense). But that’s not all. The big question this game poses is “How far would you go to save someone you love?” Because if you want to save that kid, the killer is going to make you work for it. And let’s just say that this game will cause you to do things you’ve never imagined.
In an age where gamers complain about extended dialogue (Metal Gear Solid), cutscenes (Final Fantasy) and watching a game rather than interacting with it, Heavy Rain comes along with the premise of an “interactive movie” and makes you play the story down to the smallest detail. Everything that you do, and don’t do, has an impact on the game. Overlook a piece of evidence? You’re going to have difficulty tracking down the killer. Don’t look at the clock? You’re not going to be able to follow your schedule. I’m providing really vague examples for the purposes of providing as few spoilers as possible. But this is a game that demands your attention, but in doing so allows you to craft the narrative of the story. The relationships you have with the characters, the way you look, the thoughts you have–all of it is determined by your actions in game. And they can lead you to serious rewards or consequences.
In perhaps the coolest mechanic I’ve seen in a long time, Heavy Rain does away with the “Game Over” screen. That’s because you can’t end the game if you tried. Once you hop on the train, you’re along for the ride whether you like it or not. You’ll play as four protagonists in related storylines and even if you manage to kill some of them, the game will keep going. This is vastly different from the typical way in which we allow for alternate endings in games (which often depends on completing a particular sidequest or having a specific character in your party).
As far as the gameplay goes, this game isn’t going to hold your hand. It’s going to test you; challenge you to overcome insane situations or face the often horrible results of being unable to do so. I hope that your hand-eye coordination is strong! You’ll be able to hear your character’s thoughts, change camera angles, utilize some rather smart technology, and examine your very detailed surroundings, and all of the information feeds into your experience of the game.
I could talk for days about this game. It’s part suspense, part psychological horror, and part action. You’ll never predict what the game will throw at you because what it throws is based on your actions. It’s a seemless integration of narrative and gameplay that is fantastically (though not flawlessly) executed. Someone could say that the game is nothing more than a series of quicktime events, and in many ways they’d be right. The game requires you to push buttons at particular times in order to move forward (or die, haha). Some of the controls you use will be completely unnatural, but if you appreciate a great storyline like I do, you’ll be too immersed in the game to notice them.
If you haven’t already, do yourself a huge favour and play this game. I guarantee you that you’ll freak out at least three times. You’ll feel sad, you’ll feel guilty, you’ll feel relieved. And by the end of it, you’ll be willing to throw yourself into the pot all over again to see how you could have done it differently.
And you’ll enjoy it just as much.