Tag Archives: Late to the party

LTTP: Heavy Rain

Like many people who played it, I really enjoyed Fahrenheit, David Cage’s previous attempt at fulfilling his noble ambition of moving storytelling in games beyond the infantile nonsense that it defaults to. That is, I enjoyed it until it went completely off the rails.

That game’s most impressive achievement was the speed with which it tossed aside a brilliant opening, brimming with possibilities, and completely lost it. As far ahead of most games at the time as the cut-scene direction was, it didn’t take long for me to stop enjoying them because I had to spend their running time staring at two little on-screen prompts, and don’t even get me started on the plot machinations. Just baffling.

Heavy Rain

My disappointment with Fahrenheit was perhaps the main reason why I skipped Heavy Rain on its release. I’d heard all the promises before, and even today I put Cage, up there with Peter Molyneux on the scale of bullshit. I’m so used to being let down by their unfulfilled promises that I have a mental filter on everything they say, treating it as a joke that I’ll be pleasantly surprised if it turns out to be even close to reality. It’s like the racist uncle who you just nod your head and smile at, because you stopped actually listening to them years ago.

Once I sat down to play it, though, I quickly realised how much better this is. Some odd pacing and a flawed interface aside – how about telling me what a given selection of stick motions are going to do instead of giving me one chance to make the ‘right’ choice? – it’s more mature than Fahrenheit and seems to be evidence that Cage has finally learned some restraint.

I’m still not convinced that this is the future of in-game storytelling, however. Putting aside the actual content of the plot, which is admittedly better than most games but still far below the standard of the best available in other media, Heavy Rain is still far more of an ‘interactive movie’ than it is a game. You can spend all the time in the world on brilliant animation, voice acting and careful choreography, but it does nothing for games when all of these awesome action sequences are QTEs. I’m not entirely averse to this mechanic – God knows I go on about Shenmue enough – but I’m not going to pretend that it does anything for gameplay design, which is the reason we’re playing games rather than watching movies.

Quibbles aside, Heavy Rain is well worth experiencing. It’s just that it reinforces my opinion that while trying to advance narrative in games is certainly admirable, copying the conventions of Hollywood too closely simply dilutes what makes games special. And for all its ambitions, my recent playthrough of the Half-Life 2 games suggests that maybe it’s barking up the wrong tree.

A decent game, but it would be a better movie. Pick one and stick to it.

LTTP: Batman: Arkham Asylum

This game has blown me away. Whatever Rocksteady does next, I’m already interested.

I know I’m only a month or so removed from the game’s release, but that seems like a lifetime these days, when my entire friends list has already deserted this for Forza 3 and FIFA 10. We’re a fickle bunch with short attention spans, us gamers.

But anyway, my initial statement is an accurate summation of how this game makes me feel, now that I’ve got around to playing it as a belated birthday present. I remember saying, back when Zelda: Twilight Princess came out, that it was the first time in ages that I’d found myself losing track of time as I played, and Arkham Asylum has been one of the few games since to have done the same thing. The other day I sat down to play, intending to do so for an hour or so, and ended up stopping four hours later. The next day, five and a half. I started at 7:00 and literally the next time I looked at the clock it was 11:30. It’s scary when it happens, but it’s also the mark of a very, very good game.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

A lot of this game’s inspirations are obvious, but Rocksteady has certainly picked the right ones. Arkham has that same worn-down and dirty – not to mention suspiciously unsanitary for a hospital – look of BioShock’s Rapture, as well as discarded audio diaries to fill in the back stories; it plays to the strengths of Unreal Engine 3 – it’s really one of the best-looking non-Epic uses of the tech, with gorgeous character models and brilliant animation – by making its buildings and architecture look like they come directly from Sera, but still differentiates itself by looking like a Batman game.

Rocksteady’s carefully straddled the line between accessibility and fan service, presenting an almost-complete who’s who of Batman villains – Batman’s no killing policy and the ending leave the possibility for sequels open, of course – with hundreds of nods to famous characters and events in Batman’s past to be found, mainly through the Riddler’s challenges. I’m a bit of a Batman fan and I don’t recall anything that will cause the fanboys to lose too much sleep through the developer taking liberties, and there are a few elements that I know are drawn from the comics but drew confused rolled eyes from laymen who assumed that it was Rocksteady fabricating things.

Coming at the game late on, I’d heard about the saggy portion as the game approached its climax, but I didn’t find it problematic at all. The game moves at a fantastic pace, bringing in new areas and gameplay elements constantly, doing a superb job of giving you new and interesting things to do. A list of gadgets and new moves meant that stealthy confrontations with multiple enemies was something I looked forward to, because the game does a stunning job of making you feel like Batman, using your skills to isolate an enemy and take him down silently as his friends are made ever more anxious and jumpy – look at the scene in Batman Begins when he clears a room of thugs by darting around and hiding in the rafters and imagine how badass it feels to do it yourself.

And the aforementioned all-star cast of the Dark Knight’s nemeses is certainly done justice. Only a couple really strike me as feeling like your typical boss battles, and the rest are of extremely high quality. Without spoiling anything, the encounters with Scarecrow are stunningly well done, and I have high hopes that he’ll be back in the next one.

I heartily recommend this game. It’s running high in my provisional GOTY list and while it’ll do well to top the one to beat, it’s definitely one of this year’s best adventures.