“Heavy Rain”: Flood of inspiration or creative drizzle?

As a kind of rebellion against the glut of uninspired spin-offs and sequels so prevalent in the gaming industry, I’ve come to live my life by a certain code. Stark in its simplicity, the code states that innovation and risks in gaming must be supported. Period. The end.

Sometimes this is a bitter pill to swallow, as innovation and experimentation seldom lead to stellar gameplay experiences, but I’d rather reward something edgy than contribute to the annual Madden roster update craze. Dedicated support in favor of the admittedly mediocre may seem strange, but my hope is that such support will lead to the refinement and improvement of a great idea, thus making it a great reality.

Enter “Heavy Rain.” As more and more details began to trickle out, “Heavy Rain” seemed like a disenfranchised gamer’s dream come true.  Unconventional story centered around a dangerous and meticulous serial murderer called the Origami Killer? Check. Multiple dialogue paths and branching story lines that guaranteed a different playthrough every time?  Check. Gameplay heavily dependent on voice-acting cues and quicktime events? Check and mate!

Soon the fateful day arrived and I waited with bated breath as “Heavy Rain” loaded in my PS3.  Almost giddy with excitement, my nerd-o-meter went off the scale as the loading screen informed me that I should take a piece of pre-packaged paper out of the instruction manual and follow the on-screen instructions to make my own origami figure.  “This is how you do it,” I thought admiringly, more or less managing to fold together my. . .uh. . .you know, my origami thing.

Soon after, the game began. In the telling of its story, “Heavy Rain” doesn’t confine you to one character. Through your playtime you’ll find yourself controlling the affable P.I. Scott Shelby, the handsome but troubled FBI agent Norman Jayden, the depressed and melancholy Ethan Mars and the bold and sultry Madison Paige. The game kicks off with your characters performing mundane everyday tasks with little in the way of any actual action. Ethan plays with his kids and carefully sets the table lest he break any plates. Madison takes a shower and tries to walk off her insomnia. Norman and Scott follow up on their respective investigations.

Of course, this is all just setup as soon Ethan’s son is taken by the Origami Killer and a perverse game ensues. Will Norman and Scott whittle down their list of dangerous suspects and discover the true identity of the killer? Will Ethan play the killer’s game and do what he must to save his son? Will Madison get through a sequence without setting feminism back 60 years? Stay tuned!

Unfortunately, right when “Heavy Rain” really gets going is also where is starts to fall apart. The vaunted storyline is mostly broken, rampant with nonsensical red herrings, lazy plot connections and brazenly deceptive twists.  It’s not clever storytelling, it’s just confusing.  Complementing the average-bordering-on-bad story is the generally poor voice-acting. Sorry, but after games like “Uncharted 2” and “Mass Effect 2,” bad voice-acting is exceptionally jarring. For a game so dependent upon dialogue, this is almost a game-breaking offense. Combine these two criticisms with “Heavy Rain’s” strange control scheme and laughably vague input commands and the whole experience turns out to be something of a mess.

Don’t get me wrong, “Heavy Rain” is an experience that I’m glad I was able to have, it’s just not everything that it could have been. And this particular year, where every month has at least one polished heavy hitter like February’s “Mass Effect 2” or March’s “Battlefield: Bad Company 2,” “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Just Cause 2,” it might just be better to put “Heavy Rain” on your back burner and save it for a (pardon the pun) rainy day.

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