Magic Moments – Heavy Rain

Magic Moments features will allow us to get all misty-eyed as we reminisce over games gone by, specifically those moments in games where the rest of the game pales in comparison, perhaps a great moment in a turkey of a game, or a moment that was particularly engaging. Either way over the next few weeks we will be looking at a few games, some in more depth than others depending on how good our memories are and how interesting/long the sections are. This week we are starting with the relatively new release Heavy Rain, specifically a moment very early on in the game that essentially sets the bar for the rest of the game. It is possible that there will be mild spoilers, but we won’t spoil anything major, just discuss plot based on that first hour, so you may want to avoid it until after you’ve played through the first sections of the game.

So you made the jump, well done.

The moment we will be looking at this week is the moment when protagonist Ethan Mars loses his first son, which could have been a simple bit of gameplay mixed with a cut-scene, but instead manages to be something far more powerful.

It’s no surprise to anyone that Heavy Rain is full of choices, and from the opening moments of the game you are put in charge of meaningless little moments that we all do day-to-day, washing, drinking etc. By putting you through the inane moments we are immersed into a character more effectively. Instead of being in a situation you cannot possibly relate to, possibly involving aliens and great big guns we are in charge of a family man, a normal person. In fact the game doesn’t even stick you with kids from the off, instead it starts with one man, one room… layering on more and more detail into his/your life.

This allows a comfortable introduction to a character who appears to be a good man, before long you are at a mall and you have a slightly precocious child to look after, and after getting a balloon from a clown things go downhill quickly. But it is how this scene is handled (voice acting aside, JASON!) is gut-wrenchingly powerful.

It starts with you distracted while trying to pay for Jason’s balloon, and predictably the boy wanders off. As you try to catch up to him the game employs a rather devious little trick that basically stops you from getting to him, crowds of people walking towards you, bumping against you and disorienting you as you search around for the red balloon.

This feeling of helplessness is magnified as for the whole game up to that point you have controlled every action for Ethan, and if you have had the manual dexterity you have been able to succeed at most tasks, but here you are up against something you cannot win against, fate if you like, in video game form. This helplessness coupled with the fact that you can see where this is going make the whole thing feel desperately hopeless. Without this small mechanic in place it could have felt like a scripted event in every essence, with Jason kept at a distance via programming on distance rather than throwing a crowd of people into the mix. It feels natural and frightening at the same time. Obviously it ends badly, but the music, game design and emotion of the piece ensure that the journey from bright skies and smiles becomes nothing short of a nightmare with a steep moment of pure helplessness.

Helplessness and a lack of control in a game that sells itself on being in control more than ever.

Because of that the ‘Mall Scene’ from Heavy Rain is our Magic Moment this week.

Next week we will be looking at Army of Two – yep there is actually a great moment in that game, fist-bumping optional.

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