Over the last decade, huge leaps have been made in the quality and scope of video game narrative.
No longer are developers restricted by a simple, linear ‘save the princess’-style plot – now they can invite players to affect how the story progresses.
While countless games each boast different endings, a few titles seek to go beyond this. The 2005 hit Fahrenheit featured a scores of endings based on player decisions, while Mass Effect 2 continues the series’ story depending on how gamers tackled it predecessor.
Now Sony takes the next step with the upcoming adventure Heavy Rain.
Developed by French studio Quantic Dream, the acclaimed team behind Fahrenheit, the game expands upon the innovations of its earlier efforts to bring gaming closer to true narrative interaction.
The core of the game is its dark storyline that follows the investigations surrounding the mysterious Origami Killer, who has been terrorising a city on the US Atlantic coast.
Each of the killer’s victims are drowned and discovered four days after they go missing. The only clues with each body are an origami figure and an orchid.
As news emerges of another potential victim – a young boy named Shaun Mars – four unrelated people are brought into the investigation as they race to end this terror once and for all.
Players take on the roles of these four characters at varying points in the game. Each one follows their own leads and hold their own interest in the case of the Origami Killer.
Only the gamer’s actions will decide whether they succeed or fail, and which will be the one to unmask this criminal.
The playable cast includes determined journalist Madison Paige, controversial FBI criminal profiler Norman Jayden, former cop turned private detective Scott Shelby and Ethan Mars, the guilt-stricken father of the abductee.
Each one has their own story to tell, their own personality and makes Heavy Rain feel more involving than those with a single, bland protagonist.
Crucially, it is through the four characters’ actions that players will begin to see the impact they can have on the overall narrative.
Events that occur in each person’s storyline are taken into account by the other three. This can occur on smaller levels, with a few events merely mentioned in another storyline, but can go to far greater depths.
DEATH IS JUST THE BEGINNING
At its most extreme, the death of a main character will have tougher repercussions than a traditional ‘Game Over’ screen.
Instead, the plot will continue through the surviving characters, and the consequences of the other protagonist’s death will even be incorporated into their storylines going forward.
Players progress through the game by exploring environments, interacting with suspects, witnesses and other bystanders, and reacting to a multitude of key action scenes.
None of the storyline is told through cut-scenes, instead unfolding around the player as they progress.
Using a mechanic similar to that of Fahrenheit, gamers decide what action their character will take next by choosing to follow one of the available icons on the screen.
These either indicate a face button or direction of the analogue stick, and can prompt the investigator to perform a simple action such as sitting down, tranpsort them to another area or employ a new attitude during dialogue.
Heavy Rain even goes beyond the scope of simple point and click adventures by applying this mechanic to a character’s every action.
For example, if the journalist is applying make-up in order to seduce a contact, players will have to guide the mascara and lipstick to ensure it is applied properly.
Or they will need to time their attack carefully in order to take out a thug attempting to rob a convenience store.
Aside from the extensive scope of the game’s main storyline, a key selling point is the graphics.
Quantic Dream has worked hard to make Heavy Rain appear as cinematic as possible, with moody lighting that suits the title’s film noir overtones and detailed character models.
Players can even switch between a variety of camera angles in every scene, making the overall experience even more interactive.
Sony will no doubt be pulling out all the stops to promote the arrival of Heavy Rain. The game has been coveted by of PS3 owners for three years, with plenty of anticipation among the global gaming press.
In addition to a traditional marketing campaign that will raise awareness of the upcoming release, the platform holder is also holding an alternative reality game through the official Heavy Rain website, inviting players to take part in a four-day challenge that mimics the investigations of the game.