I’m deviating from my norm, and touching into a world that I think is very much overlooked when it comes to story and whatnot: the video game industry. It’s easy to look at the wide spectrum and say “oh, well I know why we don’t look at it–I mean, look at them. It’s all Mario Kart and Madden NFL crap. Who’s looking for story in this?”
Me. That’s the answer. Me, and people like me. We are the ones who pick up video games and wonder if the characters will be engaging, if the story will be believable, if the world will be big enough to feel natural and explorable.
I’ve picked up a game recently, and it’s very short (I’m already about halfway through the plot line), but I think it’s the perfect one to point out for this post: Heavy Rain. (Though if I’m being accurate, I should probably put Rain in italics…heh) (Note: minor spoilers potentially below the cut.)
Heavy Rain plays, to me, like a combination of interactive Criminal Minds, and the Saw trilogy. (In my research, I’ve found that more than a few people have made a correlation to the Origami Killer’s trials and Jigsaw’s, so I feel better about that.) It’s an in-depth game with four playable characters, jumping from person to person as each of them tries in their own way to piece together what’s happening with the Killer. What I really love about the game so far is how much effort seems to have gone into these characters.
We have Ethan Mars, the main character as it were, and also quite possibly one of the worst/unluckiest fathers in known existence. One son is killed in an accident that puts Ethan himself into a coma for six months, and then during one of his subsequent blackouts, his second son is abducted by the Origami Killer. (Whoops?) He spends the rest of the game going through the trials the Killer has set out for him, which often threaten (or in the case of some, ensure) pain or danger on himself. If nothing else, he is a dedicated father and quite possibly a masochist.
Then we have Madison Paige, a journalist who slowly comes to have a connection with Ethan. Since Ethan is estranged/divorced from his wife (and after losing both of their children, I may not blame her; he’s not terribly forthcoming with details), he’s open for the lovely lady to linger in his life, as she too starts to nose into the Origami Killer. I haven’t seen too much of her yet in my own playthrough, but from what I’ve seen of some research on the character’s I’ve done, she gets a nice little sideplot–and her own level of danger as she gets dragged into the mess Ethan’s life is.
Then there is Norman Jayden, the FBI agent with the adorable/obscure accent who’s been put in charge of the investigation into the Origami Killer. In addition to being fairly silly levels of attractive for a video game character, he also comes with the niftiest piece of in-game tech: a system known as ARI, which stands for (*checks*) Added Reality Interface. It allows the agent to automatically do base levels of analysis of evidence at the crime scene, and then stores all the data for later review–all in your choice of tranquil faux setting. With his sunglasses and glove, Jayden can walk around and know absolutely everything–and I love it. It’s a neat way of allowing the gameplay to move faster (rather than waiting the actual time necessary for all this analysis and thus letting the abducted child die) and gives the player something to play around with at crime scenes.
Lastly, there is Scott Shelby, a private eye who is looking into the Killer’s case on his own. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him (and he’s a large man) because none of the other characters reference a private eye on the case, nor do any of the former victims’ parents seem to want to talk to him…but he wanders around and helps people and takes evidence that may be of use to him and continues on. What we see of him (or have seen of him so far) is a bit scattered and unclear, but he’s an outlier that I’m interested to see come to light.
Obviously, I can’t give a full review of it until I play through the whole game, but it’s just engaging enough and twisted around enough that I couldn’t wait that long until sharing. It’s these types of stories, the ones that find a hook and don’t let go, that give me hope for video games in general. These are real characters who you can empathize with. These are people who have thoughts and concerns that can actually affect the game. (That’s another piece I love: you can choose to do or not do things, and you can succeed or fail at doing others, and they will absolutely affect the end of the game.) This is what story should be…and it’s too bad that these games aren’t the norm.
Perhaps, in the future, they will be. There’s still plenty of time to see.