Heavy Rain and Phoenix Wright are the same
March 2, 2010
Heavy Rain exists in kind of this weird, nebulous world where it’s neither a video game nor a movie. It’s neither Dragon’s Lair nor Metal Gear Solid. After sitting down with the game for an hour earlier this week, I don’t know where the story is going, I don’t particularly care, but I can recognize this: Heavy Rain is way ahead of its time.
Keep in mind, I am not 100% positive this is a good thing.
I think it would be a little hypocritical for me to dismiss Heavy Rain a non-game, an internet-made term used to describe casual titles that the speaker generally does not like. This is partly because I hate the term, but mostly because I’m playing Miles Edgeworth. The two games have more in common with each other than they would, say, a Gears of War or a Call of Duty. They are games that put a focus on narrative first and wavering from that narrative, if possible, is discouraged and mostly white-washed over.
The difference is, I like Edgeworth and am not a fan of Heavy Rain. There are reasons, mostly ones that come down to tone, but it’s really just personal preference. However, saying that, I can admit that Heavy Rain is a game that is more likely along the path games will take in the near future.
Let’s pull another game in to this.
If you’ve never played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, it’s worth trying for ambition alone. It can be argued up and down whether what the game part of it tries to accomplish succeeds, but the game attempts narratives in a way most modern games won’t.
Every so often in Silent Hill, you’ll find an item. It could be a toy spaceship, a pearl necklace, maybe a menu. These items have no effect on the main story, they don’t determine the ending you’ll get, they don’t have accompanying descriptions about who left them there. You pick up one of these items, you manipulate it with the controller, you read inscriptions or whatever is on there yourself, and you’re done with it.
What’s incredible about this is how all of these things tell a story, but it’s entirely up to you to figure out. A rattle in the snow makes no sense, but when you find footsteps leading from a cabin that has diapers and empty baby food canisters, you grasp a story about someone running out of food and venturing out, only to get lost.
Heavy Rain, Phoenix Wright, and Shattered Memories all have the same goal: to tell you a story and to entertain you with that story. They all have their methods of interaction, too. In Phoenix Wright, it’s about following the game’s logic to progress. In Heavy Rain, the game tries get you involved with the action while still keeping it on the rails. Your ability or inability to perform functions determines where the story goes. In Silent Hill, the main story is fed to you, but the little stories are up to you as a player to extract.
These games are slowly etching out their own genre. Whether you hate them or don’t feel they’re evolved enough yet, I think they’re going to end up being a big part of how developers design titles in the future, even subconciously.