Saturday, February 27, 2010

Heavy Rain... No Spoilers, Please!  

Games: So, Heavy Rain. Pretty much everyone has at least heard of this game by now whether they play or not. It's been all over Twitter and the Internet, it's been featured in dozens of magazines, both game-related and otherwise, and the vast majority of people I know have either just finished it, are playing it right now, or are about to start it. Regardless of anything else, no one can deny that Heavy Rain has got some serious presence.



I got my copy in the mail yesterday and was thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t going to be incredibly late to the party with this one. In most cases I don't really feel much impetus to keep up with the Joneses... I've got quite a backlog of things to go through that's only getting bigger all the time, and GameCritics doesn't live or die by being the first with coverage. However, I was a big fan of developer Quantic Dream’s first console game, Indigo Prophecy, and Heavy Rain looks like nothing so much as that title taken to the next level. My eagerness to jump into it was pretty high to start with for that reason alone, but there was also another reason why I was keen to play it sooner rather than later: the possibility of having the plot inadvertently spoiled.

On this issue, there seems to be two major camps: those who are absolutely anti-spoiler, and those who think that trying to discuss games without revealing the important details of the plot is silly, or at least, inconsequential to the greater experience of actually playing. My personal take on the matter? I am definitely of the belief that people should respect others’ rights to not be spoiled, and if a review or article is going to reveal relevant details, there should be (at the very least) an attention-grabbing spoiler warning before there's any chance of accidental exposure.


That's not to say that I don't think plot details should ever be discussed, but I firmly believe that having foreknowledge of a game's contents absolutely has an effect on the degree of immersion, discovery, suspense and ultimately, the enjoyment of the player. It's really no different than reading a book or watching a film-- the craft and care put into quality works means that partaking of them will still be pleasurable after they've been read or watched, but it's impossible to deny that repeat visits are fundamentally different than the first. Heavy Rain is probably the ultimate example of this, videogame-wise. Unfortunately, I was spoiled in a couple of ways.

The first? After starting Heavy Rain yesterday, I became engaged in the drama almost immediately, but ran into several technical problems during gameplay. A few times the audio skipped (which was annoying, but I have the subtitles turned on so no information was lost) but a more significant issue was that the game froze multiple times, necessitating several complete restarts. Upon being faced with repeating sections I had already completed, it was amazing to me how something that was interesting and fascinating the first time became tedious and tiresome the second time around. With the unknown stripped away, my sense of being in the moment was completely gone and it was all I could do to push through the parts I had already seen to get back to where I had left off before the game froze.

That sensation of being unwillingly quasi-spoiled due to data loss was bad enough, but not exactly a true spoiler in the proper sense of the term. However, on a larger level, I actually did feel somewhat robbed of the full impact that could have been delivered thanks to the little bit of knowledge I had about the game prior to ever playing.

Although I've done everything I could possibly do to avoid Heavy Rain plot spoilers short of disconnecting the Internet from my home and wearing a blindfold and earplugs for days on end, this game has been so pervasive that it's been practically impossible to not learn something about its content. As a result, the power of the prologue and some of the chapters immediately afterwards (freezes notwithstanding) were not nearly as significant as they would have been had I not known anything about the game prior to sitting down with it. Rather than following along with the story as it unfolded, I couldn't help but instead wonder when X,Y,Z was going to happen. Rather than being caught by surprise, I was anticipating the events and was therefore less moved when they actually occurred.


I realize that it's not realistic to spotlight a game without discussing any aspect of it, but Heavy Rain lives and dies by its plot and the impact of its scenes, and I definitely believe the game can be promoted and discussed without anyone spilling anything that would potentially detract from someone else's enjoyment of it. Although this game is certainly the ultimate example of why spoilers are bad thing, I think the same goes for just about any other game that features a storyline or dramatic elements. Seeing a great blockbuster scene for the first time, coming across a scary enemy, or being hit with a mindbending plot twist without any prior knowledge of its existence is something completely different than having heard about it, read about it, seen a picture of it in a magazine, or watched a video of it on the Internet.

Spoiler warnings may not carry the same significance to all players, but to those of us who care, we're glad that they're there – being spoiled is like having someone else make a decision for you without your consent and being deprived of an experience that's impossible to reclaim. You can’t un-see something… you can’t un-know it. Call me silly or outdated, but I’ll never be okay with careless spoilers. Though I was unsuccessful in experiencing Heavy Rain in a totally pure, absolutely unspoiled way, I’m glad to say that I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen later in the game -- and I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way.

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4 comments: to “ Heavy Rain... No Spoilers, Please!


  •  

    After I read a major plot revelation on a stupid youtube comment, I hope I've learned my lesson. We gamers are obsessed with game information: we want to read reviews, see some gameplay here and there, know how the industry and its consumers are reacting, etc.

    It's almost impossible to avoid the bombardment of narrative details. For that, I support your hermit decision of distancing yourself from Heavy Rain related content. It's one of the most elegant ways to show you want to respect it.

    I'm at the point where being hit by a car and wake up amnesiac seems like a competent scenario.


  •  

    I ordinarily think people are too anal about spoilers (knowing a plot point won't detract one iota from my enjoyment of a zelda game) but with heavy rain yeah, it kind of does matter


  •  

    Is it me or does Heavy Rain deserve an award for taking us further into the uncanny valley than any developer dared venture?

    Just look at those faces. The closer they try to make them look human, the creepier and more unrealistic they become.

    Ultra high-res human modeling is making it harder to take these games seriously. I found cel-shaded "Wind Waker" Link to exhibit more convincing emotion and facial expressions than Heavy Rain. Sometimes too much detail becomes debilitating.


  •  

    CKZ: Thakns for your comment!

    Chris: Yeah, the severity of the spoilage really depends on the genre of the game. I mean, it's not going to be much of a spoiler if somebody says “hey, you find a big monster at the end of Gears of War!” but for games that really have a significant story component or a lot of surprise ‘WOW’ moments, my preference is that people keep to themselves or at least give a spoiler warning so that folks who don't want to be spoiled (like myself) can choose not to hear or see it. Also, I don't want to sound totally oversensitive about spoilers... 95% of them aren't a big deal, but when something comes along and says ‘AERIS DIES’ (back when FF7 was new, of course) or if someone says “SO-AND-SO IS THE KILLER IN HEAVY RAIN’ then that's taking it too far. Of course, time is also a factor... you can't keep spoilers until the end of eternity and I totally understand that, but I think in general, most people have a pretty good gut feeling about what constitutes serious spoilage and what doesn't.

    Doug: You know, I'd have to agree for the most part. Although there were certain segments in Heavy Rain that I thought were actually really well done and convincing, there were definitely an equal number of fake-looking and awkward moments. I'm not one who usually leans towards hyper-realism in general so I'm totally fine with a more expressive style of art in most of my games. It will be interesting when developers are finally able to climb to the far side of the Uncanny Valley and we have graphics that are truly convincing, but yeah, we're not there quite yet.