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There Goes my Weekend…

I picked something up yesterday, something looking suspiciously similar to this:

Yeah I think you can guess where I’ll be spending a good chunk of my weekend, firmly welded to the couch while I bathe myself in what is going to be one of the most enthralling cinematic gaming experiences to cross my path. The fact that the guy I picked it up from at EB asked me if I had played Fahrenheit shows just what kind of a following this game has and I’ve deliberately steered clear of any news or reviews of the game, lest they ruin my experience.

Now it’s one thing to get excited over a game due to the hype buildup or developer loyalty but, for me at least, Heavy Rain is in another category entirely. That’s not to say it’s the most excited I’ve been about a game, far from it. I was much more jittery when it came to picking up the Mass Effect series of games or even the first World of Warcraft expansions. No, there’s something different about this game that is tickling a part of my brain that I don’t think a game has ever triggered before, and that in itself is saying something.

I can probably put this down to the Four Days online experience that Quantic Dream put on. Basically it was a prologue to the game and involved putting you in the shoes of one of the characters of Heavy Rain who was investigating a murder. It played out over 3 days of each week for 3 weeks and to be honest the first one came and went with me barely giving it a second look. However things started to get interesting when the second one came along.

The event started with a series of interactive Youtube videos that put you on the other end of a 911 phone call. The idea was to keep her on the phone as long as possible so you could extract information about what she saw. If you do it right you’ll be sent to another website with a grab bag of evidence from the crime scene which contains various photos other bits of info. What drew me in at this point was a link to a Twitter account, and this is where things got a bit crazy.

It just so happened that I got the evidence package late at night and decided to check out the account to see if there was anything on it. Amazingly right as I was going onto the website the person behind the account started to answer questions about what he saw that night. Queue 3 hours of me furiously sending questions to him and refreshing the page, desperately hanging on for every little bit of information I could drag out of him. I went to bed before the whole event finished but as I drifted off to sleep my head was filled with even more questions that demanded answers and I spent the next day on the edge of my seat waiting for the mysterious character to return.

The next day saw me selecting the 4 most appropriate pieces of evidence from the crimescene to be submitted for further investigation. After a few attempts I got it right and was rewarded with a code for an early copy of the demo. Not wanting to spoil anything of Heavy Rain I filed it away and waited for the next challenge to begin.

The last challenge in the Four Days campaign wasn’t as enthralling as the one that preceeded it. Basically it was just looking at Facebook fan pages and figuring out who best fit the data. It was kind of spooky when I got an email out of the blue from another person who was apparently working the case for her own reasons, and the page she linked to instantly identified her as one of the characters right out of Heavy Rain. I still spent some time reading all the profiles but that initial buzz I felt from staring at SleeperInTheSun’s Twitter feed was a distant memory.

Despite the climax being somewhat disappointing (although the trailers that followed were amazing) it made me step back and take stock of the emotional responses that this little meta game invoked. Fahrenheit was one of those games that drew you deep into the story and its characters, even to the point of stretching the definition of what constituted a game (My game developer friend Tim doesn’t let me call them games, only interactive movies). Heavy Rain made no secret that it’s striving for an emotive experience first and gameplay second which has drawn some harsh criticisms from more traditional game reviewers. So far every one of the cinematic games I’ve played have been experiences I’ve savoured like a fine wine and if the small tidbits of Heavy Rain that I’ve indulged in are anything to go by this will be another fine addition to my shelf.

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