Heavy Rain (PS4): COMPLETED!

Never before has a game made me so angry.

It’s not the sort of game I’d ever normally consider playing, and I didn’t know that much about it apart from that it was by David Cage (which itself meant very little as I’ve never played a Cage game) and involved a murder story. I thought it was a bit like one of the Telltale Games adventures, but more “cinematic”. But, coerced by two people I considered, until this point, as friends, I played it.

I should point out that as I type, I am still very angry about this game. A game which is now the worst game I have ever played. And oh boy have I played some crap. This post will be full of spoilers, which frankly you should think of in the same way your parents tell you not to eat berries from the garden.

Heavy Rain’s plot is this: someone is kidnapping children, drowning them in rainwater, and dumping their bodies. You, as in, the four different characters you play as throughout the game, are trying to find out who the killer is. One of these characters, Ethan, is especially invested in finding out because his son Shaun has just been kidnapped and he’s been left a series of ridiculous and Saw-like challenges to prove his love for his son and potentially save him before he drowns.

I should try to get the positive points out before I vomit bile onto the page. There are some excellent toilets, and a lot of them, in Heavy Rain. Most locations in the game have at least one, and you can actually use them too. The plot would also make a good film. That’s it. Two things.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where Heavy Rain gets it wrong because it gets so many things wrong. Each thing individually is, for the most part, relatively minor but they’re so damn numerous that it’s just a writhing mess of broken game elements thrown at a wall like over-salted porridge. Let’s start with the controls.

The controls are bloody awful.

Let us imagine you’re the person who though the best parts of Shenmue were the QTEs. But you didn’t just love them, you fantasised about them. You made up stories about how you wooed them, married them, and had children with them. Grew old with them. You ate and breathed ever more fanciful QTEs where using your Playstation controller became more like a game of Zen Twister, embellishing button presses with stick flicking and pad flailing. As if Dragon’s Lair and Wii Sports had been involved in a matter transporter incident and the resulting Brundlefly was how David Cage decreed every action sequence was to be played out.

But the QTEs had bled out into the rest of the game. You’d not just be required to press X to open a door any more. No, you need to perform a hadouken instead. Every button, switch, cupboard. Every time you stand up, check your pockets, put your glasses on. Each and every time you answer your phone or look in a mirror. They’re all mini-QTEs. Games have evolved to the point where you just press a button to activate things for a reason. Adding nonsense complexity, especially when often the button prompt on the screen isn’t, well, even on the screen – at least long enough or in a visible way – is like tying your own shoelaces together. Why are you making it more difficult to walk? It isn’t making the game more interactive or realistic, it’s just reminding the player that this is a stupid game and you have to do stupid game things.

And at least in Shenmue if you fail a QTE sequence, you get to try again. Here, if you fail in certain places, you change the ending of the game. People die. You might die. I mean, in real life. There’s a lot of flailing. That’d can’t be good for you.

Yes. Hold “down” on the right analogue stick in order to pick UP a flower. You idiots.

That isn’t the only issue with the controls. No, the game also suffers from the same tank controls that died years ago with the original Resident Evil games. A control system which was borne partly from the lack of two analogue sticks and semi-static camera angles, and yet here is Heavy Rain channelling it again. You have times were you can’t change direction, or it changes for you, or you move out of one room into another but then the camera changes and you find yourself spinning around to walk back out again by accident. The lack of fine-tuning on your movements means it’s all too easy to move slightly past something you want to interact with then have to fight the controller to turn around and get into the correct position.

These issues would be enough to sink any game, but the controls and camera are just the tip of the iceberg. Although as we know just the tip of an iceberg sank the Titanic so you can see how bad this is going to be already.

I have played many games with serious flaws that have been worth it overall because of either the story or the sense of achievement. The need to find out who the Origami Killer is perhaps pushed me to complete Heavy Rain, but even that carrot wasn’t really enough. I had to dig deep to fight the urge to just stop and look up the ending, so perhaps the real reason I completed it was because I just didn’t want to cheat. It wasn’t worth it.

You see, the game is full of plot holes, contradictions and things that make no sense to the story. Characters do things when there is no reason to do them. They jump to conclusions when there is no evidence – or worse, when there is evidence but that particular character isn’t party to it but acts like they are. For example, when Madison is told who the killer is, she is shocked even though she has no idea that person even exists. In fact, even the killer is unaware he is the killer, because although it’s made clear that he is, you play as him and you didn’t know.

Some more “fun holes”:

  • The killer plants a car in a garage for Ethan to pick up. The car has been there for two years. In the glove box is a video showing Ethan’s son from just a few hours previously.
  • How did the gun get through the metal detector into the lockers?
  • Did the killer follow Ethan around constantly waiting for Ethan to have one of his blackouts? He’d have to in order to kidnap his son.
  • When the killer killed the antiques dealer, why did he call the police?
  • What happened to Scott’s asthma? After an hour it vanishes forever.
  • If Ethan isn’t the killer, why does he end up in the street where the real killer used to hang out, why does he dream about being the killer, and why does he “wake up” with origami in his hand?
  • How did Madison know to call Jayden, when until then she wasn’t even aware of his existence?

There are more. Hundreds of things, perhaps. I have a list.

On the subject of Jayden, I have to mention his magic FBI gear. For a game which is based completely in reality with no “magic”, science fiction or supernatural elements, Jayden’s See Everything sunglasses and You Can Really Feel the DNA glove are completely out of place.

This bit is the climax of Jayden’s ridiculous chase through an indoor market which involves running on ice and having chickens thrown at you. Because it’s STUPID.

But as Jimmy Cricket would say, come here, there’s more. Oh so much more.

I could talk for paragraphs about the woeful animation. Look, I understand this was originally a PS3 title and things were a little different then, but it was supposed to be one of the selling points of the game. Everyone walks like they have a limp. They look at things like they’re snapping their spine. They wave their arms around like Gerry Anderson is in control of their upper bodies. There’s a sex scene between Ethan and Madison (which also doesn’t make sense, but I’ll leave that) which is like Ken and Barbie mashing their faces and bodies together. That’s not how people kiss, David. All open mouthed like they’re trying to eat each other’s jaws.

And speaking of Madison, just… what? When we’re introduced to her in her vest and knickers because she’s a woman, she’s in the middle of a nightmare where she is being chased around her utterly huge apartment by two burglars? Assassins? Who knows. Then she wakes up. And aside from a mention of insomnia later on this is never mentioned or expanded on ever again. Also, again because she is a woman, she seems to get undressed a lot. Worse, even though all the male characters can use the toilets in the game, can she? Of course not.

  • Why didn’t the police investigate the people that Scott killed in the mansion?
  • Why didn’t the police investigate the ex-doctor that Madison killed?
  • Why didn’t the police investigate the father than Ethan killed?

The latter of these would normally have bothered me. In that, I had to decide to kill this guy or not. I’m usually pretty moralistic in games, to the point where even if it makes the game harder I’ll try to spare the life of people who don’t deserve to die. I was in knots trying not to kill the girlfriend in the original Prey, for example. But here, although I technically had the choice, I just wanted the easiest route to the end of the game and didn’t even pause for thought. Bang, through the head, move on. So much for the game wanting to trigger emotions and having to make difficult decisions – all overwritten by just the need to have the game over and done with.

Ethan has a panic attack in a crowd because of the trauma caused by the death of his first kid. Which is actually a good idea in the game. But then immediately afterwards he manages to get a gun through a metal detector somehow because Video Games.

Other supposedly difficult to deal with scenarios included the other trials for Ethan like chopping off a finger and drinking the poison. The game had made me so disinterested in such unbelievable characters in such contrived and impossible situations that I didn’t care in the slightest. Ethan might have a wobble about My Son or My Finger but frankly I couldn’t give a toss at that point and Antoinette’d that digit immediately. The game’s first hour goes out of its way to explain what a boring guy Ethan is anyway, what with it basically being a Grand Designs style tour of his house. Then his bird dies for no reason. Then his other son, Jason, also dies for no reason. It’s rubbish.

The almighty problem with the game, however, is undoubtedly the reveal of who the killer is. It doesn’t make any sense to be Scott. If it was better written, then of course it could have made sense, but it feels like they’d intended the killer to be someone else and changed it. Perhaps depending on your choices, more than one killer would be possible. But no, they chose Scott. Scott who, in the game, is 40, and 44, and 48. Scott who murders a man while you’re playing as Scott, only somehow you don’t see it happen. Scott who, when you “think” by pressing L2, ponders who the killer is. Scott who, for no reason at all, has a list of subscribers for some origami magazine which only serves to incriminate himself. Scott who owns a car with a pull-out cigarette lighter even though that particular model car pre-dates the invention of the pull-out cigarette lighter by 7 years. Scott who visits Gordi knowing it will endanger his own life in doing so, to find out if Gordi is the killer, even though Scott knows who the killer is BECAUSE THE KILLER IS SCOTT. Jesus Christ.

All of this, and so much more, made me very angry. Angry I’ve wasted so many hours playing this crap. Angry I’ve been duped into playing it in the first place. Angry that the developers think me so stupid I wouldn’t notice everything wrong with this. Angry at myself that I didn’t just stop after a couple of hours and read the Wikipedia entry instead. Angry that I discovered that Omikron: The Nomad Soul is also by Quantic Dream and I’ve always wanted to play that because it has Bowie in it, but now I can’t because Heavy Rain has ruined it. That’s right – it’s so bad that it has affected how good other games are.

It’s a good job it rains because otherwise the killer can’t do his killings. Clearly he can control the weather. Also, heavy rain would actually mean more rain in two hours than falls in the entirety of the game over several days, so even the game’s title is stupid.

I urge you to never play this game. Just don’t. Even if you want to play a bad game because it’ll be funny, this is not the game for you. Go and play Gynophobia or Bad Rats or something instead. David Cage is clearly a man who would be able to make a good film or perhaps a TV series, but instead he’s shoehorning a film plot into a poorly realised interactive “experience” where the flaws shine like beacons and the mechanics detract from the story. If you want to make a game more like a film, just make a bloody film. Stop playing his games and maybe he’ll go away and do that instead.

I am still very angry.

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Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut (PS4): COMPLETED!

I’d read in a lot of places, and the screenshots didn’t help, that Q.U.B.E. was a poor man’s Portal. Aside from the first person view and the clinical environments, it really isn’t. Mainly because there aren’t any portals, and so the puzzles rely on other quirks instead. Mainly, making use of coloured shapes that do various things – extend, act as a trampoline, create blocks, and so on. You do this to hit switches, move cables, or direct balls, and after each section of the game (of which there are seven) new elements are added, such as being able to rotate parts of the room or direct lasers.

OK, so it’s still a little bit like Portal.

Apparently for the Director’s Cut, they added a story. I’m assuming this is the one sided conversations you listen to on your radio in the game, and if so, before they added them it would have been a very quiet, rather pointless affair. The plot is that you are on some sort of spacecraft made of cubes, and by simply solving puzzles which exist for some reason, you’re destroying the spacecraft. Which is on a collision course with Earth or something. A woman tells you who you are (you’re conveniently suffering from amnesia) and praises you, but then you start getting messages from someone else who says this woman is a liar and you’re going to die. Who do you trust?! (Spoiler: you have no say in the matter).

Anyway, it’s not too difficult (although I did accidentally pass a few of the puzzles without realising), and certainly I enjoyed it, but I can’t say it’s a classic or anything.

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Day of the Tentacle Remastered (PS4): COMPLETED!

I was 100% certain I’d played the original game before. I can clearly remember some parts of the game, some of the puzzles and characters, some of the events from when I originally had it on my Amiga. So imagine my surprise that I actually recognised very little of the game at all, and it turns out there never was an Amiga version. So why did I have the bowl, Bart?

Even more confusing, is how now that I’ve established I haven’t played it before, I remembered the solutions to some of the puzzles and part of the ended. Which is even more baffling as I know I’ve definitely never completed it.

Anyway. In a sort of reverse comparison, I’m going to mention The Secret of Woolley Mountain here as I’d compared that to Day of the Tentacle erroneously so it only seems fair to do the reverse now. In it’s favour, DOTT has much higher production values, but then you’d expect that as it also had way more staff and money. The graphics in particular have moved away from the functional style of the original Maniac Mansion to some really very good cartoon characters and backdrops. Sure, some of this is down to it all being HD and not pixelated like the non-remastered DOTT, but it’s still a world away. The voice acting is pretty good too.

However, as I mentioned in my Woolley Mountain post, the puzzles in these older point and click games are often a bit obscure. They’re not as bad in Day of the Tentacle as they are in Maniac Mansion or something like Grim Fandango, but some are obtuse. Take the use of “Booboo B Gone”, which is suggested by the name it’s some sort of cream or ointment for cuts and bruises rather than actually being Tippex. How you use it on a cat is then also a bit of a reach even knowing that.

That said, it’s well put together, hasn’t aged at all, and was a lot of fun. And very funny, of course.

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Sparkle 2 (PS4): COMPLETED!

Sparkle 2, or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Zuma” was a free PS+ rental that I’ve been playing off and on for a few months. It’s not taxing, it’s not hard, but it is fun in the same way Zuma was. It’s just 91 levels of shooting balls at other balls, but it does it well enough and I enjoyed it. Not sure what else there is to say about it, really.

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Iconoclasts (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.

And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.

Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.

Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.

Anyway, here’s me playing it all:

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Iconoclasts (PS4): COMPLETED!

This is something I’d had my eye on for a while (nice looking pixel Metroidvania, so of course I have), and then, just when I was thinking about actually buying it a little while back, it popped up on PS+. Normally, that means it won’t get played at all, but since I’m letting my PS+ subscription expire (it’s just not worth the money now they’ve halved the number of games per month) I decided to give it a go before I can’t play it any more.

And it’s really good! It has interesting game mechanics, not least the literal mechanics of being an actual mechanic with a big wrench, looks wonderful, has a strange but enjoyable story, and is just a lot of fun to jump around in. And that’s the important thing in this sort of game – it has to be a lot of fun to jump around.

Also a big plus, is that it’s nowhere near as difficult as Hollow Knight. Sure, I love that game but it’s punishingly hard. Much too hard. So hard it’s verging on torture rather than enjoyment. But this is possible for mere mortals! It’s true that some bosses took a few attempts, but other than that, it was pretty easy and a lot more fun for that.

Aside from that “hide and seek” boss, of course. That was pants.

Anyway, here’s me playing it all:

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King Oddball (Vita): COMPLETED

Imagine a cross between Peggle and Angry Birds. You can’t? Well just play King Oddball instead.

The aim (ha!) is to chuck rocks at tanks and helicopters, so as to destroy them all. Of course, there are more things to blow up than you have rocks, so you need to rebound them or make use of other objects to drop on them instead. If you manage to bounce a rock back at your head, or hit one than three baddies in one throw, you get a bonus rock.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. There’s some variety in levels, with different layouts, and sometimes tanks need two hits rather than one, but very few are taxing and those that are can mostly be fluked. Still, it was enjoyable in a Peggle-y sort of way.

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Burly Men At Sea (Vita): COMPLETED!

I was going to buy this for the Switch on a number of occasions, but never got round to it. And then it appeared on PS+. My Vita came out of retirement, and after twice as long updating it as it took to play the game, I’d completed it.

And then completed it again. And again. And again.

You see, this story about four bearded sailor brothers is somewhat short, but that’s only part of the point. At various points in the story you can make a choice (although it isn’t always obvious there is a choice!) and the story takes a new direction. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll end up back at the start ready to begin a slightly different adventure.

I really love the art style, and the text is humourous. There isn’t much in the way of puzzling or gameplay of any kind, really, but it’s an enjoyable set of sea tales nonetheless.

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Yakuza 5 (PS3): COMPLETED!

I know it has been some time since I completed Yakuza 4, but I’d forgotten just how bonkers it was. Playing through Yakuza 5 reminded me, but then took it further. So much further. Warning: very minor spoilers follow, although I’ve avoided any details.

For a game which is essentially a man punching game with some city exploration, the amount of time you can spend not punching men is astounding. Within minutes of starting out, I’d already found a Sega Club in which I then collected every item from all the UFO Catchers, played a few rounds of Virtua Fighter, and then had a go on Taiko Drum Master because why not. Bad things are going down? Pff.

Eventually, I took Kiryu off to progress the story and then was sidetracked again with noodle making mini-games and street racing. When I tired of the side-quests and managed to push on properly, I found the gritty violence and twisting story somewhat at odds with the whimsy of the rest. That’s the Yakuza way, though. Finding out why the Tojo Clan chairman had vanished, and what treachery was involved, peppered with giving a TV chef a gastronomic tour of the city. Of course.

After Kiryu it was time to take control of Saejima who briefly pottered around Kamurocho before giving himself up to the police and getting sent to jail. What felt like a retread of his story in the previous game soon morphed into Monster Hunter. I’m not even joking. Sure, it’s foxes and bears not dinosaurs and dragons, but it felt and sounded so much like Capcom’s series it absolutely had to be intentional. Now with a prison-issued crew cut instead of his long sweaty locks, Saejima has to try and find out who killed Goro Majima – his sworn brother and long-standing Yakuza series character. Or is he really dead? Before it’s clear it’s time to genre swap again…

To Haruka. Kiryu’s adopted daughter is now All Grown Up ((C) Daily Mail) and about to break into showbiz in that legitimate Japanese stereotype – the teen girl idol. Yep, Haruka’s story mostly involves rhythm action style dancing and singing, with street dance battles replacing the “hey guy nice clothes I’m going to fight you” fracas the other characters endure. When things turn upside-down, everyone’s favourite plum-suited moneylender Akiyama steps in, as he’s money invested in (unknown to him) Haruka’s future success. He doesn’t get a full story of his own, having to share Part 3, but he breaks up the dancing nicely.

After discovering some of What Went Down at Haruka’s talent agency, the next part of the game focusses on Shinada. He’s a new playable character, as washed up ex-baseball pro with a cashflow problem. Although he’s quite likeable himself, his story is dull as anything (being baseball linked doesn’t really help) and I couldn’t gel with his fighting style either. His plot involves his loan shark (Takasugi – who is a great character), and finding out what really happened 15 years ago when Shinada was kicked out of baseball for cheating.

The final chapter, as expected, brings everyone together and eventually explains how all their individual stories are just small parts of some massive plan to, well, that’s a spoiler. There’s twist after twist after twist along the way there, though. Imagine an episode of Scooby Doo, only after taking the mask off the monster it just reveals another mask and another under that. Then another. There’s even the now traditional finale atop the tower in Kamurocho, only it’s not because there’s another twist.

In all, it’s Yakuza. The serious organised crimelords at war juxtaposed with singing contests and taxi driving. Men in suits executing other men in suits alongside baseball practise and playing darts. Punching a huge beast of a man who just won’t stay down followed by a drink with a pretty lady in a hostess club. It’s ridiculous.

And it’s the best. Sure, there are a few slight plot holes. A couple of MacGuffins. A sometimes problematic camera and invisible walls a-plenty. There’s asset reuse, occasionally wonky animation, and product placement everywhere but none of it matters. It’s a great story with a weighty game attached, and sure – I can’t understand most of the words, but the voice acting is *kisses fingers*. Will I be playing more Yakuza games? はい、そうです。

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Letter Quest: Grimm’s Journey Remastered (PS4): COMPLETED!

What a fun puzzle game this turned out to be. It was a free PS+ rental and I only really started it on a whim, but it ended up being actually quite enjoyable.

Click to view slideshow.

I’ve still a fair amount left to do, in terms of side missions and collecting more stars, but the main levels are done and so is the story, such that it is (basically I got pizza, it seems).

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