What is Project 5?
Last week we picked up on a story from the latest copy of Edge magazine regarding THQ’s Danny Bilson, and how he didn’t complete Heavy Rain because he didn’t want to brush his teeth in a game, an opinion that split our readership. In amongst the sadly rather barbed vitriol was a common thread: you can’t ascertain a game’s value from the opening section.
Or can you? It takes 5 minutes and 20 seconds to get Ethan Mars out of bed and into the bathroom for a quick shower and that all important dentistic scrubbing – a period we’re happy enough to round down to five minutes for the purposes of this project, an experimental, retrospective look back at a few top tier games to see how their first few moments stand up.
But first, and rather obviously, Heavy Rain.
Like any other game in this series, we’re negating any time downloading patches or running installs, most of them easily outstay the five minute limit on their own: we’re also not counting any initial cutscenes, we’re purely looking at the 300 seconds after the player gains control for the first time. And in Heavy Rain’s case, it’s not going to be nearly enough.[drop]It’s an odd way to open a game, looking back. A man, the wrong side of the uncanny valley and dressed only in tight black shorts, lays dozing on a bed, the usual clutter of on-screen health bars and score tallies nowhere to be seen. In fact, the first thing you’re presented with is a white square and an arrow pointing up, with a brief note to say that you’re meant to reproduce this direction via the right analog stick.
Not only is this action entirely at odds with almost every other game you’ve ever played (the right stick is normally reserved for camera control, if used at all) but it’s a world away from the direct control third person games normally offer. Still, obligingly, you obey the instruction, before being told to do it again, but slower, as Ethan Mars stirs from his slumber.
Once up, the controls disolve further into confusion. The left stick ‘aims’ Mars, and R2 makes him walk forward, stilted and uneasy. It’s not explained whether the left stick acts as a rotation device, or it’s a more ‘direct’ aim, but a few seconds of bumping into the bed and the glass door confirms it’s the latter. So, maneuvering like a dozy tank, you head towards the door after being silently refused the chance to get any clothes from the wardrobe.
The bathroom’s across the hall, but a sudden camera change as you near the birdcage (after a brief pause to pick up a note and open the bedroom door) throws you a little. Still, by this time you’ve mastered the walking – and although the protagonist never really moves with any conviction through the entire session – he at least manages to find his way along the landing.
The teeth brushing scene is an odd one. Eager to use every aspect of the SIXAXIS, Mars’ simple act of cleaning is, apparently, best approximated by the player shaking the controller vigorously – first from side to side, then up and down, in an inexplicably awkward few seconds of tiring action. Still, his teeth are shiny, and now it’s just a case of a brief glimpse of pubic hair and it’s into the shower.
Five minutes, 20 seconds.[drop2]It’s an oddly prosaic experience. You might be able to aim Mars at his next target, but you hardly have full control, the game’s ‘interactive fiction’ moniker a convenient shield for oddly frustrating mechanics. And the areas you can explore aren’t consistent, and the rewards even less so.
As an introduction, five minutes clearly isn’t enough. Once Ethan’s first chapter is properly underway, with the arrival of the family adding some much needed pacing, Heavy Rain’s direction kicks into gear – but this first section is underwhelming, there’s no mistaking that.
Can you judge Heavy Rain from the first five minutes? No. It’s not even a taster, the tiny morsel of the game offered up in such a short timeframe doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. It’s indicative in terms of character and aesthestics, but little else.
The same, as you’ll see, isn’t necessarily the case for other games…