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Project 5: Heavy Rain

The first five minutes, teeth and all.

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.

Heavy Rain's opening doesn't even begin to prepare you for the expansive plot ahead.
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.

Although the game's core controls remain the same right up until the end.
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…

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  1. Aquastyle
    Since: Jul 2010

    Ah, Heavy Rain, still haven’t played it because of some random internet-jerk spoiling the ending for me, will get around to it eventually though.
    A very interesting article I must say nofi, looking forward to the next one!

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 15:57.
  2. philbert8
    The Frankie Boyle Of TSA
    Since: Sep 2010

    I love the fact the first 5mins are dull, I get it, the first 9.5hours of my day are even duller. I am playing Heavy Rain using the Move though, where actions such as cleaning your teeth etc works a lot better. I do judge games fairly quickly, I’ve spent time downloading a 2gig demo and deleted it after less than 5mins of play. I hated the new Motorstorm demo but played the the Bionic Commando Re-armed 2 demo 3 times. Motorstorm maybe great but I’ve already made up my mind I hate it, and this probably isn’t fair.

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 16:02.
  3. linkavich
    Since: Nov 2009

    danny bilson’s a tool, yes cause every single game has a tuturiol section (like i needed to look up and down to know that up and down controlled this ,press trigger to shoot etc etc ) and yes they are tedious sometimes but how much of a headf~** would heavy rain have been without the tutorial section (and in the case f the narrative it served a purpose of portraying family life(that will soon be wrecked, you know who you are) well i’m signing off to go rant at some hooded youths about my day being better

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 16:28.
  4. PoorPaddy89
    Since: Aug 2009

    I love the concept of this series, but like others have said I wonder if the first 5 minutes of gameplay is enough? Even looking at the first 5 minutes of a feature film could be difficult to make a judgement on it; yes those first few moments will either pull you in or send you to sleep, but you still often can’t judge either properly on it. For a game, I’d recommend looking at the first 20-30 minutes possibly.

    Also is this project going to look at old games, or new games about to come out? If you’re looking at old games you’re going to go into writing the article with a full knowledge of the game which might affect how you rate the first few minutes. I’d be interested to read about the first 5 minutes of a new game before the reviewer has played it through.

    Whatever happens, sounds like a great idea and looking forward to reading more!

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 16:43.
  5. threelions_66
    Since: Feb 2011

    Nice idea for an article/articles. I also like how Heavy Rain is still making headlines almost a year after it’s release.

    I think Red Dead Redemption would be a good choice for this segment.

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 16:49.
  6. DrNate86
    Since: Apr 2010

    I love the concept of this! I doubt there are many games that throw you into the story/action within the first 5 minutes though. Only non-stop action games like GOW tend to hit the ground running. Most games ease you in with a tutorial of some sort.

    Personally I loved Heavy Rain, the tension in some of the scenes is almost palpable. Did it need such a long introduction though? Possibly not.

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 17:18.
    • PoorPaddy89
      Since: Aug 2009

      God of War was my first thought for a game that really shows you what its about in the first few moments too.

      Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 19:03.
  7. Kev
    Since: Feb 2009

    If you have to mark the bench anywhere, make it more than 5 minutes in! Just consider classics such as MGS4, Ico and SoTC. Did Danny Bilson miss out on these too? If so, why the hell are we taking any notice of what he says at all? He clearly knows bugger all.

    It just seems indicative of the quick-fix culture that wants to engulf us in in Max Headroom-esque blip-verts. How bloody shallow!

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 17:23.
  8. eye8have9you3
    Since: Aug 2009

    Ive just started Arkham Asylum and that game took ages before anything happened, but it was worth watching that nothingness

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 19:12.
  9. Darth Newdar
    Since: Oct 2010

    Looking forward to more in this series; it’s strange remembering your first five minutes with a game.

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 20:17.
  10. jonny_bolton
    Chooses The Impossible
    Since: Oct 2008

    I think the first 5 minutes of Heavy Rain are good enough to pull the player in.

    When I first played it I was looking at his saccharine sweet life, him looking at loving pictures of his wife and smiling, me and my mate just sat there and were like “his life is about to go right down the shitter” and I couldn’t wait to see how that was going to happen.

    Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 20:51.
    • deadwelsh
      Since: Jun 2009


      Comment posted on 14/03/2011 at 21:15.
      • jonny_bolton
        Chooses The Impossible
        Since: Oct 2008

        Haha, sometimes I wish places were like Facebook…

        Comment posted on 16/03/2011 at 18:45.