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I enjoyed Quantic Dream’s “Heavy Rain,” but I wanted to love it. The game’s marriage of mature story with populist design and easy-to-grasp controls show what we should come to expect from single-player, interactive entertainment. It’s a video game for the folks who aren’t skilled enough to enjoy playing “Modern Warfare 2″ online or willing to invest the time needed to learn the intricacies of “Final Fantasy XIII’s” so-called “battle system,” yet want something a little more nuanced than casual titles like “Wii Sports Resort” or “Rock Band 2.”

That’s probably why I felt so let down by the game’s story. Don’t get me wrong. “Heavy Rain” is well-executed enough to recommend. It’s just that the inconsistent narrative and gap-filled plot detract from the overall experience enough to knock it down from “game of the year” contender to merely “good game” status.

So now I’m going to do something I hope to do a little more of on this blog, and offer a no-holds-barred, spoiler-filled discussion of the game’s story. In other words,

If you have not yet played “Heavy Rain,” do not read any further, as this discussion will spoil a number of plot points. If, however, you’ve finished the game and are looking for a spot to talk about your experience, this is the place. To make sure your innocent eyes don’t accidentally read any spoilers in the next paragraph, I’m even throwing in a picture.

MALL_03

OK, we’re definitely in spoiler territory now. Before we get to the picking of nits, I’ll share the details from my first playthrough of the game. I managed to get past three of the five trials with Ethan, failing at picking my way through the electrical wires and killing another human being. That gave me enough clues to narrow Shaun’s location down to about a half-dozen places, and I was able to figure out where Shaun was being held by using the foghorn cue. Norman also found Shaun, reviewing the clues he’d discovered. (I got the “nerd” trophy for finding all of them.) Madison, however, was less lucky. Though she survived the harrowing encounter at the Origami Killer’s pad, I never was able to guess the password for the computer that would have revealed the killer’s location. (Lauren also died, when I stupidly kicked out the window of the car before trying to rescue her. Whoops.)

All of the above left Ethan to rescue Shaun and Norman to duke out it out with Scott, the killer, on the conveyor belt. Despite what I felt was a pretty solid fight, I missed a few cues and Norman died, leaving Scott to escape. Ethan, however, was reunited with Shaun and ended up moving into a new place with Shaun and Madison, whom Ethan forgave earlier in the story. In other words, it was kind of a mixed ending. I’ve since gone back and experimented a little to unlock some of the other epilogues and nab some trophies I missed.

With all that in mind, here are the plot holes and inconsistencies that jumped out at me once I finished the game. (In the interest of giving an informed critique, I’ve taken to the Internet to check out the other ways my playthrough could have resolved itself. Though I made a few mistakes, I managed to play every chapter but one and unlock several of the epilogues. In examining the contents of the other endings, these plot holes largely go unexplained unless otherwise noted.)

What was up with Ethan’s blackouts?: Before Shaun is kidnapped, the game’s third chapter ends with Ethan putting his son to bed, then blacking out. He comes to in the middle of a street in a residential neighborhood. It’s pouring rain, and he’s holding a little origami figure in his hand. Not long after, Ethan has a second blackout, during which Shaun is kidnapped.

“Heavy Rain” makes a pretty big investment in making the player think that Ethan might have some kind of split personality disorder that’s somehow related to the death of his first son, Jason, at the beginning of the game. At one point, Ethan even seems to believe it. The misdirection is a noble goal in and of itself. After all, there are only eight or so major characters in the whole game, so they’ve got to leave some doubt as to the identity of the killer. But come on. The blackouts serve no purpose other than to make us think Ethan is the killer. They’re never explained, which makes them a ham-handed attempt at a red herring. The whole incident where Ethan is standing on a street corner (near where the Origami Killer just happened to grow up, we learn later in the game) holding an origami figure makes you go “hmmm…” at the time but strains credulity when you reflect back on it after finishing the game.

Mumbling about drowned kids: At around the game’s mid-point, Ethan’s estranged wife, Grace, goes to the police and tells them about Ethan’s blackouts, and how sometimes she’d encounter him in his blacked-out state, mumbling about drowned kids. Why Ethan would be doing this is never reconciled.

What happens to Grace, anyway?: Speaking of Grace, I never saw her again after the aforementioned scene. She just vanished for the last third or so of the game, not even showing up in the epilogues once I’ve rescued Shaun. Look, she’s estranged from Ethan, and in my playthrough, Ethan ends up with Madison. But that doesn’t mean the mother of the child I just saved from a serial killer can’t show up for two minutes, apologize for thinking I’d murder my own son and maybe tell the kid she’s happy he’s alive, right? (Note: Grace apparently does show up in at least one epilogue, but she should be there no matter which endings you get.)

Scott’s “investigations”: We learn just before the end of the game that Scott, the private eye you’ve been controlling since the game began, is the Origami Killer. Scott’s “investigations” throughout the game were, in fact, recovery efforts in which he met with the families of his kidnapping victims so that he could confiscate any evidence that could out him later. In a key endgame scene, Scott burns all this evidence in his trash can. But why does he save it all up for the end of the game? Wouldn’t a killer as calculating as Scott destroy each piece of evidence as he recovers it? Furthermore, why does Scott keep the subscriber list to his origami-related magazine, or visit a typewriter repairman to try to determine what type of machine was used to write the Origami Killer’s letters? And why does Scott even go through the trouble of investigating psychotic rich kid Gordi Kramer and accusing him of being the killer?

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18 Comments

  1. Brenton

    Hey Eric,

    Great post, as usual! I am a 360 and PC gamer, so I read your review despite not having played Heavy Rain (as much as I’d like to). That said, these plot holes seem pretty egregious (particularly the black out thing). I don’t think I’ll be buying a PS3 for this.

    Keep it up, please! By the way, any chance you’re going to be reviewing Sleep is Death? I really want to get the game, but without a few reviews regarding how easy it is to DM the games, I don’t know if my wife would be interested in playing with me.

    March 26th, 2010 9:31 am

  2. GameWit

    I’ll see if I can check out Sleep is Death. I kind of have issues with PC games because I’m on a PC all day at work, and my home PC is a laptop. Still, it’s a shortcoming as a gamer that I should address one of these days.

    I say that Heavy Rain is still a good game despite these plot holes because they don’t really become apparent until after you’ve finished the game and start to reflect back. The actual act of playing the game was quite enjoyable. Also, some of the Scott-related plot holes could probably be explained, if the developers wanted to, but the blackout thing is ridiculous. If they’d just had Ethan black out and skipped the part about him holding origami figures or muttering about drowned kids, it would’ve been way more convincing.

    March 26th, 2010 4:14 pm

  3. Tiffany

    (of course, spoilers follow)

    This is pure speculation, but I think the psychologist and the doctor (who captured Madison) were in league with Scott and played a role in Ethan’s blackouts (drugging his OJ, maybe?) and his “mumbling” as well (maybe the shrink is “guiding” Ethan towards his eventual conclusion in the sessions).

    As for the typewriter investigation, we know that Scott was not too crazy about having Lauren coming with him to help, so maybe the visit to Manfred was just to placate her without risking revealing much about the killer.

    As for investigating Gordi Kramer, if you reach Kramer’s father after escaping the submerged car, he reveals that one of the Origami murders was a *copycat* murder and Gordi was responsible.

    April 5th, 2010 12:34 pm

  4. GameWit

    Of your three explanations, I’m willing to buy the typewriter one. But the idea that the killer and/or the doctor somehow broke into Ethan’s house right after he put his son to bed and abducted him to stage a blackout, then did the same thing again in broad daylight in the middle of a park, just doesn’t hold water with me.

    I realize that Gordi committed a copycat crime, but why would Scott want to remove him from the equation by “investigating” (and presumably arresting or killing him)? If anything, having a copycat killer running around helps deflect suspicion from Scott, the real killer.

    Honestly, I think the game’s writers wanted to introduce elements to the story that would make you suspect multiple characters, but they just handled it clumsily. Take the origami out of Ethan’s hand and get rid of the mumbling subplot, and you still accomplish the same thing storywise, without looking ridiculous.

    April 6th, 2010 12:33 am

  5. Tiffany

    I was thinking more along the lines that someone (killer, doctor, shrink) may have hooked Ethan up with some “medication” that caused the blackouts. Ethan calls his episodes “blackouts”, but what if he *was* conscious and walked out of the house on his own (and just doesn’t remember, like sleepwalking)?

    Also, check out this interview with David Cage, and his answer to the Gordi Kramer question.

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/technology/shanerichmond/100004788/david-cage-answers-heavy-rain-plot-questions-contains-spoilers/

    April 7th, 2010 2:20 pm

  6. GameWit

    Hey, thanks for that link, Tiffany. It was informative and enlightening. It’s somewhat frustrating as a consumer of video games to know that a game might have a “bible” that would explain stuff like Madison’s insomnia, but that we gamers don’t have access to it. Still, good to know.

    April 8th, 2010 4:57 pm

  7. Pete

    Good article. I agree that Heavy Rain is not game of the year quality but it is a good game.

    It’s funny but despite all the attempts the game makes to shock you the biggest omg moment I had playing the game was when Norman is waiting in police HQ puts on his glasses and plays wall ball. All I could think is how much I would love to play that game.

    April 12th, 2010 5:47 pm

  8. GameWit

    Agreed about the awesomeness of ARI. I liked how it was somewhat ambiguous as to whether Norman was addicted to ARI and took Tripto to manage his addiction, or whether he was just addicted to Tripto.

    April 12th, 2010 6:02 pm

  9. Eric H. Song

    What was up with Ethan’s blackouts?
    The psychologist says that after the accident he was in a coma, and suffered brain damage and that could explain the blackouts.
    Mumbling about drowned kid?
    In his profile, he believes that he is the killer when he blacks out, and thus could be dreaming about the exact same thing. It’s not unusual to dream about a topic you are thinking about, or just listened/saw on the radio/TV. I can’t explain the orgami, but I suppose he can’t remember his actions or what he does and if he thinks he is the killer, he could possibly act like the killer. I always thought the motel looked so similar to the construction site in the dream, I wish to have had the freedom to go around the city in a free mode like GTA using the map (I figured out that it was 85_ something roosevelt road) from the clues, could have just driven around and look for drains for 2 days.
    What happens to Grace?
    I didn’t get this ending. What if the divorce was so hard, and then being blamed for being the killer, on top of the guilt still for losing Jason was too much for Ethan to bear, to even go back to his past, his ex-wife and what used to be the love of his life. They weren’t really close to begin with after Jason’s death, why now? Especially with Madison on the scene if you got that ending.
    Scott’s “investigations”:
    I had my suspicions about Scott, at the type writer place, when he does his dirty deed, I never saw anyone come in or exit, but I thought I saw an open window. Also, in the club scene I thought it could have been him but the character model was way skinnier. I suspect that this was done to as a deus ex machina to push the story along, and fool the player. I don’t see why he had to kill the owner of the store, he seemed senile anyway. As you play Scott, I think I always chose the ‘good’ options (trying to help people with the least amount of violence) – which I suppose would be out of character of Scott (There’s a link at the end of my post with some article on this). I also wondered who was actually bankrolling the PI assignment, because wouldn’t you be reporting to someone on a daily basis OR when you get some info. But from a psychological sense, as a hypotheical serial killer, maybe saying the evidence was a form of trophy, only to be burnt when you knew it was over. I don’t know the series of events, but does he burn all the evidence after the 5th trial? What if you didn’t go ahead with one of the trials, then you wouldn’t have met your ideal father, and thus would have kept all the trophies until you met a worthy father… right? Also in regards to Gordi, I wondered why he was researching him, as the killer – he KNEW that Gori was not involved, so why all the heavy muscle and questioning? Maybe he got annoyed there was a copy cat using his MO and thus wanted to get rid of him. It’s obvious that Scott wasn’t going to stop until he met a worthy father, so pinning the deaths on Gordi is a no-go. I can’t think of any other reason.
    And some answers to some of the comments from the article:
    When Ethan blacks out at the park there are plenty of people around. Did he pass out? Did people just ignore him? When the ride stopped and Shaun started repeatedly whining something in a nasal Frenchie accent about his missing dad, didn’t the other people notice? If Ethan did just wander off, and Shelby turned up to coerce Shaun away, taking advantage of this amazingly timed blackout, wouldn’t Shaun have been shouting that Shelby wasn’t his dad?
    It’s not shown in the game, so it’s all guesses. If he did collapse, I would imagine that a hospital would have been called, and the game would then have him in the hospital and not out on the street at night almost getting hit by a truck. Also, kids trust policemen. Maybe Ethan walked off around the block for gone for a period of time. Scott has the time to get in his uniform, pretend to be on duty, see that Shaun is alone and possibly crying because he can’t find his father, and tells Shaun that he’ll take him to the police station and work on finding his dad. Totally pausible.
    Did I miss a massive piece of exposition, how did Shelby get onto that Gordy guy in the first place?
    If you left evidence in the store, (I did everything EXCEPT the phone used for 911, which has an awesome fadeout zoom in on the phone), you get to the station for some questioning. Turns out that Blake asks Scott to keep in touch if he found out any more information, so could have been that Scott was working there and starting killing, and feeling the heat at the police, so left to continue his business.
    How did Madison, after being told the name John Shepard by the nightclub guy, end up at the hospital with his mother Ann Shepard (my Naarman had died by this point, eaten by the car crusher Superman 3 style, so maybe that had some effect on this plothole)?
    I don’t entirely remember, but Madison is a journalist and has sources of information, some legit, and some underground (remember the doctor dealing drugs). So maybe she just did some research on google.
    Why did the police never seem to notice or investigate that not only were the origami killers victims dying, but all of their fathers were disappearing too at exactly the same time, never to be seen again. (I find this the most ridiculous part of the whole game).
    Not all fathers went to the trials. Hassan (Reza’s father who owns the corner store at the start) never went. Also you hvae to realise that Blake is the officer in charge of the case, he’s hot headed, brutish, and isn’t even a detective. He doesn’t even have an ARI. Seriously, he tried to blame Nathaniel with a nice beating, then pin the blame on Ethan without any real evidence. It’s no surprise these killings went on for years with no leads.
    It would be nearly impossible for Shelby to set up the Butterfly trial. From the broken glass in the tight tunnel, to the electricity use without anyone noticing, it’s just too implausible…
    Scott works as a PI, and has time for himself. The trials are probably the test trials used, so he would only have to go through the effort of setting it up once. Just throw a new box of matches. I suspect no one actually got into the tunnel, because there’s no corpse in there, or in the electricity generator part. Maybe he takes pride in his work and takes the dead bodies out.
    But I guess the journey in the game is what counts, I thought it was a fantasic game, and a step towards a better gaming future and continually blurring the lines between video game medium and interactive movies. Even us discussing these plot holes, makes me love the game even more, the fact that people are willing to think about the game when it’s over for its flaws, and not just weak arguments (ie: halo/wow forums)
    My ending:
    Ethan marries Madison and lives happily ever after with Shaun.
    Jayden is hailed a hero and appears on a talk show to discuss his case. Later, he is seen in a bathroom contemplating a vial of Triptocaine. If the player did not take Triptocaine for the majority of the game, Jayden will flush the vial down the toilet in disgust. If the player took Triptocaine more than once during the game he is seen in his office giving a report on the ARI glasses, however when he removes them begins suffering from the side effects of the Triptocaine. (I flushed it down but suffering from side effects, little crazy tanks appear on the desk and close in)
    Lauren stands over Scott’s grave, questioning why he would commit such horrible acts. She disgustedly asks how he could be with her after killing her son. She damns him for his actions, spitting on his grave and walking away.
    Further Reading:
    http://www.destructoid.com/why-heavy-rain-proves-ebert-right-165034.phtml
    http://aeryxz.com/2010/04/15/heavy-rain/
    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2010/04/spelunking-through-‘heavy-rain’s’-plot-holes-spoilers/

    April 15th, 2010 7:46 pm

  10. GameWit

    Hey Eric, thanks for the comment. I got why Ethan had the blackouts. I just thought the way he woke up from them in Scott’s old neighborhood, holding an origami figure, strained all credibility. The only way anyone’s tried to explain that one is by coming up with crazy Weekend at Bernies-type scenarios where Scott is carting Ethan’s unconscious body all over town, and that’s just plain silly. Another thing I didn’t get, though, is Ethan is having these fairly serious blackouts that cause him to wake up on the other side of town with no memory of how he got there, yet he doesn’t seem to be seeing a neurologist, or have anyone watching over him.

    April 16th, 2010 4:50 am

  11. Thomas

    These are all decent points.

    On the neurologist issue: As far as I was aware usually psychiatrists don’t usually have EEG or Mri (or whatever kind of additional scans) machines in their offices – but maybe the wealthy have access to services I’ve never heard of.
    I figured the game could have fudged the role of the doc so that he was a neurologisst-cum-psychiatrist, which doesn’t really exist in the real world (far as I’m aware).

    An issue that bothered me was the order of the trials. Ethan has access to all the origami figures from the moment he finds the shoebox. I found nothing that could explain why he would open them in that order. Yet the game (and the Origami killer) seem to assume that he will open them in a fixed order. The last trial specifically says “the last letters” before the address! What if Ethan had opened that one first? I don’t have satisfactory explanations for this.
    I mean, you could fudge it and assume Ethan maybe looked at them all, saw the one that was clearly meant to be last, then worked them in order. I think fabricating that kind of “off camera” explanation is weak, especially considering he seems to go through the trouble of reassembling each figure (if he *had* opened them to learn the order) and then shows shock on his face every time he opens them again…

    June 14th, 2010 4:21 am

  12. Aramis109

    Thomas- The origamis were numbered. Sure, he could’ve gone out of order, but one would think that’s the same thing as not doing the trial at all- no letters to clue him in on his son’s location.

    While I can’t totally remember where Ethan woke up, I seem to remember him being near the cemetery. Isn’t it possible that’s where his son is buried?

    July 27th, 2010 1:07 pm

  13. » Game Review: Heavy Rain Sigmel's Thoughts

    [...] http://gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com/11380/heavy-rain-plot-holes/ [...]

    December 22nd, 2011 3:25 pm

  14. a frustrated gamer

    i too felt left out..

    was ethan drugged or poisoned so he would have these blackouts and end up with a origami in his hand? or is it all a coincidence. someone explain..

    December 3rd, 2012 9:33 am

  15. Jayofmaya

    I didn’t have many problems with my playthrough, only thing I noted was Grace vanishing (After realising the poison didn’t kill Ethan through reading what others have posted because the game never mentions it). My playthrough was fairly standard but Shaun died as I couldn’t actually do the finger cutting thing and I found it nigh impossible to hold the button combos it was asking of me at the electric plant. I also guessed wrong passwords with Maddison, but I figured the fridge after realising there was no fire exit, didn’t even bother with the door as I knew it would be blocked in some way, so she survived. I really hated Blake so I accused him even though I knew it wasn’t him and then Norman overdosed at the end. Over all my ending sucked as Norman and Ethan died as well as Shaun. Shelby went free (Though I should imagine he gets caught at some point, he’s rather easy to spot) and Maddison was extremely unhappy. Oh well, I guess, cay-sa-ra.

    December 19th, 2012 9:28 pm

  16. Jayofmaya

    Oh and if you look at the begining of the game at the newspaper when you’re with Shaun as Ethan you’ll see Ethan is shocked at anotjher child killing, perhaps in his blackouts he goes out and investigates the murders, I suppose it doesn’t really explain the origami in his hand still, though.

    December 19th, 2012 9:30 pm

  17. Norman Jaden

    Blackouts were originally a part of the paranormal connection between Ethan and Scott. So him being blacked out and wake up with an origami figure in his hand is a result of metaphysical connection between th killer and himself because the killer was emotionally connected to him when he saw Ethan try to save his first kid from dying by jumping in front of a car. In the making of heavy rain video series you learn that his blackouts were actually dreams filled with destruction, death and water (kids drowning) which was a metaphor for the killers state of mind; Scott’s consciousness. The connection was due to Scott witnessing Ethan try to save his kids life from the car. That was also the point when Scott decided that Ethan would be his next target because according to the video. This was not satisfactory to me though, because I wonder why Scott would pick a guy that had already lost a child and already tried to save him by throwing himself in front of the car also what happened to the whole “emotional connection” thing that Scott experienced at that moment?

    I don’t even care about Grace honestly, because the whole story she just showed up at the police station one time and that’s it. Your kid is missing, don’t you think it’s time you start communcation with the father of your kid, so that you can cooperate towards something?

    Now about scott… I think scott was so calculating that maybe he thought that he had to keep the evidence till the end just in case “some real private eye” would be involved or an FBI agent like Norman so when he was asked to see the evidence he collected from victims family he could show them. I am not sure if those could be considered evidence though. The items did not have fingerprints or anything that would lead to the killer. Only the cell phones. But those did not have signal cause that would be traceable therefore Scott would give a piece of the adress by a memory card. The last one is out of the theory cause it came directly to the phone… So that’s a hole.

    Overall, I belive you underrated the game in your first paragraphs. I am blown away by the game. Controls sucked from time to time, true. Walking was kinda hard and turning to the sides were kinda weird. But the plot was special. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played and I’ve been a PC/Console gamer for the last 15 years…

    February 13th, 2013 10:28 am

  18. Ashley

    @Norman Jaden

    Just so you know prepaid phones like Trac phones, and go phones (burn phones) aren’t traceable so I’m pretty sure the phone had signal/service or he wouldn’t of been able to receive the last letters of the address. It’s not a page hole. Trac phones aren’t traceable.

    But anyways people keep bringing up that they don’t explain why Scott is gathering all the evidence, and harassing Gordi. If you get the ending where Lauren kills Scott, she explains that he was gathering all the evidence so he could up evidence he left behind at the murders. And it’s just obvious that he’s harassing Gordi, to try and get the cops a suspect that would actually be believable, so Scott wouldn’t get caught. He’s trying to pin the murders on Gordi. Also, everyone keeps mentioning that the game doesn’t explain how Scott got the boys to go with him in the first place, when Madison is searching his apartment, you can chose to search his closet and you fond a police uniform. Then she says to herself, something like always trust a cop. That the kids felt safe with him in the uniform. So all he had to do is put on a uniform and that’s why the kids went willingly with him. It’s not a plot hole, you just have to be sure to search the whole place sometimes to answer your questions. Cause it does explain in the why the kids went with him in the first place.

    March 4th, 2014 4:09 am

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