Buyer’s remorse, broken promises and something else that starts with ‘b’

I’m perennially late to the party when it comes to videogames, despite often buying key titles on the day of release. My shelves are littered with games from yesteryear that I haven’t got around to because I’m too easily swept up by the hype surrounding the ‘next big thing’. Case in point: I eagerly pre-ordered the ‘collector’s edition’ of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360 after finding enough in the demo to warrant further investigation. It cost £44.99 and arrived with me in mid-January, 2007. It’s on my shelf, still sealed, more than three years later. It can also be bought new today for less than £7. In short, I’m a dolt.

It’s one thing wasting money on games that I don’t get around to playing for years, but worse than that is my compulsion to plump for the shiny special editions. I’m a little better than I used to be in that respect but I’m still swayed far too often – despite the fact that I don’t remember the last time I actually checked out any of the extra content that comes with such packages. I guess I’m just a magpie; offer me a nice cardboard sleeve or a shiny tin for £5 more than the ‘normal’ edition and I have to fight hard to resist.

I lost that particular battle when I cracked and bought Heavy Rain on release a few weeks back. It’s not so bad on this occasion; I likely would have bought the bundled DLC separately and the soundtrack seems right up my alley, so to speak. In an unusual turn of events I started the game this week – within a month of purchase; look at me, ma! – and it’s currently treading a fine line between beauty and big, hairy ballsacks.

I’ve been fascinated with Quantic Dream’s output ever since I picked up The Nomad Soul/Omikron for the Dreamcast way back when. The involvement of David Bowie was probably more than enough to pique my interest but the main mechanic of the game itself knocked me for six; if your character died it didn’t necessarily mean game over. Instead, you could be reincarnated in a new body and continue the story from where you left off – albeit with all your stats reset.

It was a flawed game, sure. But it had enough exciting ideas to leave me eagerly anticipating follow-up Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. My expectations for the game shot further through the roof with the release of an outstanding demo that promised untold branching storylines offering the player genuine choice in crafting ‘their’ story. Unfortunately, the scene featured in the demo – the opening scene of the full game – turned out to be by far the best part. From there on in the few highlights were unfortunately counterbalanced by several ill-advised sections and a narrative that completely lost its way halfway through. Even worse, the scale of influence the player could have on proceedings was nowhere near what was promised in the lead-up to the game’s release.

And so while I was naturally interested in checking out the PS3-exclusive Heavy Rain, I was also extremely cautious about Quantic Dream head David Cage’s claims about the ways in which players’ choices could dramatically alter their experience of the game with each runthrough. Nevertheless, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Having put a good few hours into it now I can offer up a relatively considered opinion.

It’s a buggy mess; numerous sound drop-outs have blighted my play so far along with one total freeze-up. The control configuration is on the wrong side of horrific. The script is frequently poor – “It’s a painkiller… It’ll help reduce the pain.” – and the voice acting, so important in a game that places such an emphasis on drama and storytelling , is mediocre at best and often terrible.

And yet I can honestly say that this is one of the most absorbing games I’ve played in a long time. The broken parts somehow come together to form a hypnotic whole. After a slow start to proceedings I came to scenes in the game that had me literally inching my way to the edge of my seat, filled with tension and genuinely caring about the fate of the character I was controlling.

And, most unexpected of all, the game has thrown up some legitimately tough choices along the way – one of which in particular resulted in a pressured decision I regretted even as I was pressing the relevant button. I knew I was doing the ‘wrong’ thing but felt that I didn’t have a choice at that moment in time. It was an inspired scenario that triggered such an emotional response following the aftermath that I had to turn off the machine and reflect on my actions.

That’s something that’s only ever happened once before to me in around 20 years of videogaming, strangely enough while playing Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, of all games – but I fear that’s a subject for another day.

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