Going Gold

Going Gold: When It Rains …

Christian Ward | 21 Apr 2010 21:00
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Extensive Heavy Rain spoilers follow. If you haven't played the game, steer clear.

I spend a lot of time in my columns complaining about the state of this industry and its users, so it's a rare pleasure when I can state that for the first time in some while, the games industry, and gamers in general, have given me hope.

Heavy Rain has broken through the one-million sales barrier, an impressive figure for a divisive, esoteric platform exclusive. In a year when most chart-toppers have included the all-too-familiar - an online war-themed shooter, a hack-and-slash game that makes headlines for violence and nudity, and the 13th sequel in a series of fantasy games - Heavy Rain can only be seen as a breath of fresh air, no matter what you think of its quality.

The success of a game like this gives me hope, however vain, that publishers will once again be willing to put big budgets behind games that are not shooters, racers, or some combination thereof. Of course, nothing will change overnight. Heavy Rain's success only offers the potential for hope. But had Heavy Rain flopped hard, as many predicted it would, it would have sent a very strong message to publishers - one that said gamers were not ready for big-budget titles with real-world stories, games that are "mature" in the sense of the word that everybody outside gaming uses.

As a platform exclusive in these charged times, had Heavy Rain flopped it would likely have taken many years for another game like it to arrive again - as long, perhaps, as it did for Heavy Rain to follow what I consider its spiritual predecessor, Shenmue.

Of course, it may still take a long time. It takes a very brave, and possibly foolish, publisher to bankroll a game like this. Publishers want to know where their product will fit in the market, who the people are that are likely to buy it, and what other games they buy. Anybody who said that they knew the market that Heavy Rain would sell well to would have been lying. With a budget that must have run to $30 million or more, that's a bold and commendable gamble.

So let's hope that many more gambles will follow - gambles that are now somewhat easier to take, because a game can be pushed as "appealing to fans of Heavy Rain." I hope to see many imitators, if for no other reason than the fact that Heavy Rain is both so deeply flawed as a game, and deeply flawed as a narrative, that the potential for improvement is vast.

While everything I said following my first playthrough of the game remains true, subsequent playthroughs have revealed Heavy Rain's many flaws. There are so many plot holes, loose ends and unfinished thoughts that a second or third playthrough can be like peeking behind the magician's curtain.

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