Monday, March 01, 2010
What's wrong with Heavy Rain's controls?
On Friday, I mentioned that some of the criticisms of Heavy Rain seem off-base to me. The biggest one has to do with the controls. There seem to be two essential complaints about them. One is that you're not really controlling your character. The other is that they are arbitrary quick-time events. The result: You are providing inputs at certain times, but you're just watching the characters perform the actions.
This is factually true, and experientially insignificant. I agree with Tom Cross when he says: "I’m not sure what everyone is complaining about when it comes to Heavy Rain’s controls. They’re too abstract, or something? They’re not like 'real' game controls? It’s really unclear."
Start with the question of abstraction. Sure, buttons don't map to specific actions. That's because the actions your character can perform are so different. Using the right analog stick to perform the bulk of the character's actions does seem to me to do the job, especially since Quantic Dream made an effort to have the control input track to the onscreen action (like pressing it to the right in order to open a sliding door). I suppose you could have a context-sensitive action button instead, but, really, what's the difference? Well, I can think of one: pressing a button feels less like opening a door than moving a control stick does.
Heavy Rain does have its share of action scenes that wouldn't look out of place in other games, like fistfights, and, yes, they do control differently than you'd expect. You don't have specific actions like "punch" and "guard." Instead, you have to quickly respond to onscreen prompts within a time limit. This, again, seems to bother people who are used to more traditional playing styles. I've found it to be rather exciting. I never know what's coming next, and I tend to mess up just enough to leave the outcome of the scene in real doubt.
"But you're not really playing it!" some complain. Well, I'm pressing buttons to create onscreen action, aren't I? Maybe I'm being obtuse, but I don't see a dramatic difference between these two scenarios:
-Press X when prompted to dodge an attack (Heavy Rain)
-Press the left trigger when the opponent's weapon flashes to dodge an attack (Bayonetta)
Bayonetta has been praised as pure gameplay, while Heavy Rain has been criticized for being all cutscene. Yet in each case, it's a matter of split-second reaction to visual cues onscreen. I'm not saying they're exactly the same, but I am saying that it's a difference of degree and not of kind.
A control scheme can only be judged by how well it allows the player to experience the game. Other than the first 10 minutes or so that it took me to get used to making the characters walk around, I've found the controls of Heavy Rain to be up to the task. No, they wouldn't work in many other games. They don't need to.