It’s frustrating that my first thoughts in returning to Heavy Rain with the included DLC, The Taxidermist (for those that snapped up the Special Edition) after only a week was how difficult controlling Madison is. No sooner had she stepped off her motorbike and I had commanded her to walk forward with R2 had I managed to spin her round comically on the spot. Navigating her through an environment crammed with details was an exercise in patience, and it’s a shame that this detracts from what is yet another slice of mature videogaming from Quantic Dream.
Originally produced for gamescom 2008 to unveil Heavy Rain, and largely responsible for the huge amount of hype the game generated right up to last month’s release, The Taxidermist is the first of a promised series of ‘Chronicles’ – one-off scenes that allow players step back into the shoes of Heavy Rain’s four main protagonists: Norman Jayden, Scott Shelby, Ethan Mars and, here, Madison Paige. It’ll be interesting to see how the developer plans to weave each stand-alone episode into the plot of the main game, or whether that’s the plan at all. Without giving away spoilers, Heavy Rain is a self-contained story from beginning to end, so it’s difficult to see how the narrative can be extended. The Taxidermist neatly sidesteps these potential future issues by feeling as if it could be a scene taken from the middle of the main game, which was subsequently cut. Indeed, it has a payoff in its own right, and Quantic Dream should be congratulated for including a piece of content that doesn’t require intimate knowledge of the main story to enjoy.
But therein lies the rub. With Heavy Rain’s biggest draw being its subtle, myriad web of cause and effect underpinning every action, how much tension can be infused in a standalone scene, when the player already knows that no further scenes follow, and there are no consequences for decisions taken? Upon reaching the end of the Chronicle, the game informs the player that there are five possible outcomes to the scene, labelling each in a way that makes it clear how to achieve those outcomes, even offering the opportunity to restart from a save point to unlock them all. At a stroke, the brave decision the main game takes to disable player-created saves to watch how things might have panned out differently, is eliminated here. In the place of a constant desire to keep these characters alive at all costs is now a more casual attitude to death, one you might experience whilst playing a garden FPS or platformer. And Heavy Rain deserves more than that – such groundbreaking strides should not be curtailed with a more laid-back attitude to the mortality of your characters in the DLC. As such, these add-on packs tread a very dangerous line between autonomy and familiarity – of existing in and of themselves independently of the main game, whilst still retaining the careful balancing act of cause and effect. On the evidence of The Taxidermist, there is still some work to be done here.
Elsewhere, the DLC delivers. Aesthetically, the taxidermist’s home is a terrifically unnerving environment, akin in style and subtance to Nathaniel’s apartment in the main game, or that of the doctor. It’s intensely, insanely detailed, and once again invokes the atmosphere of the film Se7en. Unlocking the concept art reveals just how closely the conceptual artist’s vision has been adhered to, both for this content and also for the main game, and this Chronicle easily lives up to the astonishing benchmark set by the main game for graphical fidelity. The shocking setpieces are truly graphic, both visually and psychologically, again reaffirming that Heavy Rain is definitively a mature title, one that children shouldn’t and probably wouldn’t want to play.
It will be interesting to see how The Taxidermist is priced when it sees a general release on PSN; for only around one to two hours of content, it’s difficult to recommend spending a comparatively high price for, particularly considering the shift in mindset the player experiences because of that lack of cause and effect. Whilst Heavy Rain fans will jump at the chance to revisit its bleak and adult world, it’s difficult to predict whether the Heavy Rain Chronicles will add to or detract from the main game’s undoubted impact. I’ll be waiting on price details before I decide to buy the second installment in the series.