Warning: The following contains MASSIVE SPOILERS for both Heavy Rain and Red Dead Redemption. Read at your own risk.
So I just finished Red Dead Redemption and along with several other excellent titles, including Heavy Rain , it is easily one of my favorite games of the generation thus far. However, after seeing the final act of RDR and contemplating that outcome, something in my head generated a forced combination of Rockstar's gem and Quantic Dream's masterpiece.
Heavy Rain is an example of fantastic artistic and storytelling achievement in the interactive entertainment medium, but despite having more freedom and being able to impact a branching storyline like never before, it remains almost entirely linear. We may participate in different portions of the story – and entirely miss others – depending on our decisions, but we still follow a set path. In Redemption , we see a GTA-like structure that doesn't really show us anything new in terms of storytelling, but gives us the freedom we've come to expect in sandbox-style experiences. …so what if we combine the two? What if we create a game that immerses us into an epic, almost endlessly-branching tale that requires us to think and weigh consequences as we would in real life?
At this point, some will attempt to point to various RPGs we've had in the past, where we have freedom and decision-making. But that's child's play compared to what I'm suggesting. Here's an example- what if Heavy Rain 's world was as wide open as RDR's? What if, at the start, we could leave the house with Ethan and go wandering about? What if Scott had Madison had run into each other earlier? In RDR, let's look at the climax: Edgar Ross and his hypocritical band of government "officials" shoots John Marsten for various crimes. One can argue for Ross and Co., I suppose – depends on what sort of line you take with the law, and whether you believe a man can redeem himself of committed atrocities – but that's not the point. I never trusted Ross. I fully expected him to shoot me the instant Dutch was dead. If I had had my way, I wouldn't have gone home before attaining closure, one way or the other.
So what if I had simply rode to Blackwater and shot Ross? Of course, I probably would've been branded an outlaw once again and I'd be on the run with my family, but is that not an entirely different branch? And what about Bonnie? What if I had had the option to pick Bonnie instead of Abigail, my wife who I hadn't seen in a long time? You know, sort of like the option of either forgiving or not forgiving Madison in Heavy Rain . In the latter, I was never allowed to do any forward-thinking; it was more about focusing on the current issue and seeing where it goes. But that was due to the linearity; if I had seen the entire world in which the Origimi Killer operated, things would've been very different. And if RDR had offered the very intriguing (and very human) options of Heavy Rain , we'd have an unbelievably lengthy and evolving Western tale.
Thing is, I've often railed against games that supposedly have "ultimate freedom" because they don't include any storylines or character development. The "create everything yourself" idea is nice, but I consider it a dodge more often than not; a way for the developers to bypass any need for actual writing and plot. Wandering about aimlessly and doing almost whatever I please in Oblivion isn't what I'm talking about. Wipe out a village or town; whatever, I don't ever feel connected to anybody involved, including my own character, so I really don't care in the slightest. In Heavy Rain – and in some ways, in RDR – we become very close to the characters because of good stories. I said in my Heavy Rain review that it was the "most human" game I had ever played and I stand by that. And I experienced mixed emotions when John Marsten met his end.
That is something I don't want to lose. But at the same time, I would love to be in full control of an established set of storylines; a "choose your own adventure" of epic, RDR or GTA-like proportions that would dwarf Heavy Rain but give a sandbox adventure more humanism than ever before. It would require a ridiculous script of literally a thousand pages or more, with probably an unheard-of amount of voice acting and other aspects of game creation, but look how far we've come. The best we had was Super Mario Bros. only 25 years ago, which is a drop in the historical bucket. I've long since stopped believing I could predict what's next, or what the limitations of gaming might be. Therefore, I'm hopeful that such an idea might actually become a virtual reality at some point…and if it does, I want credit for it.
As if hundreds of designers hadn't entertained this exact theory a hundred times before but recognized the impossible scale of it.