There have been few games quite as polarising as Heavy Rain this generation. While some scathed its claims to be the next leap in interactive entertainment, I thoroughly enjoyed it despite some of its apparent flaws – the pause menu alone was simply dazzling. Despite the game’s charting success, Quantic Dream has already ruled out the possibility of a direct sequel and will instead release a series of episodic downloads entitled Heavy Rain Chronicles, each focusing on a particular character from the full game.
Starring lead protagonist Madison Paige, Episode One: The Taxidermist finds the feisty young journalist on the trail of a possible link to the Origami Killer named Leland White (a taxidermist as you might have guessed) who resides in a secluded, horror-movie-esque house. And, predictably, all is not what it seems.
The Taxidermist is set around 2 years before Heavy Rain, and as a result the plot is not concurrent to the main storyline. Once again, you can control your character around the strikingly well rendered environments and interact with objects through clever control inputs, such as moving the controller to nudge a barrel over or open a window. In other words, the gameplay mechanics present here are identical to that of Heavy Rain.
The pacing of the episode is especially well done, with the opening scene seeing Madison leisurely investigating the barren abode for clues after forcing her way in. There’s a foreboding sense of tension as you work your way through the increasingly eerie quarters and, after some unsettling discoveries, things intensify as the taxidermist himself, a suspected murderer, returns home unexpectedly, leaving Madison in impending danger and you the player with crucial choices to make.
The sheer terror and suspense of the situation is brilliantly portrayed, reminding you just how intense and involving the more dramatic scenes of Heavy Rain can be. As the shady character settles into the house, your objective is to ensure that Madison does not attract his attention, and ultimately keep her alive.
You can quietly tread across the floorboards to avoid discovery, and in one scenario you can even hide under a bed to avoid detection, requiring you to hold down several buttons for an agonisingly inordinate amount of time. It really stresses the predicament you have landed in.
As gripping as it was, the excitement was disappointingly short-lived – my first play-through was over in about 15 minutes when I was expecting considerably more for its proposed $4.99 price tag (anyone who purchased the European special edition of Heavy Rain can download it free of charge). However, it doesn’t entirely end there.
In the vein of the full game, there are 5 distinctly different endings to uncover, which are all helpfully indicated via a checklist at the end of each game, allowing you to revisit any of the 3 chapters to see how you can influence the outcome. The more interesting sequences occur if you make a complete horlicks of the proceedings however, resulting in a series of chaotic chase and fight scenes. As with the full game, Madison can also die a grisly death but this of course makes little sense in the Heavy Rain canon if The Taxidermist is meant to be taken as a prequel.
The actual run-time may be short, but this narrow focus and versatile structure allows for more incentive to play it multiple times to find out how you can directly manipulate each scene.
The Taxidermist was actually produced as an early tech-demo back in 2008, and unfortunately, it shows. The voice acting is predominately wooden, with Madison being voiced by an entirely different actress, Carla Valenti, from Quantic Dream’s previous game, Fahrenheit. In addition, Scott Shelby is also the voice of the antagonist, which is a tad jarring to say the least.
My biggest gripe however is that we don’t learn anything groundbreaking about the character of Madison other than the fact that her journalistic work on the Origami killer began long before the events of Heavy Rain. What it does do however is combine all of Heavy Rain’s central elements of exploration, suspense and emotion into one cohesive, albeit short, package.
After Grand Theft Auto‘s Episodes from Liberty City set the benchmark for what is possible with episodic DLC, it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed with The Taxidermist‘s shortcomings – it’s more of a light drizzle than heavy rain. Hopefully future instalments of Heavy Rain Chronicles will be fleshed out with a more substantial length and insight into the characters, but for now The Taxidermist is a decent enough distraction for the low asking price that manages to perfectly highlight the more exciting elements of Heavy Rain.
Gamer Limit gives The Taxidermist 7.0/10