The Taxidermist is the first of the Heavy Rain Chronicles- standalone downloadable scenes in the style of Heavy Rain, and following the lives of its characters, before the events of the main game. This episode has you playing as Madison Paige, news reporter and shameless sex object, as she investigates a taxidermist whom she suspects may be the Origami Killer. The first half of the scene has Paige searching the house for clues, while the second half is more action-packed.
Gameplay is, in essence, the same as Heavy Rain (see VGC’s review of Heavy Rain here), part interaction with the environment and part reflex action. Unfortunately, what I found to be the most interesting part of the main game – the conversation – makes no appearance in The Taxidermist. However, what is there is reasonably enjoyable, if a little simplistic. Okay, very simplistic. The most complicated action you perform involves kicking an oil drum. You don’t get the same empathy for the character that you got in Heavy Rain- a ten minute experience is very different from a ten hour one. If a character died in Heavy Rain, they were dead for the entire game. If Paige dies in The Taxidermist, she’s dead for the twenty seconds it takes to reload. Not that it’s really possible to die unintentionally. It’s actually one of the endings, and it’s rather time-consuming.
It was the empathy that really drove Heavy Rain, and allowed most people to overlook its faults- it was an incredible emotional experience. You cared about the characters, because they were the characters that you had created, and watched progress through a difficult phase in their lives. There's none of that here. You take control of a character, you play with the character for fifteen minutes, you stop playing as the character. And as these are standalone experiences, or so Quantic Dream claims, so there won't be anything like Heavy Rain in the Chronicles, which is unfortunate.
The story itself is clichéd and predictable. I won't go into specifics, which would spoil the one part of the story which is mildly surprising, but... one part of the story is mildly surprising. Suffice to say that you'll understand why Madison Paige is unable to sleep, but not why she gets attacked by imaginary ninjas in the middle of the night, and none of her other odd characteristics are explained either. Perhaps she's just an odd person. I suppose there are a few more Chronicles to come, though, and this begins to fill in some of Heavy Rain's plot holes.
The graphics are, as usual, fantastic, but the environment isn’t particularly varied- everything is indoors, or around a house. There was no noticeable slowdown, and no real glitches. The voice acting, from all three characters, is of a good standard, unlike certain voices in the main game. For some reason, Paige is voiced by a different voice actor. To be honest, though, this doesn't make much of a difference, and you won't really notice it.
Beyond that, there isn’t really much to say. There are five possible endings – only a few of which are canon – which are each summarised by a newspaper article at the end. The first playthrough will only take around 10-15 minutes, and if you are so inclined, you can get all of the endings within an hour. But chances are, you’ll get bored of replaying the same scene over and over again before you have finished those five playthroughs (the scene is split into three parts, roughly equal in length, and you can load from any of these).
The Taxidermist is pretty decent. It’s not painful to play or anything. Imagine Heavy Rain, without any sympathy for the characters, with easy and repetitive gameplay, and fifteen minutes long, and you have The Taxidermist. As a scene, it’s actually quite good. As a $5 downloadable content pack...not so great. If you were a huge fan of Heavy Rain and you want some explanation of Madison Paige’s erratic behaviour (though not a great one), then by all means, give this a shot. But I was a huge fan of the main game, and The Taxidermist did nothing for me.