Oh look, it's February 14th! Guess it must be time for an obligatory Valentine's Day feature... without any further ado, here's our list of five titles that show why gaming just can't do romance. Also, we'll be reviewing each game on the basis of whether or not it lets you kiss your wife by pressing a button.
The biggest mystery in Heavy Rain isn't the identity of the Origami Killer - it's the answer to the question "What the hell is going on in the head of Madison Paige?".
Madison is ostensibly a photojournalist, but we never really see her writing or taking pictures. More bizarre than that is the fact that once she stumbles across a genuine, bona fide scoop - fugitive danger-Dad Ethan Mars - she immediately falls in love with him. I understand that she's suffering from insomnia (according to a swiftly-abandoned subplot) and so her judgement might be affected, but even so, he's hardly a catch: he's miserable as hell, may have mental health problems, and has a habit of losing his children.
On top of this, Madison usually runs into him right after he's been tortured by some form of physical trauma, leaving him covered in hideous wounds. As Ethan also makes no effort whatsoever to seduce her, I can only conclude that she has a fetish for missing fingers and electrical burns.
Actually, electrical burns are pretty hot. Mmm, you smell like cheap bacon!
Press X to kiss wife? Absolutely, Heavy Rain is the Godfather of the sub-genre. You can kiss your wife, help her with the shopping, and even slam plates onto a dining table, resulting in simulated disapproval.
I know we tend to mention this one a lot around here, but that's only because Bionic Commando has perhaps the most ridiculous plot twist in the history of video games.
Major Nathan "RAD" Spencer has several problems. The government betrayed him, locked him up, then let him go again when they needed his help. He's only got one normal arm, the other being a great big chunk of metal. And on top of that, his middle name is a dead giveaway for that his parents were either ninja turtles, or Bill and Ted - who presumably were gay and adopted him. Guess it gets lonely when two horny guys spent their lives travelling through time in a confined space.
Anyway, Spencer's biggest problem is that his wife is missing. Only, she's not - she was right under his nose the whole time! Or to be more specific, right under the stump of his left shoulder. Because his wife is in his arm. And he's been cheating on her with his right hand.
No, don't try to make sense of it - you can't. It's a gibberish idea, and one of the weirder examples of a game shoehorning in a (sort of) romantic angle for no discernible reason.
Press X to kiss wife? No, but you can attach her to a pole and then swing from her, if that's your bag.
It feels a bit harsh including Catherine on this list, because for the most part Atlus does a decent job of making a grown-up game, exploring the pressure of romantic relationships with a degree of subtlety we've not seen since... actually, I'll have to get back to you on that.
Anyway, the story focuses on Vincent - a direction-less thirty-something who gets a surprise when his long-term girlfriend, Katherine, announces that a) she wants to get married and b) that she's up the duff. Naturally Vince responds by freaking the hell out, getting wasted, and taking home a one-night stand, Catherine. This is then followed by a less typical response to the situation, which involves climbing up stairs and hanging out with traumatised sheep - and no, I don't have time to explain that here. Let's just say it's not a Welsh or New Zealand thing.
The point is, Atlus' commendable efforts are heavily scuppered by the fact that Katherine with a K never seems to spend any time with Vincent. They don't share a place together - he lives in a shoebox, and her home is never mentioned - but beyond that, their intimacy never seems to stretch beyond a 90-second conversation in a coffee shop... a conversation that consists almost entirely of her nagging him. The game supports their relationship with only the most skeletal of back stories, to the extent that it's wildly improbable that the two would ever kiss, let alone have sex. No wonder Vincent is surprised when Katherine announces the bun in her oven: either she's been sleeping around, or Jesus 2.0 is on the way.
Press X to kiss wife? Nope. You do get to shout at your wife-to-be, and that somewhat makes up for the incessant nagging. Or it would, if you hadn't lost your mind after the 13th bastard-hard sliding block puzzle.
Fahrenheit / The Indigo Prophecy
Years before Heavy Rain, David Cage made Fahrenheit - his first attempt at bridging the gap between games and films, using little more than his own determination, creativity and a massive team of developers. Oh, and lots of QTE sequences. Because we all like those.
In any case, like most aspects of the game, Fahrenheit's approach to romance starts out with a degree of competence and then takes a wild plunge into the inky depths of irredeemable awfulness. The first big moment occurs when Lucus Kane, the improbably cool-named "hero", is visited by his ex, Tiffany. Lucas woos her by moving a couple of boxes, playing some annoyingly earnest alt rock, and then staring at the floor and waggling his arms in a manner suggestive of a dejected penguin. At this point, the two hop into bed and the player is forced into an unbelievably awkward mini-game, one in which he must carefully time his penile thrusts. Naturally, this is accompanied by more annoyingly earnest alt rock.
As cringe-inducing as this all is, the scene has some basis in reality. Exes bang all the time, and besides - I have it on authority that the dejected penguin thing actually works. Sometimes. If they're drunk.
In any case, the Tiffany romance is like Casablanca compared to the hook-up that occurs later on, when police officer Carla decides that Lucas - a murder suspect she's been chasing for half the game - is, like, totally hawt. Actually, he's not hot at all: Lucas has died by this point in the (absolutely nonsensical) plot, and is therefore ice cold - something that Carla herself comments on. But this doesn't stop her from making sweet, sweet love to Lucas, in a disused tube train, guarded by tramps with machine guns.
Press X to kiss wife? You don't kiss your wife, but the aforementioned Tiffany sex takes 'interactive romance' to a level you never, ever wanted.
World of Warcraft
Or to be more accurate: You and that creepy guy on World of Warcraft who's pretending to be a girl.
According to Emily, the whole posing-as-a-female thing doesn't happen so much any more - proof, if proof were needed, that the glory days of WoW are long gone. But that doesn't take away from the fact that once upon a time there were loads of guys in Azeroth who were pretending to be girls. For money.
Don't believe me? Listen to the words of the following reformed offender, whose identity will remain anonymous. Although I will tell you that he works for VideoGamer.com, and has a French-sounding surname. And that his name begins in an "M". And ends in a "artin".
"It was kind of like begging, but sexy begging. You'd run into a busy hub, and start dancing in the middle of a big crowd. She wasn't even a fitty, she was a horrible orc lady.
I can't remember her name, but it had 'gurl' in it."
Press X to kiss wife? Eh, you can blow a kiss, but that's about it. To be honest, it's probably for the best that there's no physical contact. You've no idea who you're getting off with, so you who knows what you might catch...