Heavy Rain is a difficult nut to crack. On many levels, the latest Sony exclusive for the Playstation 3, is a breath of fresh air that updates an old game style for today’s modern gamers but its not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, regardless of what some people would have you believe. Developer Quantic Dream would like you to call Heavy Rain an Interactive Drama, I prefer the term I grew up with when playing games of this sort, Adventure game. It is what Quantic Dream’s last game Indigo Prophecy was and it is what Heavy Rain is.
Where most games rely heavily on gameplay mechanics, Heavy Rain focuses first and foremost on its story. And for a game, what a story it is. The characters are three dimensional, and I do not mean graphically. There is a weight to them that generally is not there in other games making them seem as real as characters in a film because you control them, the emotional resonance of their (your) decisions transfer onto you the gamer.
The story itself is a murder mystery / thriller. Players will take control of four very different characters over the course of the eight to nine hour game, all of which have intersecting storylines culminating in one of a variety of different endings. As the story should be experienced as fresh as possible I will avoid talking about specifics but suffice it to say the game presented me with one of the most compelling and mature gaming experiences I have had in quite a while. It was like sitting down to experience a tightly woven film.
However Heavy Rain is still very much a game, for gamers to experience what Heavy Rain has to offer they are going to have to pick up the Playstation 3 controller and get it on. The controller is a double edged sword. On one side it is what allows us as gamers to take part in the world that Quantic Dream has created. On the other side though it also is one of the primary detractors to the overall presentation of the game.
Heavy Rain entrusts control of the characters to the player via use of unique control scheme. For some reason Quantic Dream decided that for you to control your character on screen you should, for lack of a better term, drive them like a car. To move a character on screen the player must hold down the R2 button and steer them using the left stick. The controls, coupled with the static camera shots that the character can move around in, delivered an awkward tank like experience for me that at times made me want to hurl my Dual Shock 3 at the wall in anger. In the end it almost felt like I was playing the original Resident Evil all over again and there is almost nothing more mood breaking in this game than seeing your character walk repeatedly into things because the controls are clunky.
Fortunately most of the game is not handled via clunky movement but rather cinematic scenes that allow the player to interact with and guide the eventual outcome. Your character may be tasked with chasing someone down and while you do not have direct control over where the character is heading you are given control over their success or failure. Speed and precision are not the only attributes you will need to accomplish your goals, as the game will sometimes force your hand into the most twisted configurations as you attempt to press and hold down five different buttons.
Commonly referred to as Quick Time Events this gameplay element is handled with an element of sophistication that I have not seen in any other game to this point. The indicators are all strategically placed, never taking away from the cinematic flair of the situation at hand but also placed just perfectly to heighten the level of intensity. I have played a lot of games in my time but rarely have I ever caught myself holding my breath while making my way through a tense, in-game situation. It happened to me in Heavy Rain more than once.
I’ve used the term cinematic a couple of times in this review thus far and I believe it is entirely accurate to describe Heavy Rain as a cinematic gaming experience. Camera angles and lighting are set up very much like you would expect a film in the same genre to be done and the soundtrack is phenomenal fitting the emotions of each scene near perfectly. From a graphical standpoint, the game look amazing. While there are some hitches to the overall level of detail here and there (take a close look at anything that is not the main focus of the scene and you will see some sub-par textures) for the most part it can lay claim to being the best looking Playstation 3 game.
Sadly a few things do detract from the overall experience. Firstly, some of the animations, specifically those of your controlled character, are stiff and robotic looking. Secondly, the writing for the story is generally pretty good and it pulls the player through the story at a breakneck speed. However some of the character dialogue is piss poor and while the voice acting is generally pretty decent there are times when lines are delivered completely flat which can really pull one out of the experience. Finally, a lot of the game is just an illusion and only a few decisions made by the player actually have any real impact on the story as a whole.
Quantic Dream and Sony want you to believe that Heavy Rain is the next evolution in gaming and that if we as gamers do not rush out and buy it that we are single handedly telling developers we just want the status quo. Heavy Rain is a step towards more mature gaming but it is not the definitive step that some are trying to make it out to be. Games are going to continue to evolve as the developers and gamers themselves continue to and there is nothing anybody can do to stop it. However, when all is said and done Heavy Rain is not going to be for everyone, while I myself found the story intriguing, the characters likable and the Quick Time Events thrilling, there are going to be people that just don’t get it. There are just different strokes for different folks and there is nothing wrong with that.
5 of 5
Review Note: I have also heard reports of major bugs in the game, including the game completely freezing, textures rendering late or not at all, characters freezing in place, action indicators not actually showing up and some strange audio hitches. Personally I have not experienced any of these issues but it may be something that you should keep in mind when contemplating the game.