With the release of Heavy Rain the line between movies and videogames have almost blended. Up until now most games which feature an excellent story have merely been excellent “for a game”, if that same story was delivered to us in the form of a movie we’d probably realize just how big and dumb it actually is. Quantic Dream tried to blend the proverbial line several years ago with the release of Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit for those outside of the US), although it was a valiant effort Indigo Prophecy ultimately failed at what it tried to accomplish when the initially fascinating story tapered off at the end. The intriguing tale of a possessed murdered turned in to a fight against an old lady who turned out to be a physical manifestation “the internet”, no I‘m not kidding you. The story in Heavy Rain remains grounded in reality and I genuinely think a movie adaptation of the game could work. Witnessing the plight of a man who has lost it all, going through hell and high water in as he tries find his kidnapped son is eerily captivating and your own yearning to see character resolution will run strong through-out the game.
In this interactive thriller you alternately play as four different characters who are all on the on a hunt to track down The Origami Killer, a serial murderer who leaves origami figures in the hands of his victims. Whether your characters ultimately fail or succeed on their mission entirely depends on the choices that you make and your skills as a player. At several points in the game one (or all) of the main characters can die and once they’re gone, they’re gone! There’s no game over screen here, if your ineptitude causes a character to meet his or her demise the game simply continues without them. The branching story which contains several different outcomes makes Heavy Rain a rather difficult game to review but it’s likely that once you reach the end you’ll want to restart the journey all over again just to see what changes may occur if you do certain things differently.
The first character you play as is Ethan Mars. He’s a successful architect who is blessed with a stunning house, a beautiful wife and two excitable boys. A string of very unfortunately circumstances see’s Ethan losing everything, now he’s on an almost suicidal mission to reclaim the one thing he has to live for. The second playable character you encounter is Scott Shelby, a Private Detective who has been hired by the family of one of the Origami Killer’s victims. FBI Profiler Norman Jayden is also on the hunt for the killer and he has a pair of futuristic Mission Impossible-esque shades to assist him. Rounding out the cast is sexy Photo Journalist Madison Page, after coming across an injured Ethan outside her motel room she offers her assistance and in-turn unintentionally becomes wrapped up in the whole mess.
Since by far the best aspect of Heavy Rain is it’s griping narrative I’m not going to delve too deep in to it during this review. The story is truly something you should experience for yourself, all you need is to know is Quantic Dream have revolutionized the art of story telling in a videogame medium and Heavy Rain will remain to be a benchmark title for several years to come. The fantastic looking characters and their expressive facial animations also help to immerse you in to the game. With the slight exception of Ethan (who sounds a little too calm during his whole ordeal, even though his actions reveal nothing short of desperation) the voice actors associated with Heavy Rain done a remarkable job bringing the characters to life and making them feel authentic. Witnessing how each characters separate, but very similar, lives intertwine is a joy, and it is particularly interesting to see how their completely different paths will ultimately lead them down the same road.
Gameplay in Heavy Rain features a mixture of exploration, puzzle solving and Quick Time Events. Norman has his own method of investigating thanks to those fancy shades of his but the rest of the characters are forced to search for objects and clues the old fashion way. The puzzle segments rarely feel like actual puzzles which prevents unrealistic or “gamey” aspects from rearing their heads. Quantic Dream wisely chose to make puzzles feels organic to the game world so instead of pushing blocks to retrieve keys you’re faced with much more realistic dilemmas such as ensuring you remove your finger prints from every object that you’ve touched to avoid being arrested.
The final and most exuberant gameplay element appear in the form of Quick Time Event’s. Most the game’s action intensive scenes such as fight sequences are conducting by participating in QTE’s, which in laymen’s terms means performing actions on the controller as the appropriate icon appears on screen. QTE actions vary from pressing/holding/tapping buttons or rotating the right analog stick in a specific direction. Occasionally the game will ask you to hold down an awkward series of buttons as if you’re playing finger Twister with your controller, these instances greatly represent the challenge that you’re character is faced with at that particular moment. The importance of successfully completing a QTE’s is amplified by the fact that any of your characters can actually die. Unlike games like God Of War or even Indigo Prophecy failing a QTE doesn’t simply result in you replaying the same sequence until you get it right, instead it could have drastic consequences that could completely alter story. Thankfully it’s not as cut and dry as “missed button press = death” but Heavy Rain’s intense moments will keep you on the edge of your seat like no other game has done before.
As with every good story-based game Heavy Rain constantly gives you a choice between multiple actions and dialog options. Available dialog is also presented in the form of icons with different face buttons mapped to different responses. You always have a limited time to make each decision and the on-screen icons will even flash franticly to mirror your character state of mind when tough choices have to me made. This can often screw with your own thought process, forcing you to make snap decisions before thinking about the consequences. This is story telling at it’s finest, Director David Cage and his team at Quantic Dream have successfully raised the bar when it comes to videogame narratives. I plan to play through Heavy Rain several more times and I’m genuinely excited to find out where every single branching path in the game will take me.
No game is perfect though, and as much as I adore Heavy Rain it does have it’s share of problem. Controlling your characters movements can sometimes be a right pain. Characters move like tanks and you constantly have to hold down the R2 button to steer them. It's far to easy to bump into or get stuck behind in-game objects and simple tasks such as walking up a flight of stairs can be far more difficult then it should be. The movement controls combined with the awkward camera system can also make it hard to interact with some objects. You often have to be standing in a very specific place for the ‘interact’ prompt to appear on-screen and the clunky controls can sometimes make that very frustrating. The game also suffers from pretty bad screen tearing and the graphical disparity between the main characters and the background NPC’s is almost night and day. Likewise several in-game objects and elements such as fire look atrocious and can sometimes completely take you out of the experience. These short-coming are merely slight blemishes on an otherwise flawless work of art and the fact that I am still giving Heavy Rain my utmost recommendation should be a testament to the quality of the rest of the game.
Heavy Rain is truly one of the most thrilling and immersive games I have ever played. It managed to grip me and draw me inside it’s gloomy, rain-drenched world in a way that no other form of entertainment ever has. I experienced several different emotions during my 12-hour play-through ranging from happiness, to stress, to horror but I can honestly say I enjoyed every second of it. Heavy Rain has signified just how far the game industry has come and I can’t wait to see what Quantic Dream has in store for us in the future. Until then I plan on playing Heavy Rain over again, and again, and again. Phenomenal.