Heavy Rain is an experiment in game design that succeeds in new and exciting ways for gaming but is also plagued with some very unfortunate flaws. It’s not a game in the typical sense as players have only some control over a characters actual movement. The game consists of small exploration segments, quicktime events and some walking around. It doesn’t sound like an exciting game, or even much of a game at all, but don’t brush it off just yet. It’s the way the game uses these simple mechanics to weave a story about murder and emotion that will hook you in. An interactive movie would be one way of describing it. Does Quantic Dream’s new title succeed in shaping a new hybrid of cinema in video games, or is this game all talk and no action?
The main focus of Heavy Rain is the mystery of the Origami Killer. All the characters you control will play their own roles in the telling of this story, but how large of a role is up to you. The story takes some odd twists and turns but does arrive at a proper resolution in the end, all decided by the decisions you made earlier.
During Heavy Rain you will have the chance to control multiple characters who all have certain skeletons in their closets and demons on their backs. The game does a good job of revealing insights into characters pasts and thoughts through interesting ways. Ethan Mars was a man that had his whole life in proper order before devastation throws his entire world into disarray. Scott Shelby is a former police officer turned private investigator who struggles to balance asthma, drinking and tracking down leads on the Origami Killer. Stuff like this help separate this game from the usual terrible cliche video game characters who solve every problem with bullets. The burden lies somewhat on the player to truly reveal the characters thoughts and motivations. It’s important to investigate areas as well as remembering to check a characters thoughts by holding down a a trigger. Characters are well rounded enough to be interesting, but the voice acting is up and down. It’s actually distracting to listen as voice actors do a poor job of covering up accents. When it’s good it’s great, but when some of the more cheesy dialog meets up with bad voice acting it can really produce cringe worthy results.
The visuals of the game vary some but usually impress. The characters are beautiful as well as the environments. Some weird lip syncing animation can distract momentarily, but it doesn’t break the deal. It’s key that a game that relies so heavily on it’s story has characters that can produce proper facial expressions. In this way, Heavy Rain doesn’t let you down. Characters move in ultra realistic fashion and the effects impress as well.
Actually Playing The Game
When you get down to the meat of the gameplay, it’s really quiet simple. Onscreen prompts get everything done. Roll the stick to the right to slider a door open, or press x quickly to dodge an incoming punch. Some more complicated prompts show up later that will have you holding down up to five buttons at a time, which can really test your finger dexterity. Although quicktime events don’t seem like fun, when your characters life depends on it, it’s insanely engrossing. It’s the storyline that really matters and the quicktime events are a only a vehicle that the character must use to shape his own fate. One of the best things about Heavy Rain is the knowledge that you can die or be captured at many points in the game, and the story will roll right along. No retry. No game over screen. It’s up to you to make the right calls to keep everyone alive, but it doesn’t require you to do so. Characters might die suddenly (as was the case in my game) or get to live happily ever after. It’s an interesting experience to have to control over little things, such as opening a cupboard, pulling out a box of juice and finally lifting it to your mouth to drink. That simple task can be spread out over 4 different actions you need to fulfill. It’s a unique experience no doubt.
The dialog in the game is handled in a somewhat clunky fashion. Options swirl around your head each coinciding with a button press. It’s a little frustrating when you have little time and the option you want is shaking and moving and just generally difficult to read. I think something like the Mass Effect 2 Dialog system could have helped set this game on sturdier ground.
You can also play this game two times and have wildly different outcomes which is fantastic. It’s strange that the game does so many new things but fails at old things. Character movement is horrendous. Characters control like tanks that have lots their treads and randomly decide to take a left when you want a right. Your hands will sweat as you try to nail every button prompt on screen because someones life is usually on the line. It helps everything have a weighty feel, even if the wool is somewhat being pulled over your eyes occasionally. The game also throws in some memory testing sections that really turn things up and should have been a more heavy component in my opinion.
In The End
While the game does present itself as something new, it only delivers on half of the promises it makes. The storyline is interesting, but absolutely filled with plot holes and ham-handled red herrings. The action sequences are intense but cluttered with control and camera problems. For everything the game does right, it does something else poorly. It’s an experiment with mixed results. I would recommend you play it just for the experience, but as a game and a piece of entertainment it doesn’t transcend the medium like I had hoped for.
[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]