Review: Heavy Rain
Quantic Dream, the creators of the critically acclaimed Indigo Prophecy, also known as "Fahrenheit", are back with their newest entry in their "interactive movie" game concept. Their newest game, Heavy Rain, exclusive to the PS3, is them attempting to raise the bar in interactive video games and set a new standard for games to come.
- Worth The Time?Yes, it's an excellent game.
- Things LovedThe gripping narrative, the characters, its originality, the way the game manages to pull off its QTEs extremely well, the fantastic graphics, Quantic Dream has taken a big step forward in this emerging genre.
- Things HatedIt has a very slow and sometimes boring start, it can occasionally be tricky to figure out what a quick time event wants you to do, there are some noticeable graphical flaws, there are plot grievances.
- RecommendationAll gamers should aim to give this a try, because it's unlike most games you're bound to find and is an exceptionally interesting concept.
- Name: Heavy Rain
- Genre: Adventure
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PS3 Exclusive
- Developer: Quantic Dream
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R550
- Reviewed On: PS3
Heavy Rain was one of the PlayStation 3’s most anticipated titles of 2010 and it’s been a long time in the making, announced back at E3 of 2006. As you can see, we’ve come a long way since then, so if you’re asking now if Heavy Rain lived up to all the hype and promise, I can say quite shortly and simply, “Yes it did, mostly.” A few imperfections and damaging flaws in an otherwise amazing and original creation in gaming – one gamers will not be forgetting any time soon.
Heavy Rain is definitely not a game for kids. The game has really dark and mature themes, and this is already evident from the premise of the game. One of the more interesting aspects of Heavy Rain is that you don’t control only one character, or briefly control another character other than the protagonist during a set scene in the game. Rather, Heavy Rain has you, throughout the game, play as four main characters, each connected or become connected to the game’s main antagonist, The Origami Killer. This is a psychological thriller, and the game definitely lives up to that. I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the story, but just know that each character has quite an interesting structure and all four of them bring something exciting to the table. There’s Ethan Mars, an architect with a wife and two sons who’s life goes from perfect to hell in one moment, there’s Norman Jayden, the FBI agent with a dangerous drug problem, Madison Page, a journalist who suffers from chronic insomnia, and Scott Shelby, a retired cop working as a private investigator.
What makes these characters have such an impact on the story is the fact that they are indeed ordinary people who get mixed up in extraordinary situations. The way Heavy Rain has presented these characters is done so well that you find yourself caring about them despite the fact that these characters are neither deep nor remarkable. It’s the fact that they are down to earth and involved in situations of such terrifying proportions that you can’t help but feel directly involved, especially since you’ll be controlling these characters and determining how things will play out. I have to say that the character who makes the most powerful impact is undoubtedly Ethan Mars, followed by Norman Jayden. Purely because of how terrifying their experiences are and how you’ll be getting the most exciting and tense moments from them.
Unfortunately, here is where I mention the first flaw with the game. Quite simply, the game has a very slow start. I know what you’re probably thinking right now, “Oh come on, we’ve seen slow starts before, as long as what comes later makes it worth it”, which is more or less what eases the pain of a slow start. However, you get slow, and you get Heavy Rain slow. Let’s put it like this. There was a time quite a while back, around the time Grand Theft Auto IV was released, where I said to some of my fellow gaming buddies, “You know, with the amount of realism some games opt for, I wouldn’t be surprised if one day a game is so realistic you’ll have to eat, shower and take a crap!” (Yes, don’t say it, The Sims, but that’s a life simulator for a reason) Well, Heavy Rain’s start came pretty close to my vision. You’ll wake up in the morning, as Ethan, get out of bed, and start doing mandatory things like brushing teeth, showering, putting on your clothes and helping around the house. It does make for a solid tutorial to learn the controls and get used to the game, but it’s just, well, boring, and you’ll only fully be getting into the game one or two hours in. However, what’s to come is most definitely worth it, so I strongly suggest sticking it through. There are some very relaxing moments as well as emotional and tense moments in between the boring parts, so that helps.
Heavy Rain’s gameplay is extremely basic, but quite frankly I don’t believe there could have been a better gameplay concept for the type of interactive movie experience Heavy Rain was opting for. However, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, as it does have its frustrations and flaws which get in the way. You control your character’s view and direction with the left analogue stick, and walk by holding down R2 and the left analogue. I felt that this was a bit unnecessary and sometimes annoying, to have to hold down R2 to walk rather than purely use the analogue, but once you get used to it the problem goes away somewhat. Also, it can be irritating to control the direction of your character sometimes, as they won’t always go where you want them to, so you won’t be able to interact with an object that you want to. Holding down L2 allows you to view your character’s current thoughts, where you can then press the face buttons to hear them out fully. To sum up the gameplay, yes, it does consist entirely of QTEs (quick time events) and using the various buttons to interact with people and objects while free walking. But Heavy Rain, aside from God of War, has probably made the best possible use of QTEs you’ve seen before, and they really make the game so much more immersive as a result.
Basically, as you’re free walking around, you’ll be able to interact with objects as you please by pressing button prompts that appear on screen. For example, moving the right analogue upward while near a bottle of wine could pick it up, and the speed at which you move the analogue effects the speed in which the character picks up the bottle. However, when entering a cinematic event, such as a fight or chase scene, you’ll be doing QTEs. Button prompts in white boxes will appear on screen and you’ll have to press them on time, hold down the correct ones, shake the controller and move the right analogue in certain directions. Now for the most part, these QTEs are excellently pulled off, as they are not only fluid, easy to follow and effective, but they also add so much immersion and tension to the game. To paint a picture of a fight, for instance, jerking the analogue to the right could avoid a fatal attack, followed by square to punch back, then missing a button press and getting hit as a result, followed by rapidly tapping triangle to get back to your feet. A lot of these scenes are done so well that you’ll quite literally be sitting on the edge of your seat purely due to how the game captures you and out of fear of making a mistake.
However, what’s great is that one mistake doesn’t result in a game over, in fact, there is no game over screen. No matter what happens, the story and game goes on. Furthermore, missing one or two button prompts in a QTE event doesn’t result in failure, as you’ll be given a few more opportunities to redeem yourself and gain the upper hand again, which makes things even more intense, realistic, flowing and immersive. Unfortunately, it didn’t come without its problems. Firstly, due to the manner in which the on-screen button prompts are displayed, it’s not always easy to tell whether the game wants you to hold down a button or press it, especially during an intense scene. It’s not gamebreaking, but it can cause you to mess up a few times. The other problem, probably the one I found to be the most annoying, is that during a tense sequence where you are required to speak or react, your character’s thoughts and reactions, which are displayed around him and each assigned to face buttons, will visibly shake and jitter, to illustrate fear. The result is that it can be hard to see which face button is assigned to which choice, so because of this you could end up choosing the wrong option, especially since you have a time limit in these sections, and failing to choose an option will lead things in a new, possibly unwanted direction.
As you know, Heavy Rain is all about the story, and what a story it is. Here I’m referring more to the powerful driving narrative, the way the plot is carried forward, and brilliantly immersive element to the game, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the entire plot. Most probably the greatest failing in Heavy Rain is the ending to the game. While there are plenty of twists and turns and simply incredible moments to experience during the game, the final revelation, which is the identity of the Origami Killer, is hugely disappointing. Sure, they crafted his backstory well, but when he is revealed you don’t experience the big “shock” effect that Quantic Dream wanted you to, instead you laugh at the ridiculous road the plot takes near the end and the identity of the killer. However, in its favour, the game does keep you guessing as to who the killer might be, which is good despite the fact that suspects are rather lamely and forcefully introduced in an attempt to throw you off course. They seem to wearing signs that read “I’m an ass face, therefore I can be the killer”. The plot holes that start becoming evident, the senseless actions of some of the characters start showing and the lack of explanations for certain aspects will start annoying you. And yes, I think we all expected an extremely high standard from the story, because that’s what this game is all about. Fortunately, the experience you’ll go through does lessen the pain of the cliched and lame plot twist at the end, but, I mean, Heavy Rain is supposed to be the blend between gaming and film, and while it does achieve this amazingly as far as gameplay and immersion is concerned, purely looking at the plot on its own will leave you disappointed.
Which ultimately brings me to my next point. Heavy Rain is, without a doubt, a love-hate game, but one I’d still advise every gamer to try, purely because of the unique and original experience it offers. Either you’re going to hate or love every minute of it, and you’ll know for sure once you get into the game after one or two hours. However, in order to enjoy Heavy Rain, you need to approach it with the correct mindset, simply because attempting to rate this game is incredibly difficult, due to its love-hate factor, and will bring controversy. Do not walk into it expecting over the top gameplay, but rather as a movie you’re going to be immersed in and drive forward yourself. If you are one to be critical and harsh on stories, then I’d advise you approach this with the mindset of seeing how far we’ve come in gaming to deliver a unique experience like this, to determine for yourself if there is a bright future ahead in games like these and if Quantic Dream have really begun something incredible. In short, approach this as you would an experiment and weight its successes and failures. The reason I am emphasising mindset here is because, for instance, those who know me would often hear me say that gameplay is the most important factor and Heavy Rain’s is just QTEs. Well, aside from the fact that they have excellent execution of these QTEs, this is something new that attempts to blend game with film and, as such, shouldn’t be treated the same way as the rest. Just like you wouldn’t treat, say, Mirror’s Edge as you would a normal first person shooter. If anything, Quantic Dream definitely deserve respect and admiration for taking the risk and attempting to create a game like this and managing to do so much right with it.
Due to the nature of Heavy Rain, presentation would naturally be one of the most important aspects, as it’s something that could make or break the game. Fortunately, it’s mostly presented very well, but it’s not without its shortcoming. Visually, characters are fantastically well done and immensely well detailed, mostly referring to their faces and shape. However, it’s the little things that bring the experience down. People’s hands and objects, both environmental and material, lack detail and polish. Some animations people give off can appear stiff and inhuman at times. On the upside, the dark, gritty and depressing theme of the game is spectacularly recognised with the never-ending rain, emphasis on earthly and morbid colours and scenery. Voice acting, for the most part, is good, but unfortunately, the end result is that some characters are really great and some are average. For a game where narrative, characters and voice acting is more than essential, this can harm the experience, especially since it’s easy to notice the weak areas among the great ones. Another plus is that the dialogue is incredibly well done, as characters say realistic things and mostly deliver their lines really well, making each conversation as real as you can find in games. The music present in the game features beautiful sound tracks that really capture the sad moments in the game, flare up the tense ones and set the stage for the game’s overall theme. Without some of these pieces, I can say that Heavy Rain would easily lose a lot of its value.
Your first playthrough will take round about 8 or 9 hours, which is relatively short, but so very sweet. How you feel at the end of the game will determine whether you want to return for a second playthrough, but personally I don’t think the second playthrough will hold nearly as much value as the first. If not, but you’re curious, you can replay chapters that you have completed, and since you are prompted to save or not, you can play through chapters again making different decisions without affecting your main save game. If you so choose, there is an incredible amount of time to be spent playing Heavy Rain, especially to see the alternate endings and paths the story could go. It should be noted that things don’t dramatically change for a lot of the game, as the massive changes occur at the end of it, based on how you performed. There are dialogue changes and a couple of new directions that characters go in, but you’ll mostly play the same sequences. However, the way the plot carries forward regardless and the slight changes here and there in dialogue and, of course, the multiple endings make Heavy Rain an admirable game.
Heavy Rain is, ultimately, an incredible experience. Unfortunately, as a game it doesn’t always quite make it to the top, as a number of graphical flaws and errors in execution harm an otherwise amazing and original creation in gaming. Despite everything, when you’re playing through some of the most intense moments you can find in a game, when you’re entirely immersed into the world that Quantic Dream created and, overall, while you’re experiencing a completely new side to gaming, it’s hard not to discard the flaws and simply admire what this game does. As much as I’m praising it now, the controversy surrounding its love-hate nature makes it near impossible to recommend an instant purchase to, but at the same time I strongly urge all gamers to give this game a try, because you might find yourself in one hell of an experience. Heavy Rain is one of the most interesting and memorable games I’ve played in a long time, and it’s a definitive step in the right direction for interactive movies in gaming. Or the epitome, depending on your perceptions of it.