A BrutalGamer.com review.
Never before, as a game reviewer, have I felt so far out of my comfort zone. You see Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain is not so much a game as it is an experience. Now stop rolling your eyes and groaning at that statement as I can quantify it. You remember Linger in Shadows and Flower right? They were more artistic experience than game – both great and Flower was one of my favourite titles from last year – but not strictly games. Well Heavy Rain is more of an interactive movie experience. I know that phrase is the kiss of death to so many titles but Heavy Rain wears the badge with pride and with good reason. When I did my hands on back in October I said it looked good – man can I understate things!
You take the role of several key characters all intertwined in the pursuit of a notorious serial killer known only as the Origami Killer – so called thanks to the Origami figures he leaves in the right hand of all his victims. The main plot thread in loose terms follows each of these four characters as they take different paths to help them track down the killer. I say in loose terms as at certain key moments in the game it is totally plausible that your character will suffer a fatal injury and their plot path will come to an end. That is not to say the game will end, instead you proceed with the remaining characters towards to twisting, turning conclusion.
The story is woven around the incidents in the life of Ethan Mars, an architect torn apart by the death of his eldest son. When Mars’s younger son disappears he is thrown in to a deadly game of cat and mouse with the notorious Origami Killer that will push exactly how far he will go to save his child. Intersecting these events are the lives of Madison Page ( Photo journalist & avid insomniac), FBI Agent Norman Jayden and world beaten gumshoe Scott Shelby. Each characters story is woven extremely well through one another and a tight fabric of events unwind through the ten or so hours of gameplay. I will, from this point on be seriously vague because to ruin the plot, is to kill the game.
The visuals employed in Heavy Rain are truly jaw dropping. Not just for the serious amount of polygons and polish that can be witnessed on every screen but also for the exception set design and decoration. For the top notch animations, the gorgeously high resolution texture work – heck you can see the muscles twitch under the skin of a characters face and see the rain trickle down the pores in the skin. I spent so much time just watching the rain trickle down cars or bounce off of objects in this game – sounds stupid until you actually sit and watch digital rain behave just like proper rain would do. Sure there is a little screen tearing in a few places, noticeable mostly in the entrance to a nightclub scene part way through the game but it does not detract. Likewise a few animation glitches creep in at times and frames are skipped suddenly leaving things a bit disjointed. These are small prices to pay for what almost looks as good as the pre-rendered Final Fantasy: Spirits Within movie in real time. If you want to settle the “Why can’t this be done on an Xbox 360?” argument just sit the asker in front of Heavy Rain for ten minutes and the answer is crystal clear. The look and feel of the game is so compelling that after a fairly lengthy session I set out to watch 24 and was waiting for the on screen prompts so I could steer the action.. very weird feeling.
Fantastic visuals aside the game needs to at least play well to get a look in and on this front I think our audience will be polarized. You see what Heavy Rain kind of boils down to gameplay wise is a mixture of Dragons Lair, God of War’s quicktime events & the cut scenes from Metal Gear Solid 4 (all be it with the mad Japanese taken out !). See… Polarized! Anyone who is familiar with Quantic’s previous title, Fahrenheit, will have an idea of the control scheme as it was pioneered in that title and refined and improved in this one. One of the biggest upsets is that you control your character in a totally unconventional method. You use the Left Stick to move your characters head, there by orientating you in a certain direction. You then hold the R2 button to actually move in the direction you are facing. This works well in the pacing of the action but can be a little frustrating when you are trying to position your character to investigate a certain item in a scene. You interact with your environment by using a gesture system mapped to the rest of teh controller. For instance to take Agent Jayden’s ARI glasses out of his breast pocket you perform a right then up movement with the Right Stick. There are multiple variations on this theme involving slow movements, rapid button presses, flicking the whole controller in a direction (SixAxis finally used to good effect!) and the finger contorting multiple button press. All these sound pretty stale but in the context of the game the work well and translate to on screen movements very effectively. On the subject of the ARI glasses these are a novel and great way of quickly processing a crime scene for clues. A quick press of the R1 button and a pulse goes out around your character highlighting anything of interest. It’s a gimmick but a very well thought out one.
This game has, with out exception, provided me with the most heart pounding, gut wrenchingly frantic scenes in any video game. A sequence later on when Madison is attacked in her apartment leaves you feeling drained and fraught. This provides the greatest of Heavy Rains compliments, the game really draws you in and makes you experience the environments and character situations like no other title. There are countless tussles and fraught escapes in the game that should and do leave you feeling breathless and frantic. Added to this there a lots of points in the game that seem trivial that you will agonise over both during and after. Should of of killed X? Or perhaps I should of said Y. These moments provide the heart of the Heavy Rain experience and also give it replayability. Lets face it, once you know who the Origami Killer is there is little point going back right? Well these branching events and small choices make for a very compelling reason to return and experience the alternate endings the game has to offer.
Now to the story itself. Billed as an interactive movie by Quantic Dreams I can see their intentions were grand. What we end up with though is at best a TV special. A two-part special staring some D listers shown over consecutive nights on BBC One after 9pm. A lot of the plot is pedestrian and the camera work could do with some tips from Naughty Dog. The writing is passable and avoids any “game” speak to drag you out of the reality it presents. That said the story is enjoyable, and will keep you compelled to the very end. I played through with my wife watching as if a movie and she enjoyed it greatly and was ready to play through again the very next day.
The characters are likable enough if a little 2D at times. The most compelling and rounded character is the addiction battling FBI profiler Norman Jayden, although I had a good affinity for the weathered PI Scott Shelby. The whole cast of characters range from paper thin stereotypes (an antiques dealer is himself an antique) to much more diverse and likable characters. The voice acting ranges from poor to excellent. Ninety percent is passable and above but a few ropey voices, notably the kids that are plainly French voice actors trying to sound American, could of been improved. The main characters are all excellent and deliver their dialogue well and with conviction to the scenario at hand. The musical score is well suited and has a very 24 like quality to it’s approach and composition – in fact the whole game at times apes the style of TV making that 24 introduced.
Heavy Rain is impossibly subjective to score. I know the same can be said of reviews in general but this one is different. With this title Quantic Dreams have blurred the line between movie and game. Pushes gaming towards a more interactive narrative than any game has done before. There are games that mark the start of something through out gaming’s relatively short history. When iD unleashed a little title called Wolfenstein 3D, Peter Molyneux created Populous, David Braben & Andy Bell made Elite, DICE unleashed Battlefield 2’s online system, Valve released the much delayed Half Life, Gears of War perfected the cover mechanic, Sid Meir made Sim City, Lucas Arts made Maniac Mansion – all of these impacted the way game were made forever after. Heavy Rain will now be added to that list as it’s not so much the game that will stand the test of time, but the ideas and the achievements it has made in pushing interactive popular entertainment. This game should be compulsory for anyone who considers themselves a hard core gamer, or even has the faintest interest after looking at the demo. This title has it’s faults and no mistake and I hope to god that enough people buy it to allow Quantic Dreams to make a sequel as with a little more refinement to the game side, fleshed out characters and a slightly better story this would be perfect.
As a game I rate Heavy Rain as a solid 7/10, as a technological & artistic demonstration piece I rate it a 20/10. Combine this package together and you get the score levelled above. As such I still feel that rating it as a “game” is unfair. This transcends gaming as you currently know it. Sure it has flaws, the voice acting is patchy, there are technical glitches, the branching story is a slight gimmick and the story is a TV movie at best BUT, this is a watershed moment for interactive storytelling. I can not emphasis enough how much I enjoyed being involved in this game and the awe that hits you at the incredible accomplishments of the Quantic team and the guts of SCEE for sticking this project out. No other platform manufacturer would of made this game I am almost 100% certain of that. This is an experience that even someone with a vague interest in the concept of Heavy Rain should experience without hesitation – when they ask, tell them you were there when gaming changed.