Heavy Rain is Quantic Dream’s follow up to 2005’s acclaimed Fahrenheit, one of my favourite games on the original X-Box. From the point I discovered that Quantic were revisiting the gameplay they invented five years ago, with what was being described as a dark, immersive and emotionally-engaging noir-thriller where decisions are charged with importance and actions can have drastic and unforseen consequences, I was ready to sell my soul and embrace the dark side; to play Heavy Rain I would have to obtain a PS3.
Money’s a bit tight but I managed to borrow a mates PS3 for a couple of weeks, and as such, I’m going to be writing this review diary style, so to speak. I’ll be adding my thoughts over the next couple of weeks until I’m ready to give the game a rating and an overall conclusion.
So after hooking up my loaner PS3, I inserted the disk. The game wanted me to install it on the hard-drive. Well, not exactly wanted, demanded. I went away and got something to eat, ate it, returned and it was almost finished installing. Â
After screen calibration and difficulty settings I launched into the game. Hhhmmm, maybe launched isn’t quite the right word. The first scene is of a guy lying asleep on a bed. The guy is one of the four characters you get to play in Heavy Rain. Now you had to get up, got have a shave, brush your teeth and have a shower, all the while learning just how many different control mechanisms there are. All basic and fairly intuitive, and all giving you unique interactions with your character and the environment around you.
Then it’s exploring the house time, doing a little work and waiting for your wife and kids to come home. When they do, you can choose to help your wife, who will then get mad at you because for some reason you don’t seem to be able to find the dinner plates – it’s like you don’t know your way around your own house. She gets even madder when you’re not careful in putting them out. Unfortunately you don’t have the option of shouting back at her saying that its not your fault, you’re still getting used to the controls.
After that it decide to let of some steam playing with the kids.
So life is happy, and decidedly boring, until a dramatic episode that changes your life forever. Then we cut to the opening credits – this is a very cinematic game, and real convergence of game, film and those choose your own adventure books. Cinematic cut scenes cane be split into several screens running at the same time, giving you visual clues and different perspectives.
After the opening credits, your life isn’t so rosy, but you still have to do the house work…. that is until after you’ve put your son to bed and you go all dizzy, only to wake up to find yourself standing in the middle of the street, soaking wet in the pouring rain.
The game it seems is about to kick off.
And I’m off to bed.
I had a second session on Heavy Rain last night, and I finally got into the storyline as such – not that my first session didn’t, it’s just that that was more of a setting the scene kind of thing. The worrying thing is I’m still not totally hooked on the game. This may be due to my high expectations and my memories of playing Fahrenheit, where you essentially get put right into the action, and from memory there wasn’t a heck of a lot of boring bits. This is in stark opposites to how Heavy Rain is going, where a lot of it seems to mirror my daily life; feeding the kids, home work, playing with the kids etc… I’m sure this is supposed to instill a certain amount of emotional attachment, but when my child goes missing in the game, it came as a relief. It meant that I might be able to get onto some of the grittier parts of the game.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been any good stuff, playing the PI has by far been my favourite part of last night’s session, and the part that most made me reminisce about Fahrenheit. It was gritty and had some action.
Playing the part of the FBI dude however was a little long in the ear, but an essential part of what is essentially the hunt for a serial killer, and I guess realistic to what does go on in a crime scene – you know, walking around in a methodical grid looking for and then following clues.
I think there is still one more person that I get to play, then the game will probably switch from character to character depending on how the story progresses.
One thing that hit me last night was just how awesome the graphics are for the most part, with details such as individual pores in the skin on the faces of the characters – this admittedly in the cut scenes, but in a game that is carried by the quality of this cut scenes, this is a strong point. It would be easy to get lost in Heavy Rain, if it were not for a couple of things.
The first being the character animation. Now don’t get me wrong, Quantic Dream have done a great job, but there is just something not right with the way your character walks up and down stairs.
Another issue is the camera views, you only get two choices so it’s easy to get stuck in a corner not being bale to see anything – this is only a minor irritation, but it would have been nice to be bale to move the camera around whilst in free play mode.
The third issue is entirely from being a XBox gamer, and having played Fahrenheit on the XBox, the controls which are similar, have to be re-learnt to some degree, as rather than the XBox’s focus on coloured buttons, the PS3 focusses on symbols. So the dedicated PS3 player would have no trouble hitting the right key combinations, but for an XBox gamer like me, I keep having to look down. This however should remedy itself with time.
So while Heavy Rain hasn’t hooked me in as quickly as I would have liked, I’m going to stick with it because I’m sure than even though it’s taken me two nights to get this far, pretty soon things are going to pick up and I won’t be able to put the game down.
On thursday night Heavy Rain kicked into top gear with such aggression I was instantly hooked and by the end of the night found it hard to put the game down. This was the style of game I remembered, and I was loving it. True to form, and this is not the reason I’m loving it, Quantic Dream proved that they were a French development team with their highly detailed female protagonist. If you can’t read between the lines never mind, you’ll realise what I’m talking about within the first five minutes of controlling Madison Paige.
So kicking into high gear, Ethan Mars who seems to be the main character discovers that to save his son, he has to complete a series of challenges laid down by the Origami Killer. This is where the game gets really gritty and dark – to the point where you’re left contemplating the original Saw film, and wondering if the Saw game could have ever had the emotional impact of the trials that Heavy Rain forces Ethan to go through.
And yes, when i say forces, I do mean forces. Despite all of the hype and promises, Heavy Rain is still a linear game – sure, your choices to effect the storyline, but there are also many scenes where you have to do certain things to be able to continue the story.
Having said that, I’ve experience how the storyline can go in two very different ways. After pressing the wrong button on the PS3 controller and sending Madison to a very Hostel style death, it was the turn of FBI agent Norman Jayden to see his life flash before his eyes.
After killing off half of the playable characters in the game I started to panic, wondering if I could actually finish the game. I desperately tried to find an older saved game files, buy Heavy Rain was only creating one file – there didn’t seem to be a way to go back, other that starting all over again – and there was no way I wanted the hassle of having my wife yelling at me for putting the dinner plates out wrong all over gain. Fortunately I noticed a feature called chapters where you could re-load the game from any of the chapters you have played through, giving me that chance to resurrect Madison and consequently Norman.
Being able to press the correct button and save Madison’s life was a relief, Madison seems to be having a bigger and more important role in Ethan’s life, I could see they had a destiny together, if only I could keep them both alive.
Norman on the other hand – and this is a mild possible spoiler alert – even with advance warning of his life being in peril in the next scene, well no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t save his life. And he was an annoying little runt, so I wasn’t too sad to see him die. Hopefully he won’t come back to haunt me however. Hopefully I can still finish the game without his scrawny little ass.
Heavy Rain is one of those games that a lot of people won’t get – its an immersive story that you get t interact with and help influence the direction. You do this mainly through trying to hit the correct button combinations, or controller movements. It’s easy to see why Quantic Dream decided to make this a PS3 exclusive – the extra processing power, larger BluRay capacity and the motion controllers all make for a far better experience that could be had on the 360. It’s hard for me to admit, but this is the genre where the PS3 reigns supreme over the 360. Infact, since starting Heavy Rain, I haven’t even noticed my XBox.
Of course it’s not all cut scenes and button mashing sequences, you are on the trail of a serial killer so there is a fir bit of exploring to do, and as such you get to move your characters around, third person style. Camera issues dogged me for the first couple of nights, but then I relaised that yes,I could actually look around. Collision detection and tight spaces can still be an issue, but this is minor and nothing that other games don’t suffer from.
The atmosphere is another part of the game where you an tell Quantic Dream put a lot of effort into getting right – from the cut scenes to the choice of music, and the intensity of the music – as in any good film, it gave you subtle hints as to what was happening, and more importantly, what was about to happen, giving you subtle hints that maybe you should be doing something different.
Far from being the perfect game Heavy Rain is, as it’s predecessor was, a groundbreaking game and definer of it’s own genre. It succeeds in incorporating the intention of many other games, such as the likes of CSI and Saw, but doing so in a way that it’s not the sole focus, and more importantly, in a way that works well.
If you’re a fan of police dramas or serial killer films, as well as being an adventurous gamer, you’ll probably fall in love with Heavy Rain and find it easy to become a raving fan of the game as well as Quantic Dream. You may of course struggle with the long lead into the game, and may wonder why you picked up and game that seems to have you running around doing household chores, but stick with it and it will reward you.
Reviewed on: PS3
Available on: PS3