Heavy Rain

heavyrain
What we liked:
+ Incredible facial animations
+ Plot changing gameplay
+ Invokes emotion
+ Fantastic narrative
What we didn't like:
- Clunky walking
- Screen tearing and frame rate issues
DEVELOPER: Quantic Dream   |   PUBLISHER: SCEA   |   RELEASE: 02/23/2010

Unlike anything you have ever experienced before.

In a world dominated by fast-paced action games and online shooters, it can be hard to attempt something new. Quantic Dream, best known for their cult-favorite Indigo Prophecy (Farenheit) have returned to put gaming on its ear once again. Heavy Rain is a story-driven experience that takes all of the traditional ideas of what a game should be and tosses them out the window. The game describes itself as an interactive drama, and that truly is what you get. Being able to tell a story that tugs at your emotions is a difficult task, but even more so in a video game. Heavy Rain achieves this by delivering a top-notch story and an experience unlike anything else on the market.

Unlike the traditional game mantra, Heavy Rain features a set of characters as opposed to just one protagonist. You begin the game as Ethan Mars, father and husband who has the picture perfect life. Tragedies strike and when he discovers one of his sons is the next target of the brutal Origami Killer’s rampage, he will be pushed to the limit for Shaun. This really lays down the frame work for a magnificent tale full of intense decisions and gripping narrative. Up until the close of the game it keeps you guessing as to the identity of the killer, and once it is discovered you will be in shock.

For the most part the story moves along at a steady pace barely letting up from keeping you glued to the set. There are some dragging moments in the middle of the game, but they don’t distract too much. I also found a few plot holes within the story; one of which is so large it almost begs the question of why no one thought about it. Still the intensity and great writing keep you entertained enough to never bore you in the 8-10 hours it takes to complete your first play through.

Heavy Rain is the kind of game that adapts to your way of playing. Unlike a game in the traditional sense there is no game over screen. Whatever actions play out ultimately affect the outcome of the storyline. Entire sequences can be missed because of a certain decision, making this one of the most adaptive and open games I have ever played. I also found myself caring for the characters, and in the event one of them dies, which can happen, you really do feel sad. I love the idea that the game can continue on without the presence of a main protagonist; it really adds weight to all the decisions you make in the game. I found myself going back and playing segments over just to make sure my entire cast was there at the conclusion.

This is where Heavy Rain will shine or sour for players. In order to experience the game in its entirety, multiple plays are required. The game features so many branches and plot points that seeing them all can become quite the addiction. However, for some gamers going back and retracing footsteps is not entirely enjoyable. Minor decisions will change where the story goes, but the end goal remains mostly unchanged. Still not everyone will want to play through multiple times just to get a slightly different ending. This will ultimately make or break the game for you, but even if you fall into the latter category, I cannot recommend enough how much this game should be experienced by every gamer, even if it is just as a rental.

The core gameplay is definitely not your standard fare. Nearly everything in the game is performed using quick-time actions on the controller. For instance pressing directions on the right analog stick and holding several of the face buttons is really the most complex action you will perform. This allows the story to play out the way it was designed, while still giving you control over most of the actions. You can move around environments in between sequences, but this mechanic is one of the biggest drawbacks to the immersion. You hold down the R2 button to move while guiding your character with the analog stick. It sounds simple enough, but this menial task ends up feeling extremely clunky and watching your character bounce back and forth between animations really takes you out of the experience at times.

Heavy Rain is such a unique experience that it is almost impossible to review. On one hand the experience was truly invigorating for me. I was on the edge of my seat during so many sequences, and I really felt attached to so many of the characters. Still once I was done, I found little reason to go back for more. This is not a knock on the game whatsoever, in fact even through all of the ambiguity I had coming into the game, I could not put it down, nor could I not recommend it to everyone I know. The game truly is a captivating marvel that redefines what it means to become emotionally attached to a virtual character.

What really helps all of the connection within the game are the jaw-dropping visuals. The facial animations are absolutely incredible. The loading screens show off just how much detail each one has, and they sometimes border on the line of eerily realistic. Everything in the environments is extremely detailed and the weather effects are downright immaculate. This is easily one of the best looking games ever created. It doesn’t come without some problems though. Regular screen tearing and frame rate problems do crop up from time to time. This is a shame as they often take you out of the experience and ruin the immersion. Thankfully everything else makes up for them, and in the end you will be hard pressed to find a better looking game.

Sound is a mixed bag. The soundtrack is absolutely stunning. The tempo of the music picks up at just the right time and the score is so well constructed it feels like a blockbuster movie soundtrack. The voice work on the other hand suffers as much as it succeeds. Some of the dialogue is fantastic, while other times it simply falls flat. Characters convey emotion at almost every turn, but sometimes it simply comes across forced. Scott Shelby is definitely one of the highlights, while some of the less important characters really fall flat in their delivery.

Heavy Rain is more of an experience than a game, and that is definitely not a negative description. Anyone who has been enjoying games, or who enjoy games in any respect deserve to check out this incredibly unique endeavor. I admit I was hesitant coming into Quantic Dream’s latest, but after blasting through the story in just two sittings I will say one thing, it is one hell of a ride. What has transpired here may change gaming forever, or it may not make an impact at all, but if you give it a chance I guarantee you will come away impressed at the experience you just had. There may not be anything like it for a very long time.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Ken McKown

Ken is the Editor-in-Chief of this hole in the wall and he loves to troll for the fun of it. He also enjoys long walks through Arkham Asylum and the cool air of Shadow Moses Island. His turn-ons include Mortal Kombat, Metal Gear Solid and StarCraft.