• Review: Heavy Rain

    Posted by Mike Yawney on February 22nd, 2010 View Comments

    It’s rare for game studios to take leaps of faith these days. When games take so much time and money to create, it’s much easier to develop a sequel to a blockbuster title than to attempt to create a game or concept that no one else has tried. While the decision is understandable it’s unfortunate as that’s the reason we don’t see many games like Heavy Rain on the market.

    Heavy Rain is a game unlike any we’ve seen before. It calls itself a Hollywood style cinematic adventure. The game doesn’t focus solely on action (although there is plenty of that) but rather an intense unforgettable story. Yes, Sony and Quantic Dream went out on a limb with Heavy Rain. And while the game may not be for everyone, it’s an impressive title many will be talking about for a long time to come.

    The Story

    A killer is on the loose. Young boys are disappearing across the city, only to be found 3 days later, drowned in rain water with an origami figure on their chests. The public is panicking, the police are baffled, and now another boy has gone missing. You have 3 days to find him, or he too will end up dead like the rest.

    The Gameplay

    Heavy Rain is played through the eyes of four characters. You take turns playing each one and watch how each of their stories develop and their paths cross. There’s Ethan Mars, an architect who’s son Shaun has gone missing, presumed to be taken by the Origami Killer. Ethan also happens to be haunted by the loss of his other son years earlier in an accident for which he continues to blame himself for. Then there’s Madison Paige, a fashion photographer plagued by insomnia. Scott Shelby is a private investigator, hired by the mother of one of the Origami Killer’s previous victims. Last but not least, you’ll play as Agent Jayden Norman, an FBI agent with a serious drug habit.

    Gameplay for Heavy Rain is remarkably different than most games. You can break it down into two types. The first is cinematics. You watch the story unfold and control your character by reacting to different situations. Think of it as a cinematic sequence filled with dozens of quick time events. For example your character may be driving down the road and has to swerve at the last second to avoid an oncoming vehicle. You are prompted to hit a button or make a motion with the controller in order to avoid getting hit.

    The second type of gameplay is exploration. Here you physically get to control your character, moving them through environments looking for clues to advance the story and help catch the Origami Killer. Many objects can be picked up and manipulated by once again by following  prompts on the screen.

    While there are plenty of cinematics, you do get to take control of your character to explore crime scenes and numerous other environments

    It sounds strange but the control scheme works really well for this game. It helps blend the cinematic sections with the rest of the gameplay, making it feel like you’re playing a Hollywood thriller on your PS3. On top of that all of your actions affect the overall story. What you do and what you say will affect the final outcome of the game.

    But wait, that’s not it! Just when you thought the gameplay couldn’t get even more unique, Quantic Dream throws in something else. You can see your character’s thoughts on the screen. Holding down the L2 button brings up thoughts which float around your head. Each thought is shown with a button beside it. Press the corresponding button and you can hear what your character is thinking. Often the thoughts float slowly around your character’s head, but if he or she is panicking or scared, the thoughts will buzz around quickly and the button symbols will begin to blur or fade, making it difficult to pick the thought you want to hear. Brilliant.

    The Controls

    Some of the prompts you are given can be as simple as pressing the triangle button to avoid a punch. Other times they may be more complex. You may have to move the analog sticks in different directions to open doors or drawers. Other times you’ll have to make use of the SixAxis controller by physically moving your controller in a certain direction. Sometimes, the action must be done quickly, other times slowly. For example, when you’re disinfecting a wound you must move the analog stick with precision. Move it too quickly and you won’t complete the task at hand. However if you’re trying to avoid getting struck over the head with a bat, you’ll have just a split second to perform the movement. The on screen prompts not only tell you what button or analog stick to press, but also how quickly you must perform the action.

    On screen prompts help move the game forward by getting your characters to perform actions like kicking down doors

    Then of course there are parts of the game where you must press and hold a series of buttons down. Without giving away the story, there is one point in the game where your character is trying to make it through a wall of electrified wires. The game will prompt you to press and hold 6 different buttons in a certain order. If you let go of a single button or press one out of order–it’s lights out. You feel like you’re playing a game of Twister with your fingers.

    The controls work well and create some of the most intense moments of gaming you’ll ever have. When you’re fighting with another character your life is on the line. If your character dies (and then can die) there is no going back. The game saves automatically and you can not reload from a previous save point. Once your dead you’re dead. Keeping this in the back of your mind keeps you on the edge of your seat during the action sequences. Nothing gets your heart pumping quicker then knowing the life of your character depends on every button you press.

    The Graphics

    This game looks great! The attention to detail is second to none. You can see even the tiniest pores on the character’s faces. The environments look real and add to the feel of this movie style experience. There are a few times when I questioned the animation on a few objects, but these moments were few and far between. Overall it’s a visually impressive game.

    The same goes for the voice acting and music. The characters couldn’t have sounded more real, even if you hired Hollywood celebs to step in and voice them. And the music? Absolutely stunning. This game is a polished work of art.

    The Downsides

    Heavy Rain certainly shines, but there are a couple of issues which prevent it from being a perfect game. The first has to do with the controls. When you physically get to control your character and move them around the different environments, controls can become sluggish and unresponsive. At times there seemed to be a delay in getting my character to turn around and the odd time they seemed to ignore my request all together.

    See that white square. That's a prompt telling you what button to press. What is it? Hard to tell when it's being blocked.

    See that white square on the screen behind Ethan's hand? That's a control prompt. Hard to press a button when you can't see which one you're supposed to press.

    The other issue comes with button prompts. On a couple of occasions I could see a prompt on the screen telling me to press a button, but the character would block it. No matter how much I tried to move the camera I was unable to see what button I was supposed to press. This only happened a couple of times, but still worth mentioning.

    The Bottom Line

    Heavy Rain is unlike any game you’ve played before. The story is intense, the graphics and music are amazing and the action sequences will get your heart pounding. The game feels like a true Hollywood blockbuster. At the same time I have to say this game won’t be for everyone. Fans of the shooters genre will find the game too slow, especially the first couple of chapters. But listen carefully… this game is worth playing! It’s not very often game studios attempt to create something so bold as Heavy Rain. Buy it. Give it a chance. You’ll enjoy every second of it.

    The Good

    Outstanding graphics
    Intense music and voice acting
    Multiple endings
    Captivating story

    The Bad

    Controls can seem a bit sluggish at times
    Control prompts sometimes hidden by on screen characters

    • Nick

      There has been a few games of late that have tempted to change the way we look at controls. Mirror’s Edge seems to come to mind.

      Heavy Rain has done this again with their new control scheme and I LOVE IT! This is what Silent Hill Games need and should have used!

      It’s been awhile since I had this much fun playing a game and what is really the kicker here. The story line is great!

      PLAY THIS GAME! This is the future of gaming!

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