Heavy Rain, released Feb. 23 2010, is Sony's latest exclusive for the PS3. Developed by Quantic Dream (the guys who brought us the fabled Indigo Prophecy on the original XBOX), the game explores a world rich with characters, intrigue and plenty of heart-stopping moments. Dubbed THE psychological thriller of this generation, it doesn't disappoint in the slightest. The game's ability to rely completely on the use of quick-time events (specifically timed button presses) to control the game is executed perfectly and makes for a more cinematic experience the draws you deep into mystery.
How far are you willing to go to save someone you love? Not something you think or talk about on a daily basis, but at the same time not altogether unfamiliar. It's the underlying edge that drives Heavy Rain through it's emotionally turbulent (to say the least) forecast. The story revolves around several characters although if you had to select a main character it would be Ethan Mars, a father of two who tragically loses his oldest son in a car accident when he loses sight of him in a crowded mall, and that's just the beginning. The story takes many dark twists and turns as it hops between the 4 playable characters; Ethan Mars, FBI special investigator Norman Jayden, private investigator Scott Shelby and Madison Page who suffers from chronic insomnia. All of whom are involved in some way with the mysterious Origami killer whose latest victim just happens to be the son of Ethan Mars, who in a way almost taken directly from "Saw" has to overcome a series of tests to save his son from certain death.
I remember when I saw the first teasers and tech demo's for Heavy Rain a couple of years ago, that I was completely blown away with how real everything looked. Now I don't just mean that if you stopped to look at the scenery it looked like real footage, I mean that the characters and the environments they are in looked believable, and they delivered. The guys over at Quantic Dream have taken the industry a step forward by using realistic character emotions, in other words the characters don't always have the same look on their face. This makes for some really engaging storytelling as you feel a much larger personal link to the characters than you normally would in traditional games. It also makes for some great visuals as the characters are beautifully rendered and animated so fluidly that at times you feel like the game is just one big cinematic. The game isn't without it's shortcomings though, despite it's strengths in this area. Some less important characters, environments, and items (like telephones, pots, anything the characters interact with etc...) are very poorly done and stick out like a sore thumb against the far better done backgrounds and characters. Thankfully these breaks in the splendor are short lived and far between.
In a game where so much revolves around the experience and story, it's nice to see that they were able to get a musical score that fits the bill and good voice acting. The characters sound believable and the dialogue isn't altogether too cheesy although there are a few moments, as to be expected. I do recommend playing with subtitles turned on however, as some of the sound levels can get a bit wonky at times and you won't be able to make out that important piece of story.
Much like Quantic Dream's XBOX title Indigo Prochecy, Heavy Rain isn't played using conventional means. The game is almost entirely controlled by quick time events (you do get to control where to walk, however that's about all of your freedom) which let you interact with the world and also fight when needed. At first glance it may seem odd or scary to have to play an entire game using only times button presses but thanks to some intuitiveness, it never gets stale. Some interactions have you use the analog sticks (such as opening doors or putting on Norman Jayden's ARI sunglasses computer) while others (such as getting Scott Shelby's puffer ready for use) require you to take advantage of the PS3 controllers built in six-axis motion technology by shaking it in various directions. The other cool thing that has never been done before is tracking the speed in which you carry out certain events that will reflect in the in game animations, for example if you motion with the stick to slowly put on the sunglasses, the animation will take longer in game. But the real treat here is that not everything gives you a second chance, the game isn't afraid to kill off characters and drastically alter the story just because you were taking a drink and couldn't mash the X button fast enough. This is what really seperates Heavy Rain from it's competitors, everything you do (or don't do) in the game has a consequence be it good or bad. Even in fight scenes, normally if you miss a button press the scene will restart and restart until you get the sequence correct, while in Heavy Rain if you miss an event action you'll find the fight will take a different path than if you did it correctly. This really draws you in and immerses you in the story so that you feel responsible for everything that happens in the game.
Heavy Rain is a must play through for any PS3 owner, and for those who don't have a PS3 go watch it at a friends house. The story is extremely compelling and highly addictive, you simply won't want to stop playing just because you want to see what happens next. And because of the use of quick time events as a control mechanic, there isn't a lot of time wasted learning menu systems or combos. It also allows for multiple people to sit down and play the game start to finish, perhaps filling up the spot your favorite TV show used to?
Although Heavy Rain is a must play, and an extremely satisfying game, there are a few issues. As previously stated not everything in the game is treated with the same meticulous care, and it shows. Certain objects that the characters interact with are inexcusably poorly done (jagged lines and pixelated textures plague most non-static objects) to the point where it almost makes you laugh, which in a game as dark as this, kind of kills the mood. The only other real issue is how you navigate around the world (in the few times it gives you free reign). Instead of your classic controls of left stick move and right stick camera, Heavy Rain adopts a control scheme more akin to a racing game. Holding R2 controls your movement speed (just a little pressure to walk, and full grip to run) and you use the left stick to steer. It will throw you off at first but after awhile you will grow accustomed to it, although there are a few times where combined with changes in the camera angles, it was pretty bad.
8/10 - Excellent
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