Heavy Rain Demo - Review, Speculation, Thoughts
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There's something to be said for the atmosphere of games. Atmosphere has made a home for itself in gaming more recently than not. Early Atari and MS-DOS titles never had the particular capability for ambient music and detailed settings, so its not a terribly old practice to make a game very atmospheric or have a lot of personality outside of the writing. It wasn't until the the fifth generation when such games like Metal Gear Solid, Goldeneye, Ocarina of Time, or Final Fantasy VII were able to build a deeply atmospheric game setting.

While there's not a precedent for presentation in gaming, there's no shortage of expectation for it of late. Games like Uncharted are really raising the bar on writing, voice work, graphics, and detail in video games. However, while these seem to scratch the surface, it takes a game like Heavy Rain to really, really push the boundaries. This is something Indigo Prophecy tried in the previous generation. While it wasn't a smash hit, a pretty impressive score of 83 on Metacritic is nothing to scoff at. Although the reviews were all highly praising, the low scores were very scathing. Mine was among them.

My biggest issue came when there was a gear-shift in the story, going from open-ended decision-adventure-mystery into a terrible series of action-movie climaxes that diverted the game's multiple ending story into a line-up of repetitive bosses. The action scenes themselves were only part at best, gameplay-wise, and the turn of the story felt too forced for me to feel like I was participating. The game had a gimmick, a indicator on the scene shift that announced the temperature outside. The game started cold, on a snowy day in a dingy diner. By the end of the game, it was roughly twice as cold as any recorded temperature on the inhabited Earth.

While it had an impressive atmosphere and such a great handle on story telling aspects, the story was the crushing disappointment. As much as I wanted to feel like it was just a fluke, a mistake that wouldn't happen again, I was introduced to a title called Heavy Rain. Same developers, same writer, and same feel to it. Carla of Indigo Prophecy had achluophobia (fear of the dark) and claustrophobia (fear of tight spaces), Scott of Heavy Rain has asthma, and Detective Jayden apparently has a drug problem. Where Lucas (IP) had a mystic cult behind his puppet strings, Ethan seems to be haunted by a terrible past and a psychotic Jigsaw-clone. Indigo Prophecy has the cold, Heavy Rain has rainfall, measured in inches at every scene change.

While this might seem circumstantial, it just builds a bridge between Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, and for the latter to repeat the mistakes of the former. The question is how well it will manage to keep the elements that worked, and ditch those that didn't. The demo is unclear on that, so it will be up to the finished product to really come to the conclusion there, but there's enough to comment on. So without further preamble, the review itself.

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If there's anything Quantic Dreams can write the book on, it's how it manages to build an atmosphere almost without equal. The tone of the game is completely gripping, and every instant spent in the world refuses to let go of the player from the get-go. It's impossible not to notice, and is commendable for how unshakable capable the game is for managing to grab the player by the brain from the first button press, and hold onto it. Both parts of the intro, when watched, are slow, drawling, and drag on, and on, and on. This isn't a game that can be turned on a few minutes before work. Where the game fails to excite, it lets the player experience. The exploration, the looking around... It honestly feels like a real world going all around the player. Where most games provide stock NPCs who fulfill their space-obligation, Heavy Rain has a heart that beats beneath the surface. Every texture, every scowling face, every drop of rain. It all seems to live, independent of the player. That's an accomplishment worth a king's ransom.

The graphical ability of the PS3 certainly does not let this game down. It really builds a visual world, dark, wet, and beautiful. The rain splashes harshly against the coats of the passers-by, umbrellas curb the rain that acts as a shelter for those standing beneath them, and everything just seems to work. Clocks tick-and-tock, stairs creak when you step on them. It is a monumentally successful demo, atmospherically speaking.

The problem comes when we stop letting ourselves get wrapped up in it all. The accents of the characters all seem to be dodging the American standard, one which should probably be followed (if the five dollar bill at the beginning of the demo is any indication), and a lot of the voice work just doesn't seem to fit. Volumes sometimes rise and fall jerkily. The controls are often awkward. There's a very minimal visual difference between "press button once" and "repeatedly tap button" in the QTE moments, and any point that requires holding one or more buttons can often get awkward if three face buttons are in the equation at once (Try holding Circle, Square, Triangle, and R2 at the same time for proof of that.), and the motion-capture movements can sometimes appear so alien that they're actually harmful to watch. While these irks are minor, and short-lived, they can interrupt immersion, which is almost a cardinal sin for overly cinematic games like Heavy Rain.

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Another irk is that its all done, better, elsewhere. The aforementioned Uncharted (specially Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) manages facial structures, personalities, motion-capture, and expressions better. Considering that game's main focus is the mobility and gunning mechanics, how it manages the secondary goals of interaction and cinematic effects better than Heavy Rain is almost absurd.

For as hard as I am on it, Heavy Rain is pretty successful. While the game doesn't seem to have the facial steadiness or voice talents of Uncharted, the atmosphere more than makes up for it. Where the voice work sometimes fails, the rest just helps is slide by unnoticed. An overarching coherence really pulls it together.

Recommendation: If you own a PS3, and are into this sort of thing, the demo is easily worth the 1.3 GBs it takes to download and play. It really does manage something special, and might even tide you over until the full release.

However much I can say about presentation, though, I have to withhold a final verdict. The PS2 demo for Indigo Prophecy would've gotten a similar review, having been a deep, enthralling confluence of events. The problem in the story didn't even manifest until the latter quarter of the game. So whether or not Heavy Rain will fall down the same pits is yet to be seen.

My biggest issue, which is more implied than proven, is that the game has multiple endings. These endings are affected by who dies (which is repeatedly advertised as not ending the game, rather simply continuing the story without that character), decisions the player makes, and things of that sort. The problem is reading carefully enough into the lines shows a frightening prospect. Going back up to a line in the review, this part of the game manages to shoot itself in the foot: "It all seems to live, independent of the player."

Any game requires the interaction to work. Levels in games are designed to be just high enough to require a player to go to this point, get this power-up or item, and return to overcome the trial with the new ability. It's a mechanic that's been around for a very long time, and one that will persist in the future. However a game may limit its players progress, its tough to convince a player that an accomplishment wasn't theirs. Even if Samus was the powerful super-human that took out Ridley, it's the player that killed the giant monster. Even if the chasm required the jetpack to clear, its the player that got the jetpack and made the jump. The player does the heavy lifting.

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Heavy Rain, even in the demo, shows signs of having only the slightest regard for the player. While it may seem like the player can talk to passers-by in order to get a better understanding of the situations, the passers-by won't even speak. If a player tries to leave a crime scene when missing a pivotal clue, the game will bald-facedly force the player onto the clue. Make no mistake, the player is simply an actor in a play. While they may get to choose high or low roads, both roads lead to the same destination. It means that the choices are an illusion. It makes for imperfect interaction. That sort of predestination blurs the line between playing and being played.

While it's present in all games, Heavy Rain really makes you feel powerless.

So perhaps this is all meaningless speculation, and Heavy Rain will be that next step into gaming storytelling and atmosphere. Or, like Indigo Prophecy, the player is just a pawn in Quantic Dream's tale, unable to escape their fate.

Great job. I am very excited for this game. I feel like you captured its essence, as well as what makes could break the game for some players. Personally, the things you mentioned would not break the experience for me. I wish I could get the demo, but I'm saving myself up for the game. This and Alan Wake have been on my list for a long time, and like the giddy child I once was, I want them to be fresh experiences. Even if they disappoint. The only flaw I could make out in your review was that the seconded and third paragraph got a bit confusing, but that may just be my brain being slow due to it being late. I'll check back tomorrow.

Your writing never ceases to amaze. On the review however, I still remain very wary of this title. I'm probably going to give this game a rent as I was burned with Indigo Prophecy when it came out

Im glad you wrote this since i dont have a ps3 and its not on steam at the moment. I really like indigo prophecy though so youll forgive me if i disagree a bit because to me atmosphere is everything in a game and it looks like heavy rain will be just as good if not better.

I've heard various talk about how Heavy Rain stays realistic throughout. Meaning the story won't bend itself ass-backward in the final act.

I also disagree with your reasoning about the player being able to make choices. The reason one cannot leave the crime scene without finding evidence is due to Norman not wanting to do that. He's an FBI agent. He didn't just drive to the crime scene to sit in his car and then decide to leave. He came to find evidence and that is what he must do. Saying that this limits the player choice is rather absurd as it's meant to put the player in the shoes of Norman. If you were Norman would you have the need or right to leave the crime scene when clearly it's your job to be there?

There's an error at the start of the third paragraph. Other than that the review was fine if a tad bland. You had a steamy pasta on the plan and put just a little millimeter of blandness on it.

Good review. Just one thing I wanna say. You mentioned that the character models in Uncharted 2 are better looking than Heavy Rains. I would have to diagree with that. Just look at the picutre with Madison in your review. It looks way more real with the water and shadows than what Uncharted 2 could do.

The envoierments are a different story, there I would agree that Uncharted 2 is superior, but on the character side of things, I will have to turn my back against Naughty Dog on that (I will turn my face towards you again Naughty Dog though! Announce Either Jak for PS3 or Uncharted 3 ,and I will run to wards you and give you lots of hugs!).

I had problems with this game from the beginning, from the fact you have to point in a direction AND hold R2 to walk (who thought that would be a good idea!?) to the fact that the circle around the dialogue options makes it quite hard to work out if you need to hit a circle or a square (usually not a problem, but the bit where you have to question a hooker seems to be timed, and you only get a single chance of them flying round the guy's head).

By the time it got to the bit with the FBI Agent and it stopped mid cutscene to make me open the car door before it continued the cutscene, I genuinely thought it was a joke. For all their attempts at immersion, it made me very aware that I was in a game.

handofpwn:
Im glad you wrote this since i dont have a ps3 and its not on steam at the moment. I really like indigo prophecy though so youll forgive me if i disagree a bit because to me atmosphere is everything in a game and it looks like heavy rain will be just as good if not better.

its a ps3 exclusive. so it wont be on steam. sorry. just telling you so then you get hyped up only to find out you cant play it. Unless you find a person with a ps3 and knocked them out. or you could asked them to play it. :D

Beautiful review as always new. Granted I have no interest in this game, but the review was masterful :)

The voice acting is a bit mediocre but I think the game is pretty innovative. I can't wait to play it.

It's pretty obvious that a lot of us felt this way from the get go, and it is exactly what the developers said it wasn't going to be, an interactive movie. It was a nice attempt to try something new. We'll see what happens in the full version anyway.

Pimppeter2:
Great job.

Lost In The Void:
Your writing never ceases to amaze.

darth jacen:
Beautiful review as always Nuke.

Thank you all. Seriously, it's comments like these that keep me writing. (And sorry for misquoting, Jacen, I just get really confused when I'm referred to as "New." I can hardly tell when someone's using the word "new" or referring to me.)

handofpwn:
[T]o me atmosphere is everything in a game and it looks like heavy rain will be just as good if not better.

I have to agree here. I personally loved the atmosphere in Indigo Prophecy, and I likewise will probably love the atmosphere in Heavy Rain. I find that any game like this has to be worth its weight in gold for art direction or atmosphere to really capture an audience, and the game is above and beyond sufficiency for that. My problem with it tends to stem more for the general direction, not the art direction.

My problem with Indigo Prophecy is that I drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak. The demo had me positively giddy for the game. I loved everything about the atmosphere. The insane asylum section of the game still clenches me up. Any game that can make me completely forget the "It's just a game" mantra is a stellar win in my book. Everything about the depression meter, the tone, the style of the narrative, it was all so interesting.

The the story to a jerking twist, and leaned so heavily away from what I felt it should've been. It became less about the player, and more about the director. When a work of art stops caring about its audience, it becomes above the player. Game should be about and for the player. The medium became more pivotal than its audience, and it alienated me instantly. A writer once referred to that point in the game, in an FAQ with "Now uninstall the game and break your disk. You beat the game, and now that your disk is broken you can't prove me otherwise. So there."

And he was serious, the FAQ stopped there. Just like my interest, hopes, and dreams. It all fell. Although the wonky hop-skip narrative is supposed to be better for this game, how much is the player being recognized? Who's more important to this game? Quantic Dreams, or the player? That's what will make or break this game. Time will tell which.

Cleril:
I also disagree with your reasoning about the player being able to make choices. The reason one cannot leave the crime scene without finding evidence is due to Norman not wanting to do that. He's an FBI agent. He didn't just drive to the crime scene to sit in his car and then decide to leave. He came to find evidence and that is what he must do. Saying that this limits the player choice is rather absurd as it's meant to put the player in the shoes of Norman. If you were Norman would you have the need or right to leave the crime scene when clearly it's your job to be there?

It wouldn't be an issue if the game didn't give the illusion of a more sandbox world. It seems a bit like the player is making the choices they make, but they're pre-written, it's all an illusion. And while this illusion shouldn't serve to break the game, (because I was intentionally trying to botch the investigation, which was the second time I went through the demo), it wouldn't let me. If anything, that's a step back from Indigo Prophecy's demo. Because I could make every mistake I wanted in that demo, and it let me slump my mood horribly. I failed miserably at that 'mission,' and was very proud that I could. It proved that the game promised me the freedom to act in the world it had promised. I made the choices, and I had to live with them.

In Heavy Rain, I may be controlling Jayden, but I wasn't making the choices. He controlled what I saw, when I saw it, and when I could leave. I couldn't, and that frustrated me. The game's trailer told me I make the choices, but only the ones it told me to. Why can't I miss a piece of evidence? Could Jayden have missed it? Sure he could, because I did. Anyone could have. The game wouldn't have it, though. The illusion of freedom is always more evil once we realize where the invisible walls are painted. Normally I'd say fault of the medium, but this game advertises on being different. It should be fair to dock points for not delivering.

It's a minor irk, very small, but no less worth mention.

IamQ:
You mentioned that the character models in Uncharted 2 are better looking than Heavy Rains. I would have to diagree with that. Just look at the picutre with Madison in your review. It looks way more real with the water and shadows than what Uncharted 2 could do.

I wasn't talking about the models themselves, which I must confess was a mistake on my part for not clarifying. My issue is where the model movement comes in. Possibly because there's such a large range of motions the characters are making in Heavy Rain, it meant less time tweaking every individual twitch or tock a character has. After staring at the opening gameplay cutscene in Uncharted 2 three or four times, there's something a lot more natural about it. Then I realized it was a lessening of the uncanny valley effect.

Excepting the girls' eyes (which shine inhumanly in nearly every cutscene), Uncharted seems to handle the little twitches of a face a bit better. Nate's face twitches at the eyes, cheeks, chin, and mouth when he winces at the beginning of the cutscene. He eyes dart along with his arms and hands, fingers flexing as he looks at them. His eyes sink when mine would, he lolls his head back when exasperated, mutters more. He laughs nervously, both at the lips and the eyes. He feels more there, more alive. (For reference, the first cutscene in this video. [Beware minor spoilers.])

Comparing it to Heavy Rain's trailer (here), little things seem off. The face doesn't quite peel back on certain words, or the head turns a little too slow, or the eyes don't seem to sink as they blink, they just twitch down and up. The mouths don't move the same way, the eyes don't narrow when they glare... They're all infinitely small things, nothing but a hair's width in the universe of the game, but they stick out more because that's all there is to see.

Take grammar for an example. a sentnce like this seems almost nrmal bcuz the overall is consistnt. When if you compare it to a sentence like this, which is so close but not quite right, theres something wrong with it that just calls that single flaw to glaring attention. The same works with the uncanny valley effect. If it's close, but not close enough, everything becomes glaringly apparent.

Heavy Rain just doesn't do as good a job at simulating the twitches as Uncharted 2, and it shows.

Meant to post my thoughts on this a lot sooner but kept getting sidetracked.

I really liked the overall scope of this piece. Thought it did a good job placing the analysis of the demo in the context of your previous experience with Fahrenheit along with some interesting thoughts on the player's level of autonomy. It was a well chosen approach, especially given this game seems to provoke discussion on a level that may not be comfortably addressed in a review focusing more on Heavy Rain's merit as a consumer item, rather than an high profile attempted advance in game design.

I'm surprised at the period you say convincing atmosphere in game worlds became feasible though. Chrono Trigger certainly matches the games you listed for me, as well as FFVI, Lucasarts games, Panzer Dragoon, Out of this World etc. It seems too biased towards 3D games, although the impact another dimension adds to atmosphere building is undeniable.

I'm hoping that the seemingly restrictive opening is just a way to ease players into the style of gameplay, and that it will give the player more freedom to determine the order and nature of plot events that the player experiences. This is probably an unreasonable prejudice on my part, but as Quantic Dream are a Parisian company, and David Cage has taken the role of, at least the creative spokesman, if not the dominant creative force at the studio, I can't help wondering if they've been adversely influenced by auteur theory taken to excess. One of the critical views toward Tarantino's output this decade being the easy example regarding to a prominent, distinctive style that redefines the vernacular of the medium to an extent, but gets caught up in egoism and the intended audience is sidelined in favour of the creator's personal urges. Resulting in a flawed product at best. I'm sure the French critical stance has developed over the 50, so I may just be making an inoffensive, casually racist slur. As well as being needlessly pretentious.

Just a final comment on the actual review part. Those first two paragraphs establishing the atmosphere of the game are fantastic and really gave an evoked a sense of the atmosphere, but then the review shifts into a list of quibbles that felt quite plain. I kinda attribute that to the way the graphics paragraph is so precisely evocative, so the subsequent, rather vague, list of problems and technical accomplishments felt a bit lacklustre. It's an excellent piece, though, I'm not crazy about some of the phrasing like "Going back up to a line in the review, this part of the game manages to shoot itself in the foot: "It all seems to live, independent of the player."" and it seemed a little unpolished imo, but I enjoyed it. And moved Fahrenheit up a few places on my "to-play" list as a result of reading it. I'm also very jealous of the ease you seem to incorporate introductory phrases.

Excuse me why I try to work out why all my comments on your reviews turn out so huge. I suppose you can take it as a compliment though.

 

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