It’s hard to know exactly how to describe PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain. It lies somewhere between interactive movie and straight-up adventure game, borrowing elements of both while adding something completely new. It’s an ambitious attempt at a new kind of experience, presenting intriguing possibilities of new directions that games might take. Its reach exceeds its grasp in some respects, resulting in some disappointing flaws, but the moments when Heavy Rain comes together are breathtaking to behold.
Your time in Heavy Rain will be spent following four different characters – Norman the FBI agent, Scott the private investigator, Ethan the father and Madison the insomniac – as they each search for the Origami Killer in their own unique way. Each chapter of the game features a different character, though their paths do intersect from time to time and all four put their own particular stamp on the mystery, sometimes bringing up more questions than they answer. It’s a tricky way to tell a story, especially one as delicate as a murder mystery, but Heavy Rain pulls it off, for the most part. Characters will occasionally follow up leads that seem to have come out of nowhere, and some of the red herrings are clunky, but overall the story is well constructed and intriguing. The villain is as clever as he is cruel, the threat is genuine, and you are quickly running out of options. It takes a little while to get going, but once it does, Heavy Rain‘s story will keep you glued to your controller as you race against the clock to save the Origami Killer’s latest victim.
Unlike many games with multiple characters, all four of Heavy Rain‘s protagonists are capable and interesting, with storylines that you’ll enjoy unraveling. It’s a shame they’re not all given equal game time, though. Scott and Ethan get the lion’s share of face time, consigning Norman and Madison to a mere handful of chapters, which is particularly heartbreaking because using Norman’s forensic tool, ARI, to scan crime scenes, locate and analyze clues is easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game. You don’t have to be a CSI junkie to feel a surge of pride when the invisible trail of orchid pollen you’ve found leads you to some well-hidden tire tracks that just may help you identify the killer.
Heavy Rain‘s core gameplay should feel fairly familiar to fans of classic adventure games – talk to people, search the environment for hot spots – but its use of the controller is unconventional. Rather than simply clicking, you’ll use a combinations of the buttons, right thumbstick, and the Sixaxis motion controls to approximate real life movements. Pushing up on the stick will raise your character out of his chair, for example, while shaking the controller back and forth will extinguish a match. It feels odd and forced at first, but after an hour or two, it begins to feel organic and natural. It’s as though the controller vanishes and you’re directly connected to the character. Players not quite so familiar with the PS3 controller may never quite reach that point, but the unorthodox control scheme has another benefit – it forces you to pay close attention to the screen and, taking in every nuance and detail. This is something you will grow to appreciate as your pursuit of the Origami Killer becomes more dangerous, trust me.
Quick-time events aren’t exactly one of gaming’s most beloved elements, but Heavy Rain may just change that, because its QTEs are intelligent, exciting, and above all, fair. They’re used sparingly enough so that they remain fresh and vital, but the fact that they usually occur during a high-adrenaline situation like a fistfight sure doesn’t hurt. You’re not just jamming away frantically on random buttons either. Push right and you might elbow someone in the ribs, but a push up will sock them in the jaw. Most of the quick time events are also fairly long, so you can screw up a few moves and still successfully finish. Even if you don’t, you’re not sent back to the beginning to try again; the game, like life, moves on whether or not you’re happy with the result of your efforts. You may actually want to blow events, just to see the many different possibilities.
Heavy Rain‘s story and intriguing controls pull you deep into the experience, making it easy to forget you’re playing a game, but sooner or later, one of the game’s flaws will remind you. Some of the distractions, like uncanny valley situations can be chalked up to technical limitations, but the voice acting is also sadly hit and miss. Some actors give spot on performances, while others fail to convey even the smallest emotion. Almost everyone is also very, very French, which is odd, given that Heavy Rain takes place in Philadelphia (where my own accent originates). The European influence isn’t solely in the voice work, though; the localization also suffers from small, but jarring inaccuracies. The Origami Killer’s victims are found on “wastelands” – vacant lots – and Scott tells one suspect to “stop giving him the crap.”
Heavy Rain isn’t something you play, it’s something you experience. It’s surprisingly subtle at times, genuinely terrifying at others, and even when it breaks, it’s still outstanding. This is a game you’re going to want to have played, because it’s going to be talked about for many, many years to come. Whether it’s as a groundbreaking moment for the medium, or as a bold experiment that didn’t quite come to fruition, we’ll have to wait and see, but I definitely hope it’s the former.
Bottom Line: Flawed though it may be, Heavy Rain is simply brilliant. If you have ever, even for a moment, felt like you’ve done and seen everything gaming has to offer, play this. Games will feel brand new to you again.
Recommendation: If you have a PS3, you should play it. (Yes, even if you weren’t in love with the demo. It takes a while to really get in tune with the game’s unusual vibe.)
Susan Arendt was disappointed to not hear a single “youse guys” in the entire game. Philly, indeed.