Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Available for the PlayStation 3
Developed by Quantic Dream
Published by Sony Games
This is going to be a controversial review. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Then again, if I expected people to agree with what I write, I’d be better off pawning my keyboard.
Heavy Rain has been called a lot of things in the pre-release hype. One long QTE (quick-time event). A masterpiece of storytelling. Just another adventure game. A game-changer. None of that is entirely inaccurate, but none of it comes close to describing what Heavy Rain really is either.
Heavy Rain, at its core, is the world’s first role playing game. By that, I mean REAL role playing. When you dive into Heavy Rain, you will be living someone else’s life. Four someone elses, to be exact. You will perform actions as pedestrian as brushing your teeth and cooking breakfast. Does that sound dull? It isn’t because it’s all part of an effort to truly immerse you in a character for the first time in the history of video games.
Heavy Rain, on the surface, is the tale of the hunt for the Origami Killer, who is a serial killer that preys on young boys. They’re taken, killed, then dumped and posed in a specific way, always with an origami animal in their hand. The story is difficult to describe: Imagine if Saw had been directed by David Fincher from a script by Dashiell Hammett (Google him, you lazy, illiterate bastards). You follow through the last few days of the case in the shoes of four very different people: a private detective tasked by the victims’ families to find the killer; an FBI profiler brought in to help local PD catch a break; a former investigative journalist plagued by insomnia who stumbles into the case; and a father whose entirely broken life shatters even further. At first, these four seem completely unrelated, but by the end they are all drawn together for the finale.
I’m going to go ahead and address the elephant in the middle of the room: Yes, the vast majority of the controls would qualify as ‘quick-time events’. (Those sections in many games like God of War and Resident Evil 4 where you have to react quickly to on-screen prompts and hit a sequence of buttons to pass the scene.) However, I’m here to tell you that to limit their description to QTE’s is a terrible mistake.
Director/creator David Cage and Quantic Dreams have mastered what they attempted with their previous game, Indigo Prophecy (Farenheit in Europe). They’ve created a control system that works almost as a language. By the time you finish Heavy Rain, you’ll be able to anticipate what the control sequence will be for a task. Opening doors always fits the same format if there is no handle to turn. If there is, a different method applies. Moving things with your arms/shoulders always uses the same general layout. Even footwork uses the same layout each time it comes up. QTE’s are often arbitrary sequences of buttons. Heavy Rain never, ever does that. The controller becomes the strings you use to manipulate these puppets. You are piloting them through life, not idly watching action as arbitrary commands leap out at you. By the time you finish, you’ll be a master puppeteer.
The conversation system is also very well done. Like some modern games with dialogue trees, you don’t choose a response, just a topic or an emotion. The innovation here is that your character’s mental state affects things. If you’re in a panic, or physically wounded, expect those topics swirling around your head to be as jittery as a meth head on a five-day bender. You only have a certain amount of time to respond in most cases before you just pick one randomly. Again, realistic…who can stand silent in a tense situation with another person, pondering what to say for three minutes?
The controls are not perfect. Walking is done via the old survival horror ‘tank’ method. R2 walks you forward, left stick points where you want to go. Walking past things and having to turn around awkwardly is an issue. Frequently, you have to adjust a few times to hit the sweet spot to activate what you want to do.
Other than the occasional walking issue, however, the controls allow you to become completely immersed in the lives of the characters. This is vitally important because the amount of involvement you have in Heavy Rain is unrivaled.
As in life, everything you do matters. At first, this was a source of stress for me. I was having a hard time getting into the game because I was worried about every little decision. “Okay, I turned the light on. Oh crap, I wonder if that changes anything! Gah!” I found my groove when I realized that this was just another life, and the only way to enjoy the game would be to treat it as such. Who is this character? Who do I want them to be? How do I want them to live? Not just how to react to stimuli, LIVE their life?
Once I sank into the characters, I was hooked. This is a desperately sad and emotional story. All four of our characters are broken in some way. Sometimes you get a chance to change that. Most times, as in life, a person’s damage is beyond their ability to repair. Do you have the energy and focus it takes to take care of a child? When the clock seems to spin out of control, absorbing every waking moment? Do you have the stamina to resist an addiction? Can you keep a cool head long enough to beat it?
The game completely owned me during one action sequence. I’d been injured (missed a prompt or twelve) and had to complete a task quickly. For some reason, I couldn’t get it to work. Down on right stick … very simple. I’d do it, and nothing would happen. I’d do it again and again, and I’d start for the item, then start writhing in pain again. I lost that key item, didn’t succeed in the task, and there’s no going back. I was PISSED. Then, it struck me … I hadn’t tried hard enough. I was supposed to keep trying, to struggle against my situation, through my pain, and get the job done. I’d finished the first step, my struggles succeeded, but then I gave up on the second part of the task. My own willpower had failed me, so it had failed the character in his quest.
DUDE. That was incredible. A near perfect mating of player and on-screen avatar. Forget stats, upgrades, and dialogue trees, THIS is a role playing game.
Quite simply, Heavy Rain is the future. Bioware makes amazing games … but never did I feel as emotionally connected with Shepherd or my Grey Warden as I did with these four broken people. If I panicked, they panicked. If I got shaky, they got shaky. Pure, absolute genius. There was a moment where there was a very intense situation, and I almost had it defused. But I was tense, jumpy. Something happened suddenly, and I twitched … and my character twitched. Something very bad happened … and I was left feeling just like my character … it was a mistake … I just flinched … I didn’t mean it. No take backs, no game over/continues. Life goes on.
All of this would be for naught if the story wasn’t solid or wasn’t told well. This game uses every ounce of the PS3’s power to amazing effect. Again, it’s like playing through a Fincher movie in HD. The story itself is fantastic. The blend of detective noir, Se7en-like serial crime, and Saw-like sadistic puzzles makes for an incredibly cool ride. This is a true mystery. I changed my choice for whodunit several times. Twists and turns come at you one after the other as the histories of the characters are brought out.
I have been thinking about the score for this game since the second the credits rolled. There are elements of the game that aren’t perfect. Despite an amazingly detailed and technically impressive story engine, there are some plot holes left untended when you finish. (Likely artifacts of other possible endings.) Then there’s the walking issue and occasions when you know what you want to do and just can’t sort out how to accomplish it. (Very rare, but they do happen.)
That said, I’ve come to a decision. This gets five knives. A perfect score. In this instance, Heavy Rain has overcome its downfalls to deliver a package that warrants the best score I can give. I think I might give it a couple more knives if I could.
Believe the hype. This game will change games. It will influence how people tell stories and manipulate characters in games. It isn’t for everybody, just like lengthy novels aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’d still recommend everyone who has a PS3 to give this a spin. Have patience, wade through some of the early setup sections which tend to move rather slowly, and drink in the ability you have to live a virtual life and stop a madman. I guarantee nobody who finishes this game will leave disappointed.
5 out of 5
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