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Heavy Rain (PS3) – Review
Quantic Dream, the developer behind Farenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Omikron: The Nomad Soul, struck a bargain with Sony to bring its emotional title – Heavy Rain– exclusively to the PS3. Founded in 1997 and based in Paris, France, Quantic Dream is not just a video game developer. According to the Wikipedia, QD supplies motion capture services to both the film and video game industries. When you play Heavy Rain, you will see that mo-cap has played a key role in bringing the story and characters to life.
Heavy Rainis a hard game to classify and squeeze into a specific genre. It’s part action, part drama, part mystery/thriller, and part full-length movie. In my lifetime as a console gamer, I’ve never played anything like it, which naturally means I was skeptical throughout the media hype. But what I’m about to share is a gaming experience like nothing else out there, unless you’ve played their two earlier titles noted above.
****SPOILER AND MATURE CONTENT ALERT****
Spoilers will be present in this review – moderate to heavy – because I can’t possibly review it without giving some stuff away. I won’t ruin the myriad endings the title is reported to have since I haven’t finished all of them yet, nor will I spoil anything about the identity of the Origami Killer. However, there are content and character spoilers, in addition to gameplay ones. If you haven’t played the game and wish to remain perfectly unspoiled, I wouldn’t recommend continuing the review and read my summary and score below. In addition, please note that Heavy Rain has an ESRB rating of “M” for Mature, and written descriptions throughout this review can and will contain potentially graphic material. The game isn’t for kids, and the review shouldn’t be handled haphazardly either. You’ve been warned.
In 2006, a demo of Heavy Rain was shown to the public. Needless to say, the stunning graphics lead to popular previews and early hype. Years went by without much news surrounding the title, but it emerged again in 2009 witih updated technology and more hype-generating screenshots. The presentation of Heavy Rain is nothing like other games, period, and I’m not talking solely about the graphics. The story in the game is presented from various points of view, meaning the player takes on the role of several different characters throughout the adventure. Combined with a risky, but fine-tuned control scheme, the presentation takes the player to dizzying heights of suspense and intrigue.
From an artistic standpoint, Heavy Rain may disappoint you. It’s not Darksiders, nor does it attempt to be. Heavy Rain takes place in modern Philadelphia, and although there are some technological aspects present that make it seem a bit futuristic, the cityscape and modeling are meant to convey a present day feel. And it works. The city and surrounding suburbs bustle with life as you’d expect; bus stations and subways team with people coming and going; apartment buildings are rife with people roaming the halls; the police station buzzes with news, officers wrangling with unruly suspects, and secretaries making calls. In short, the world of Heavy Rain is a character unto itself – probably not to the scale of Liberty City in GTA4, but nonetheless is capable of drawing you into its dark and damp depths.
Graphically, Heavy Rain impressed me, but not in the way Uncharted 2 or Metal Gear Solid 4 did. The facial animations and details are second-to-none, but the engine is plagued with minor setbacks that keep it from being a technical giant. For example, screen-tearing is a constant nuisance, as is texture pop-in when anything close-up is examined. Many of the world objects are low-res and when the shadows fall, the lighting doesn’t “pop” like other titles do. Lip and mouth movements are OK, but the kissing is really wonky and some of the movements that occur during dialogue are humorously out of place. These are small issues that didn’t detract from the experience much, but they did stick out because of the engrossing way the story sucked me in (more on that in STORY and CHARACTERS below).
The sound effects and music really scored a big win in this title. This is a thriller/drama/action game…I think…and the way you strike emotions in players with such titles is an epic sound score. Quantic Dreams did a marvelous job. Every moment of the game is accompanied by an appropriate and meticulous sound effect, and during moments of intense tension and suspense, the crescendo of orchestral music drops big. Heavy Rain will have your heart racing, sobbing, laughing, loving, and hating mostly due to the incredible sound work.
STORY and CHARACTERS
What do a female reporter with a sketchy past; an architect, husband, and father with a psychological disorder; a cop-turned-private investigator with asthma and a drinking problem; and an FBI agent with a drug addiction all have in common? Heavy Rain. You play each of these four characters throughout the title, swapping back and forth as the story unfolds. Each transition scene is marked by an animated close-up of their face, mostly the eyes, in stunning detail. During these brief moments outside of the story, PS3 Trophies are handed out and the game is auto-saved.
The gist of the story is murder mystery. Young boys are being kidnapped, and between three and five days later are found dead. Spanning several years, the story picks up with the seventh victim hitting the newspapers. The killer – dubbed “The Origami Killer” – leaves paper origami in the hands of his victims and a single orchid on their chest. The victims are drowned in water. I won’t give this completely away, but the game’s title is an important aspect to the killer’s method. The four characters don’t know each other at the start, but eventually do in the end, depending, of course, on how players make decisions; each of them also has a valid reason for pursuing the case.
The characters in Heavy Rain are the stars of the show. Sounds strange, I know, but this is one title where it’s not about the ambiguous soldier trying to maul his way through mobs of enemies, where success is measured by death and retry sequences. Heavy Rain forces you to live with the consequences of every action you take. There are no re-dos, there is no real “right” or “wrong” decision. The story plays out even if one of your characters die! Each of the four above characters have their flaws, quirks, emotions, addictions, attitudes, and lives…and you will care about each of them deeply before the end, I assure you.
Will you take that drink or not? Will you forgive or deny? Will you persist, agitate, force, or calm? Each decision you make in the non-action sequences unveil the mystery behind the tale and provide a huge variety of reactions from the other non-playable characters (NPCs) you face. Will Scott Shelby – the “cop-turned-private investigator” - leave Lauren to drown, or will he save her? Will Norman Jayden – the “FBI Agent” – take his triptocaine or will he resist? Will Madison Paige – the “reporter” – help Ethan or hurt him? And will Ethan Mars do whatever it takes to save someone he loves? I’m telling you fellow gamers out there right now. You will care about each and every decision you make, from how Scott takes care of the “suicide baby” to the way Madison noses around Ethan’s motel room looking for evidence. Every part of the story is crafted in such a way as to strike a nerve. Panic and tension plague the title, but in a good way. Action sequences are carried out by way of a series of button presses, each unique in their method (more in GAMEPLAY and CONTROLS below).
I couldn’t put Heavy Rain down and never expected as much. You can imagine my surprise. And the game has a reported 20+ different endings depending on how you play, which adds a moderate amount of replay value. Personally, playing through it once took a lot out of me emotionally. You feel so much for the characters and their plights that I can’t imagine going through it again a different way exceptto score the remaining Trophies and “see what happens” when I pick a different reaction or allow someone to die, etc. It’s gripping, the story, and has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And you’ll be hard-pressed to guess whodunnit. I figured it out pretty early on, I think, but it will depend on the player and I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Needless to say, it’s shocking and unexpected nonetheless. You won’t be disappointed. But that was my ending…how will yours be?
The story has a few spotty holes in it, but since each play-through will be different, it’s difficult to spot them. You may ask yourself how some characters know each other, and some actions happen that you may find a bit difficult to believe. However, if you understand who your characters really are, you may understand their actions completely. Madison is nosey by nature and her actions follow suit. You may not understand some aspects of her past, much like me, but in the end it doesn’t matter much.
GAMEPLAY and CONTROLS
Some have called Heavy Rainone big quick time event (QTE), but in truth it’s nowhere near that. Sure, action sequences are all comprised of a series of button presses that will lead to any number of particular outcomes, but there is no true “right/wrong” or “pass/fail” as I noted above. The gameplay does boil down to the control scheme, and if done any other way, Heavy Rainwould be one sopping wet failure. As it stands, the controls simply work and seem to be mapped flawlessly to each action you perform. One slight downfall of this method, of course, is a matter of linear story-telling. You can only control what prompts the player on-screen, so there are a set number of actions you can perform in any particular room or whatever. This makes the game feel scripted, but you won’t care. Like I said, the story and characters are done so amazingly well that the style of gameplay fits perfect within the game’s mythos.
During periods of discovery, investigation, etc (i.e. outside of action), the controls are far more methodical and precise. The left analog stick is for steering while you hold down the R2 trigger to walk. You need both…R2 to initiate movement, the left stick to do the actual walking. The L1 shoulder button switches the camera for more strategic views. If you find yourself staring at the kitchen sink, press it and the camera will shift. The right analog stick is used for all sorts of QTEs, including opening refrigerators, opening doors and cabinets, moving different directions during action sequence prompts, and stirring eggs with a spatula. There’s even a slow-motion prompt when the player must be careful or quiet. For example, when Madison is at “the Doc’s” house, if she opens some of the doors in the house quietly, slowly, it won’t alarm him. Or, when Scott is handling the baby, being gentle with the baby when lying her down in the bed may mean the difference between…well, never mind.
The point is that the control scheme is just fantastic. Bravo and kudos to Quantic Dreams for pulling off such a risky chore. I’m sure it wasn’t easy.
But there is a problem: the camera angles shift often, and when you’re walking in one direction with R2/LS (left stick), this can cause some pesky movement problems when forward becomes backward and vice versa. Those who have played it undoubtedly know what I mean here. It’s not a bad point, but it’s annoying and in some intense situations when time is of the essence, it can cause mass panic and labored breath.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the gameplay is with Norman Jayden’s character, the FBI agent. He has this virtual reality system called “ARI”, which is basically a pair of sunglasses paired with a VR glove for his right hand. With ARI activated, he can make audio recordings of his findings, and activate a scan mode with the glove. When activated, a small scan circle radiates outward from where Norman’s standing, which will scan the immediate area for clues, such as blood, airborne components, footprints, fingerprints, tire tracks, etc. This is how evidence is gathered and it is an ingenious system that works in a video game. I had no problems with it except that it seemed too easy to discover clues. Where any normal investigator would be tied to his or her five senses, Norman has this over-powered x-factor system that basically takes no effort to use. Again, it works, but it’s a bit over-powered. The cops also seem to miss basic stuff, like footprints, that Norman finds with ARI.
The controls and gameplay are married like Yin and Yang, peas and carrots, politics and corruption. You won’t find a better way to tell such a compelling and emotionally driven script.
SUMMARY and FINAL SCORE
I never thought I’d be saying this about a game that breaks from every other established convention on consoles. Quantic Dream nailed Heavy Rain and in doing so established a trend that will be remembered for years to come.
FINAL SCORE: 9.7/10 (not an average)