Version tested: PlayStation 3
Games typically begin and end with killing. In between, there will be a lot of killing. And if you get bored, you can always go off and do some different killing. Heavy Rain is another game about killing, but the difference is that when you pull the trigger - if you pull the trigger - you're committing to something with consequences. You may die in Heavy Rain, but rather than losing progress you may lose opportunities. In a medium where your existence is now so cheap that most games don't bother to punish you for wasting it, Heavy Rain wants you to respect human life.
Speaking of consequences, Ethan Mars, one of the game's four playable characters, does nothing but live with them. In an extended playable prologue to the main story, Mars suffers through the death of one of his two sons, an accident that also leaves him in a coma. When we return to him two years later he's suffering blackouts and estranged from his wife, blaming himself and weeping behind closed doors as his remaining, increasingly distant son Shaun watches TV downstairs in his ropey bedsit. The "game" is to drag a broken man through the motions of parenthood.
Before long, however, things go from sad to horrible for Mars when Shaun is abducted by the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who kidnaps children and drowns them in rainwater a few days later, leaving the bodies on strips of wasteland. It would be a massive spoiler to explain exactly what else the Killer does, but the kidnap and outside influences set Mars on a brutal journey that will test his mental strength under pressure, his resolve and his commitment to saving his boy.
He will have help, however. Heavy Rain features three other playable characters whose narratives interact with Mars' in remote but ultimately vital ways. Scott Shelby is a puffy, soft-spoken private investigator who gently questions the parents of Origami Killer victims in the hope of recovering evidence that may have escaped police attention. Norman Jayden is an FBI profiler sent to assist the local police with the investigation. Madison Paige, introduced last, is a chronic insomniac who first meets Mars at a motel - apparently the only place she can get any sleep.
The action shifts between the core cast at regular intervals to keep everyone's personal story in sync, and in each scene the player typically manoeuvres through the environment using the game's unusual third-person control scheme. It's possible to interact with a great many things - very few of which prove completely incidental - by performing motions on the right analogue stick, by holding or tapping combinations of face buttons, or by replicating a gesture indicated on-screen using the pad's built-in motion sensor.
It takes a little getting used to but proves worth the trouble, as physical actions correspond to things characters do in a manner that enhances your involvement in a scene. Breaking through plasterboard with a heavy object is a repeated downward swing. Twisting Mars' body through a mesh of perilous wires involves holding one button, then another, then another, and more, until you're just as contorted and in danger of dropping the pad as he is of losing his balance.