Heavy Rain Reader Review
Quantic Dreamís PS3 exclusive made quite a big splash on release and Iíve finally gotten around to getting my grubby little mitts on it. Managing to avoid most mainstream media I genuinely did not know what to expect from the game. Having just completed a massive Gears of War 2 horde marathon whilst they offered a six times XP bonus, this was a huge change of pace but not a totally unwelcome one. As I opened the box to grab the bluray disc there was a piece of pre-folded paper. As I loaded the game and the intro began it soon dawned on me that through the extensive loading screens it gives you little directions on how to create an origami figurine with the paper. A nice touch considering the main theme of the game.
Heavy Rain is based around Ethan Mars, a father to two sons and husband to a loving wife (did anyone else start getting Gladiator vibes just then?). The prologue starts you off in his house and introduces you to the control system (more on that later) by going through the average personís morning routine. Iíll admit it wasnít the most riveting beginning to a game Iíve ever seen and short of stopping off in the kids bedroom for some juggling in my pants, the only objective seemed to be getting him out of bed and off to the shower. The game makes no bones about the amount of interaction that will berequired going forward just to do the simplest of tasks.
Almost as if in a dream this is an idyllic family setting, Ethan has a good job as an architect with a great house, a happy family and no apparent troubles. This all changes at the end of the prologue and you are dumped 2 years later where everything has fallen apart.
From there the game opens up and you spend your time flitting between Ethan, Scott, Madison, and finally Jayden for the main storyline and every now and again some other characters too. What seemed at first to be a straight-forward story soon turns into a classic Tarantino plot where multiple mini-stories all converge together. Now to avoid any spoilers Iíll end the synopsis there but the story really is the main feature of this game and because so much hangs from it, it had to be specialÖand it is. Iíve rarely cared for my characters in games other than the Bethesda/Interplay RPGs but Heavy Rain managed to keep me hooked and invested in the characters so much that I truly cared about what was happening to them. It was nearly at the same level as a film or book which is incredibly impressive.
I suspect multiple endings are abound but am reviewing this after a single full playthrough. Funnily the credits roll and at first I recognised the events taking place, but then some occurred differently to how Iíd dealt with them and it got me wondering, did I do it correctly? Well I donít know for sure if my ending was the Ďrightí one, but I was very pleased with the outcome that I received.
Heavy Rainís loading screens consist of the face of the character you are about to control. Scott Shelbyís face being the one I found almost completely mistakable from afar as a real human. The in-game models donít quite reflect that level of detail but for the most part the game is atmospheric and detailed. The only places the game becomes noticeably Ďplasticí is when there are large crowds of people when you see a few clones and the detail level is scaled right back. That said, overall the graphical elements add to the immersive story despite the usual issues of having a purely engine based cut scenes. One memorable example was a scene where I was controlling Ethanís advances on another womanÖwe started kissing but the mouths seemed never to connect properly and it just looked odd. Similarly when the inevitable naked sex scene (well topless) arrived it was unnatural the way the two models just rubbed up and down. Almost like how youíd make a Ken & Barbie make outÖIím guessing.
So moving on from the sex weirdness, the actual animation is fairly smooth but sometimes held up by the control system (hold on, I promise Iíll cover that soon) and again it is one of those niggles that sometimes sits at the back of the mind that can ruin a scene. Due to the incredibly atmospheric and story-driven nature of Heavy Rain, that is not a good thing.
Heavy Rain gets its own section for controls because this is a strange one. Quantic Dream went for something thatís a cross between an old point & click adventure and a quick time event (QTE) based game. Arguably it is almost purely QTE with moving being the only other control.
Initially this was not only hard to get my head around as I was wondering if Iíd need to learn these Ďgesturesí with my controller once the prologue was over but also incredibly alien. Where were my button mappings? How do I get into cover or manage my inventory? These were all burning questions for the first 15 mins of the game. As it turns out, other than the walk and directional controls there are no other mappings or set moves. Everything is done contextually. I approach a door, a handy box with a left-facing arrow appears. I flick the right-stick to the left and the character proceeds to open the door.
The most complex move I dealt with was holding down 3 buttons and spamming a 4th for a certain period of time. Most of the time though youíll be flicking the right stick on your controller in various directions. Compared to Lair (which to be fair was a launch title so needs some slack) the movement sensor functionality built into the game worked pretty well, I never had a mis-registered action provided I made pronounced movements.
Whilst certainly a different take on a control system and one well suited to the oft slow pace of the game, there were times when it left you a little bemused and frustrated. Why should I need to hold down two buttons and waggle the controller furiously just to perform a fairly simple action?
My final grate on the controls is that sometimes the camera angles block out or the graphics in the scene make the controller hint very tough to make out. This leads to a button spamming and stick flicking session which ultimately adds to frustration. Luckily the story usually manages to grab you back from the abyss and suck you into its web once more.
The sound throughout the game is atmospheric and minimal with a lot of attention being given to the classic tension-giving tempo speed-ups and flurried sounds. It does an amazing job of adding to the already engaging storyline. The voice acting is top notch with the right tone applied to inner monologues and thoughts to distinguish from character interactions. Walking a dull stretch of corridor and having the ability to pull up thoughts which often show the mental processes involved as your character tries to come to a decision keeps the pace of the game flowing. I could never quite get the hang of if those thoughts were just hints or if the order in which you go through them actually affects anything.
The only issues I had with the audio were in certain sections of the game when all sound would break up for a few seconds every 15-20 seconds. Whether this was unique to my system or a widespread issue I am uncertain.
Heavy Rain, for all the little nit-picks Iíve thrown into this review, was in fact a lovely game to play. It wasnít outstanding as an all-time classic but its uniqueness will most likely guarantee it a place in history. With a little more polish or slight tweaks to the control system such as movement it would be amazing. It kind of already is though in its own way.
If you own a PS3 and like a more sedate pace of game with a hint of exploration and logic, then this is definitely a game for you.