Review: Heavy Rain (PS3)February 22nd, 2010 | Written by Chris Selogy | Topic: PlayStation 3, Reviews
When trying to create a dynamic story where a player’s decisions create unique experiences for each player, very few games have come close to succeeding on that promise. Quantic Dream had a lot to prove when making those kinds of claims about Heavy Rain’s story and most of it works exactly as promised. This reinvention of the adventure genre does a great job of creating an immersive experience.
Heavy Rain is a psychological thriller that stars four protagonists that are indirectly linked to finding the Origami Killer. Of the four lead characters, Ethan Mars is easily the focus of the story as the father hell-bent on saving his son from his kidnapper, the notorious Origami Killer. Two other protagonists, Private Investigator Scott Shelby and FBI Agent Norman Jayden, are investigating the case and represent the new and old guard in the way things are done, both ethically and technologically. The final character that you control is Madison Paige, a journalist with some interest in the case that stumbles upon a huge scoop that ties her to the case. Other characters that come into play involve a few archetypal villains and support characters that do play some role if you work them the right way.
In trying to create the experience Quantic Dream promised, it was crucial that players both learned about the characters and cared about their fates. The developer did so through what some people would describe as some of the most mundane parts of Heavy Rain, such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and watching over your kid’s studies to make sure he finished his homework. Those early interactions, however, help you mold what kind of a father Ethan is and influence how he interacts with his family, which has an affect on how his character reacts when the Origami Killer tries to take it all away from him. You ultimately do get to dictate how these characters behave and react to the situations and it’s easy to get invested in these characters.
There are plenty of opportunities in Heavy Rain for these characters to die, but that doesn’t lead to a game over screen. It just changes the story and continues on without them. We reached a good conclusion and still saw the opportunities for similar outcomes through other characters and other story threads, but that would also create a uniquely different way to reach that conclusion. The hardest decisions to make were certainly difficult for us to deal with, so we tended to pause in order to wrap our heads around the situation and choose the best path. Still, our careful decisions sometimes led to regretful decisions that wore on our hearts.
Rather than building separate mechanics for action, driving, and the other parts of Heavy Rain, the developers use Quick Time Events (QTEs) that let you control what is going on without having to relearn each new control scheme. It’s nothing like the randomly-generated button prompts in the middle of the screen that you tend to think of when QTEs are mentioned, but they appear where the action is happening so it’s easier to react to them. Also improving on that idea is the lack of penalties for missing buttons, as they just turn into punches you take in a fight or dropping an object you’re reaching for. The only issues tend to be a lack of awareness of everything you can interact with in timed situations and occasionally not being able to see buttons because the prompt is hidden behind a character. Motion control haters may not like to hear that the variety of buttons used in QTEs extends to quick jerks or rotations of the controller for action and driving sequences, but it works just fine in practice.
Not everything in Heavy Rain revolves around QTEs, as there as quite a few times where you can just walk around and explore. This is where the adventure influences lie. Walking is handled by holding down the R2 button to walk forward and the left analog stick to turn, which works fine in more open spaces but becomes more of a nuisance when you’re in a hallway, room, or other small places. It becomes an issue when you’re searching for a certain item and have to awkwardly move around to adjust the character’s body so you can see an item and grab it. It’s particularly frustrating that Heavy Rain doesn’t make it easy to get to the objects you can interact with and limit the amount of time spent wrestling with the controls.
Quantic Dream made big claims about Heavy Rain beating the uncanny valley, but they are still on the same side of that valley as everyone else. The characters still look really good, but are still not good enouth to really make them look as good as real actors. We did experience quite a few graphical glitches early on that Sony hasn’t addressed so we feel the need to mention them as a potential issue, but we were able to solve them by restarting the system and reinstalling the game. The voice acting was pretty good for the most part with some weird lines that don’t sound right, but they are synced with their mouths well. The music is great and manages to fit the tension and other emotions you and these characters are feeling throughout the game.
Heavy Rain definitely provides a thrilling experience that very few games can compete with that makes it an easy recommendation for anyone that liked the demo or is interested in the game. A few control issues aside, the game plays just fine and is definitely worth a purchase for the eight to ten hours of story, if the protagonists don’t die. The game definitely offers enough replayability so that your experience should change if you decide to play through it again, though whether the second playthrough would stand up to the first is a big question for another time.