Game Review: Heavy Rain
Release: February 23, 2010
Genre: Interactive Drama
Developer: Quantic Dreams
Available Platforms:PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating: M
INT. CASTING ROOM
We hear the sound of a Sony Handycam being turned on and then see display: Battery: 159 minutes. Timecode: 00:00:00.
The camera starts rolling.
A girl enters the room. She has long dark hair and is wearing marone tank top over a white longsleeved undershirtwith blue jeans. She nervously approaches a small stool which sits at the center of the floor. We hear a man´s voice.
Go ahead, take a seat.
The girl, still nervous, slowly makes herself comfortable on the stool. The man continues…
Can you give me your name and your age, please?
The girl looks up at the camera and smiles.
My name is Mary Smith and I´m 24.
Have you ever taken any acting lessons, Mary?
Not really, I couldn’t afford it, but I watch a lot of films
and I learned so much from watching them.
Have you shot anything recently?
I’ve had a few big parts, little things here and there.
Nothing very serious for the moment.
I’m always too tall,too short, wrong hair.
There’s always something wrong with me.
OK. Have you learned your lines?
OK. Let´s get started. Mark it please.
This could be the opening sequence of a block-buster movie, but it´s not. This is the first official tech demo of Heavy Rain. I´m sure that, like me, most people had no idea what to expect from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Quantic Dream back in 2006 when the demo was first revealed. Many thought that it was just a pre-rendered cut-scene teaser that was supposed to get people hyped about the PlayStation 3´s graphic capabilities – but when Sony claimed that what we saw was actual in-game footage of an upcoming game people´s heads started to turn and anticipation started to grow. More than a year had passed and nothing more had been revealed. People started assuming that Heavy Rain just might have been one of the upcoming games to get the axe:cancelled, for those people who are unfamiliar with the term. Then, finally, Sony released another little sneak peak trailer that showed unbelievably realistic graphics and snippets of actual game-play. At this point anticipation levels were through the roof. I still had no idea what to expect but I wanted it so bad anyway. After another whole year of google searching (to no avail) for more information on the game Sony shocked us with an actual floor demonstration of Heavy Rain´s game-play – and yes, you guessed it, the graphics were mind blowing; even better than the Casting Demo from 2006.The Taxidermist demo, which will be available as DLC when the game goes retail on the 23rd of February, was probably the most intense gaming experience I had ever seen. Finally, four years later, Heavy Rain is ready for review and I feel privlidged to be able to share my experience with you.
Let me begin by saying that Heavy Rain will probably be the game you either love or hate. I can see it becoming a hit among the mature gamers whereas the young-guns (I´m talking about you crazy FPS addicts) might not have the patience to sit through the experience.
You control the lives of four characters: Ethan Mars, a successful architect who is happily married with two kids. Madison Paige, an attractive twenty-seven year old journalist. Scott Shelby, a retired Police Officer who now works as a Private Investigator, and last but not least, Norman Jayden, handsome clean shaved FBI agent who is addicted to a dangerous drug. Each of the four main characters have at least one thing in common: they are looking for the Origami Killer. Their paths cross when Ethan´s son, Shaun, is kidnapped – they have four days to find Shaun alive – if they don´t then Shaun will turn up like the other victims: a bloated corpse with an Origami figure in one hand and an orchid on the chest.
Straight off the bat you are required to sit through a mandatory 4Gigabite install that takes about five minutes. When that is done you can view the instructions on how to make your very own Origami swan. I didn´t have much patience since I was too eager to jump right into the game so I skipped it.
The game starts with Ethan Mars. You wake up and do the things any normal guy does every morning: take a shower, shave, brush your teeth, and get dressed. Of course shaving and brushing your teeth are optional although these little actions do help you get used to the game controls. Once you dressed you are ready for the day. You can choose to watch television, play with your children´s toys, laze about in the garden, or actually do some work – these are all just pass-times — you are waiting for your wife to come home with the kids.
When Ethan plays with his kids, Jason and Shaun, you really begin to get what Heavy Rain is all about. Jason challenges you to a toy light-saber fight and, like you´ve seen in so many game-play videos, you play through what seems a little like a quick-time event (you know, when you have to press the buttons in the correct order) – well, this is a lot more than your ordinary quick-time event, I´d actually rather call it a real-time choice event. Although you could easily kick your sons ass it would seem wiser, and probably more mature, to purposely screw up and let your son win. To me it seemed like the right thing to do.
The game continues. In the next scene you find yourself in a shopping mall. Your wife leaves you to look after Jason while she goes to the shop to look for shoes for Shaun. Jason wonders off and you lose sight of him. You frantically search through a large crowd of people to find him. You see Jason, he is outside the shopping mall across the street from you. You call out to him. He hears you, turns around, and comes running to you, failing to check for oncoming traffic. You try to save your sons life by leaping infront of the car; saving him from the main impact – unfortunately, it didn´t work – Jason is dead.
You may have noticed I used the word “you” as aposed to “Ethan”. It´s because the game really makes you feel like you are these characters. Heavy Rain is easily the most effective game at emmersing you into the story and connecting you with it´s characters.
The real game begins after Jason dies. Every little choice you make from now on can change the story and affect the ending. Heavy Rain relies on these choices for they are the game´s main selling point. Quantic Dream needed to create a story that could be altered by one single action or choice, and that´s just what they did. Heavy Rain is an interactive drama that´s all about these decisions, and the beautiful thing about that is that all the decisions that you can make are equally rewarded in game-play experience. Heavy Rain puts heavy focus on you living with the consequences of your choices. Making mistakes is a part of the experience. Here´s a perfect example of just how emmersed you become: when you are on your second, or even third, play-through and you decide you want to sabotage the story by deliberately failing events in hope to see your character suffer, or worse – die, you will probably end up second guessing yourself, jumping in, intervening, and actually try help your character through the scene. It´s really hard just to watch as your character helplessly gets the crap kicked out off him/her.
The controls are just as much a part of the experience. Each action perfectly replicates both the difficulty of the task and the stress your character is experiencing. Quantic Dream implemented the use of the sixaxis motion sensor: shaking the controller to put out a match or frantically try to break something in front of you — you will find yourself waving your arms like a lunatic from time to time. There are also three difficulty settings you can choose from so if you´re no Jedi with the Sixaxis controller you can choose the “I occasionaly play video-games” option.
Although the game only runs at 720p native and cannot be forced to 1080i, or 1080p, the graphics in Heavy Rain have to be the best I´ve seen on any console to date. The amount of detail in each and every little thing on screen is jaw-dropping, even when the screen is filled with content (like the mall scene). However, no game is perfect and Heavy Rain does come with it´s share of glitches: screen-tearing being one of them. There is a fair bit of screen-tearing in Heavy Rain and also the ocassional frame-rate dip. Though these glitches do not get in the way of the experience it´s a shame to see them; it´s like owning a Ferari that has a permanent hand-print smudge on it´s shiney paint exterior.
The music in Heavy Rain is touching, to say the least. The theme music alone is enough to send goosebumps down my back. Not only is the music beautifully written but it also suits the theme perfectly. From time to time the sound cuts-out – luckily, not too often. Though the score may be awe inspiring the same cannot be said about the voice acting. Though I wouldn´t say it´s terrible it doesn´t come close to the quality to Indigo Prophecy. Some of the delivered dialogue seems cheesy, unatural, and completely out of place – but I assure you, the characters themselves are completely believable therefore you will be quick to forgive the voice acting.
There are a few things that I didn´t notice in the game, things that were supposed to be there. I remember when they showed the Taxidermist game-play demo back in 2008; the characters action were completely random. The taxidermist would come home at random at a random time and do random things. For instance, in the demo I saw the Taxidermist would come home, grab a beer, and then sit down and watch the television. Then on another play through the Taxidermist would come straight home and go upstairs into his “special room”. If these kind of random moments exist in Heavy Rain they definitely passed me by unnoticed, and I am on my fourth play-through.
Also, there are a few scenes at the begining of the game that merely create the illusion of choice. This really annoyed me. I didn´t realize this until my second play-through where I deliberately tried to sabotage the story. After ranting to my girlfriend about it I finally thought about it some more and came to this conclusion: even if the scene did play out differently I don´t see how it would have affacted the story. So, just so you know, I´m over it.
I would also have loved to have been given more choices because that´s what made this game so fantastic – the choices! I know – I know, it would mean that Mr. David Cage would have to write another couple of thousand pages of script – but hey, it´s possible, the game engine is almost perfect and could definitely handle it.
Conclusion: Heavy Rain is definitely among the best games I have ever played and I will stand by and support Quantic Dream as much as I can. This is one of the strongest “early-bird” contenders for Game of the Year, 2010. A must have for any mature gamer who loves great story-driven game. A must have for all graphic-lovers, and a must have for all PlayStation 3 owners.