Heavy Rain PlayStation 3
Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Developed by: Quantic Dream
I don't think I've ever played a game quite like Heavy Rain. My opinion has changed so many times during the course of playing through the game ranging from being completely thrilled to completely disappointed. So many elements of the game are excellent whilst some are disappointing. That said, this is a game that you simply must play if you own a PlayStation 3. No other game this year will manage to pull you in and genuinely make your heart pound like Heavy Rain. Yes, it has its problems but it's still a genuine rough diamond that shows in flashes how good games could be in the years ahead.
In essence, Heavy Rain is a psychological thriller that you can shape to a certain extent. The game gives you four characters to control and revolves around the events surrounding the latest victim of the Origami Killer. You'll play through the game with Ethan Mars, an architect who has a thing about crowded spaces, an insomniac journalist called Madison Paige, a virtual reality loving FBI profiler called Norman Jayden who is addicted to a fictional drug and private investigator Scott Shelby who is on a mission to question the parents of the Origami Killer's victims. The game begins with a scene of domestic bliss. Mars and his family are celebrating the birthday of one of his sons and the game introduces you to the various controls and he walks around the house and has a shower and a shave amongst other things. Things soon take a turn for the worst for Mars however. One of his sons is killed after being hit by a car. Mars himself suffers a massive concussion in the same incident and begins to suffer from blackouts. Fast forward two years later and his wife has left him after blaming him for the death of her son and very early into the game, his other son is taken by the Origami Killer.
The game is divided up into a series of episodes in which you'll control one of the four characters. You'll get to see events from their perspective and attempt to navigate their route through to the end of the story. The reason I say "attempt" is because it's possible for some of the characters to come to a sticky end. Mars in particular really has it rough as he's forced into a variety of hideous situations as he attempts to satisfy the whims of the Origami Killer in order to find his son. The real beauty of Heavy Rain is that even if one of the main characters is killed, you won't see a Game Over screen. The game will simply carry on resulting in a different ending. In theory this is brilliant but it should be noted that you don't have complete control over the shaping of the story. After completing the game you can go back and pick up the action from any of the chapters. I went back to one particular chapter to attempt to kill off one of the characters who was in a perilous situation. I played through the chapter multiple times, one of which simply not touching the controller at all, and the character in question still escaped which was disappointing although it's to be expected as the character's survival was crucial to the storyline.
Heavy Rain immerses you in the action by giving you the ability to have direct control over the characters' actions and it even gives you the ability to read their thoughts (by holding down the L2 button). You'll perform the interactions through a mix of moving the right analogue stick, moving and shaking the controller and pressing buttons. The game uses a series of icons that inform you whether you need to move the right analogue stick in a normal or gentle fashion, whether you need to hold the right analogue stick in a certain position or keep a certain button pressed down. The motion sensing capabilities of the Sixaxis controller are utilised as you can also thrust it in one direction, shake it from side to side or up and down to perform certain actions. There's a lot of different icons to content with then (fortunately you can press the Select button at any time to remind yourself what they all mean) and at times it's easy to make a mess of things which can end up putting your character in real trouble.
There are certainly a few issues with the controls and actions you need to perform in Heavy Rain. To begin with it should be noted that at times an icon may be slightly out of view so you won't be fully aware of what action you need to perform. There are times when the icons are shaking, presumably to increase the tension, but this can be problematic as some of the icons look similar to each other and it's not always easy to differentiate between them when they are shaking up and down. There's one moment after a car crash where the icons are upside down (to mirror the fact that the car has overturned) and this proves to be rather fiddly. Yes I understand the developers are trying to increase tension but when you need to be able to see the icons clearly and react within a given time frame, it can be really annoying not being able to make out the icons clearly. Walking around in Heavy Rain is far from being intuitive. Rather than simply moving the left analogue stick to move, you'll need to hold down the R2 button to move and use the left analogue stick to steer the character. It's an odd control system and feels archaic.
I don't think that anyone could really claim that Heavy Rain isn't one of the most dramatic games on this generation of consoles. The game has a lot moments when you're genuinely on the edge of your seat and actually full of concern that things can potentially go horribly wrong if you fail to perform the relevant interactions correctly. You'll have to escape from a car that has rolled over, a car that has been plunged underwater with the characters' hands tied to prevent them from escaping and a burning building, you'll have to crawl through narrow tunnels filled with broken glass and many more such nerve wracking situations. There are also quite a few moments of psychological terror which are really disconcerting and add to the tense ambience of the game. However it has to be said that there are moments of utter tedium here that could simply have been dispensed with. Changing a baby's nappy and applying Madison's facial makeup are just two instances (and yes there are more) which will make you wonder if the game's developers were taking things a little too far. These moments of needless tedium are forgivable due to the cracking atmosphere in the rest of the game but why include them in the first place?
The compelling storyline manages to hook you in, however it's also one of my biggest complaints about Heavy Rain. The ingredients are here for a Hitchcock quality thriller, and at times, it manages to give you the illusion that you're involved in one. However, the storyline's quality is pretty uneven and at times it even descends to being disappointing. Whilst you'll undoubtedly be impressed with some elements of the storyline, there are times when you'll be disappointed with the liberties that have been taken. On completing the game you'll look back and be staggered at how many loose threads there are. There are various murders during the storyline for which there is apparently no consequence (I'm not going to mention them here for fear of spoiling the game in anyway). The ending feels rushed and does very little, if anything at all, to answer the many unanswered questions you may have. Of course it's possible to form your own theory about what's happened (again I can't give you my thoughts here as it will give too much away) but the game should have explained the killer's reasons for the murders and why the specific children were targeted. You'll realise, when looking back at the game after completing it, that the storyline has far too many loose ends that really needed to be tied up.
From a visual standpoint Heavy Rain continues with its theme of mixing the excellent with the mediocre. The character models are exceptional. You can even see the pores on their skin and the independent bristles on Mars' beard which he acquires during the course of the game. Actually it has to be said that the characters' likeness to the actors who have done the voice acting for them is pretty amazing and in some cases extremely accurate. That said, some animations are strange to say the least. Some of the facial animations are just bizarre (and I'm not talking about the lip-synching). The walking animations just aren't as natural as they should be. There are several clipping issues and the game does suffer from some minor screen tearing problems here and there. Niggles aside however, the moments of visual excellence will easily help you to overlook any rough elements from a visual standpoint.
Given that this is a game that you simply must experience if you own a PlayStation, it's pretty good news that it's subtitled. When you start the game for the first time, you'll be presented with a screen that allows you to enable the subtitles before progressing into the game. The subtitle text is displayed using a bold white font and is easy to read at all times. The game's tutorial information is displayed using text and icons. You'll always be aware of what actions or button presses need to be performed because of the on screen icons that appear. Holding down the L2 button will show you what your character is thinking and all of these thoughts are subtitled. In short I didn't experience any problems for deaf gamers (at least on the route that I took through the game).
Heavy Rain is one of those rare games when simply looking at a numerical rating just doesn't give you any indication of how enjoyable the game can be. You can't give it a 10 because there are so many elements that are flawed. Does it deserve an 8 or a 9? It's probably somewhere in the middle in all fairness. It certainly doesn't deserve anything less than an 8 simply for the moments of magnificent suspense you are thrown into. You'll be genuinely shocked when some lead characters meet a grizzly end (and no doubt want to quit the game before the auto-save function kicks in) and for that it deserves high praise. That there's a certain degree of flexibility with the storyline is also something worthy of praise. The moments of needless tedium, issues with icons not being easy to see and a storyline that just doesn't come together as it should really do take the shine off the experience. Problems aside however, Heavy Rain is a memorable game and one that does take the immersion factor to the next level. In essence it's a classic but it's a flawed classic.