What is Heavy Rain?
Heavy Rain on PS3 is a gaming experience unlike any other. It’s almost a playable movie, except that it has tons of possible endings.
The game has you cycle through four characters as they attempt to track down a serial killer who murders young boys. Each character is developed on a deeper level that I have ever seen in a game. You basically follow these people’s lives. You wake up in morning as them, and do everything from brushing their teeth to showering, to changing a baby’s diaper, and administering first-aid. The action follows the God of War finishing move, quick-time event model of combat. Each fight is animated, and button directions pop up as the fight unfolds. Your ability to hit the buttons quickly determines the next portion of the sequence.
Those are pretty much the basics. On to the review.
Knowing that the decisions I made were permanent, and that at any point, I could get one of my characters killed kept me on my toes. The character development complicated things even further because I came to like them as people. I didn’t want any of them to die.
Holy poo, some of those action sequences were shocking. All of the action scenes were fun, however two sequences centering on Madison Paige actually made me panic. The scene where she is introduced was jarring, but the game peaked for me when she was abducted by a different serial killer. That was a seriously creepy and intense scene. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to get her out alive, and it really did scare me; I felt desperate. What more could you ask for?
The animation was pretty glorious. The characters, lighting, environments, and rain effects were very well executed. What really took me were the eyes. The eyes on 3D characters usually look dead, even when the rest of the character model looks life-like. The eyes in Heavy Rain weren’t quite alive, but they were so close.
The music and voice-acting were superb, and never failed to enhance the moment.
There comes a point in the game where you are faced with the nastiest moral dilemma that I can imagine (you’ll know it when you see it). It’s absolutely brutal. Two days later I am actually disappointed with the choice that I made.
I know four people who have played though the game and none of us had the same experience. The amount of planning and development that went into crafting this story must have been daunting. Little screw-ups in my game-play and decision making had massive ramifications. Sometimes I was given a fraction of a second to act and didn’t have enough time. There were whole sequences that I saw and my friends did not, and vice-versa.
Finally, I was skeptical of the combat system, but it proved itself in spades. Heavy Rain used the PS3 controller’s limited motion controls in some innovative ways. Shaking the controls to try and free your hands from bindings, and turning it to steer a car through oncoming traffic felt far more real than I ever expected. I found the action so fulfilling.
The Not So Good
The script was excellent at making me care about the characters, but sometimes failed to explain their motives and actions. On a number of occasions I found myself questioning my characters. Some of the stuff they did just didn’t make much sense.
Controlling your character outside of action sequences flat out sucks.
You have to hold down the R2 button, and then use the left thumbstick to maneuver your character. I think they did this so that you would always have two hands on the controller, but the maneuvering was so clunky and awkward. It’s a shame when you see these beautifully realistic characters and environments, and the character is walking around like C3PO.
The first hour or two of the game are painfully boring. A lot of key character development takes place, and it allows you to learn the controls in a comfortable environment, but it just kept on going, and going, and going, and going…
Heavy Rain gets almost everything right, but the flaws are there, and they are easy to spot. Nevertheless, I recommend this to any mature gamer (this is not a game for kids). As you play through, you will experience something completely unique.
This isn’t the Citizen Kane of video games, but it’s a huge leap in that direction. There will be poor imitators in the coming years, and there will be developers who build on this solid foundation. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
One Last Thought
It takes about eight or nine hours to play Heavy Rain. Try to play it alone; in the dark; and in as few sittings as possible. I think that’s the best way to experience it.