Developer: Quantic Dream
Platforms: Playstation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Because the mystery is what makes a large portion of the story enjoyable, I will try and keep spoilers from the main portion of the game to a minimum.
The highly anticipated Heavy Rain has finally arrived. After being touted as a revolutionary step forward in video gaming and spending years in development, the finished product does not disappoint.
The story revolves around four main characters and the investigation into a series of murders in a unspecified neighborhood (though contextual clues imply the setting is near Philadelphia). Over the span of three years, 8 boys disappeared, only to be found several days later, drowned in rain water, with an orchid and an origami figure near their bodies. With no real leads to go on, the police are nowhere near catching the “Origami Killer.”
A majority of the time, especially early on, the player controls Ethan Mars (Pascal Langdale), an average man whose happy married life falls apart after the accidental death of one of his two sons (taking place two years prior to the events of main game). Divorced and having a hard time connecting to his living son, Shaun, Mars suffers from blackouts and depression, made worse when Shaun disappears and is feared to be the next victim of the Origami Killer.
Players will do a majority of their official clue-hunting as FBI Norman Jayden (Leon Ockenden) as he used an augmented reality device called ARI to help collect and analyze clues. All the while, two side investigations are being conducted by journalist Madison Paige (voice of Judi Beecher, motion capture by Jacqui Ainsley) and a retired police officer turned private investigator Scott Shelby (Sam Douglas). But saying any more about the plot than this would take away from the experience of playing the game for the first time.
Playing Heavy Rain is very different from the traditional video game experience in many ways. Aside from walking, 90% of the game involves either making internal or dialogue choices and hitting the corresponding buttons, or quick time events similar to the type seen in the God of War series. There are three different challenge levels, but they only effect the level of sensitivity required when inputting commands. The game is upfront about telling you to choose a difficulty based on how comfortable you are with the PS3 controller, and you should listen. The difficulty has no effect on the events of the game, the endings, or the ability to unlock trophies, so pick what fits you best.
The experience of playing Heavy Rain is more like controlling a movie than playing a game. Visually, the game is one of the most stunning examples of the PS3’s power. The motion capture technology is so detailed now that seeing a side-by-side of the characters and the actors that played them would likely cause your jaw to drop, especially AurÃ©lie Bancilhon, who was used in the now famous “casting” tech demo and whose voice and likeness were used for the character Lauren Winter, the mother of one of the Origami Killer’s victims.
Once you find yourself engrossed into the investigation from all sides, you may have difficulty putting the controller down. The only difficulty is getting to that point. The opening chapters, which amount to little more than tutorials, are very slow moving and at times, downright boring. Fortunately, they only make up about 5% of the total experience. Unfortunately, you have to get through them to see the good parts, of which there are plenty.Â
But perhaps the more intriguing aspect of the game is the fact that your choices actually matter. Unlike may games that offer options that have little to no effect on the grand scheme, the choice you make in Heavy Rain drastically effect the outcome of the game. Heavy Rain breaks the mold on traditional game objectives by eliminating the game over screen. If you die as a character, the game keeps going, the plot irrevocably changed by the character’s absence. If you die or fail as all characters, the story ends the way it would if all the heroes in a movie died. There is no “Game Over… Continue?” screen and there is no “correct” way to do any one chapter. Though the story has a few weak spots, it’s leaps and bounds past what normally passes for the plot of video game.
If you’re trying to unlock that 50 or so trophies that can be achieved with this game, you will have to explore the many ways the story can change. There are happy endings and there horribly depressing endings, and plenty in between. While the replay value suffers if you try to see all the endings back to back (requiring you replay many scenes over and over), the first time experience is unmatched by any game out there. For this reason alone, I strongly urge anyone playing for the first time to let their own choices effect the outcome of the game. Don’t attempt to force the plot to go a certain way and if you screw up and a character dies, don’t hit the reset button. Seeing and dealing with the consequences of your actions is what makes Heavy Rain a unique gaming experience, and backtracking negates this element.
Though there will surely be imitators, to meet the quality set by Quantic Dream, it will take a lot of time to invest in production, so I wouldn’t expect anything decent for years to come.
Final Score: A