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A Procedural Downpour: Heavy Rain Hands-On

After several piecemeal demos, we finally spend some serious time with Quantic Dream's ambitious thriller.

 These two have good reason for looking so dour.
Much has been made about the recent resurgence of the traditional adventure game, though it's a format that Parisian developer Quantic Dream never really abandoned. Its cult-favorite Indigo Prophecy (maybe called Fahrenheit in your neck of the woods) brought a level of cinematic detail and mechanical ingenuity to the genre at a time when "adventure game" was tantamount to a dirty word. Quantic Dream's been making a lot of big promises with its follow-up, Heavy Rain, starting with an impressive early PS3 tech demo that boasted a level of grimy realism and jittery tension few games would dare aim for. Giant Bomb recently received a pre-release build of the game which I dove into immediately. It's not without some odd angles, but I can safely say I've never played anything quite like it, and I'm eager to see more.
 
If you're feeling like you don't have a point of reference here, Heavy Rain is, essentially, a deeply devoted marriage of adventure-game storytelling and quick-time event gameplay. The story of the Origami Killer, as seen from the perspective of multiple characters, is the focus, and it plays like a very deliberately paced police procedural. This is, far and away, the thing that struck me the most during my time with Heavy Rain: the story, the setting, and the characters lack the oversized flourishes and archetypal cartoonishness that even the most serious video games tend to indulge.
 
 Psychoanalysis: The Game!
For about the first hour or so, if it weren't interactive, and the characters weren't polygonal, Heavy Rain could pass for a serious and intense modern-day police drama. Its ability to convincingly stage such day-in-the-life activities as waking up in an empty house and starting your day, taking a trip to the mall, or talking to the grieving mother of a murdered child is so engrossing, that I actually found it kind of jarring when some game-friendly, improbable crime-solving technology made an appearance. It's a very dark, cold, sad, and serious game unafraid to dwell on personal loss, alienation, addiction, and other uncomfortable aspects of the human condition. In a format where escapism and power fantasies are in particularly high demand, Heavy Rain is, least in its early going, an M-for-Mature game in the best possible sense.
 
There's a grit and a pallor to Heavy Rain's presentation that reinforces the everyday weight of the situation. The crummy apartments, seedy motels, muddy crime scenes, and drab police precincts don't just feel like location types, but actual places, thanks to a preternatural attention to detail. Saying it's photorealistic would be irresponsible and hyperbolic, but it looks real enough. One touch that I particularly appreciated was the ability to move about the environment during dialogue sequences. So many games are intent on locking you into a face-to-face two-shot that it's surprisingly rare to see a little walk-and-talk in a game. Beyond some technical hiccups indicative of the non-final software, the only fault I could really find in the presentation concerned some awkward voice acting, which occasionally betrayed the game's non-English-speaking origins.
 
 Architectural Drawing: The Game!
There's a volume of generally naturalistic dialogue in Heavy Rain, though you'll also interact with other characters, as well as objects in the environment, through a variety of permutations on quicktime events. There's almost something kind of perverse about the kinds of mundane activities you'll perform through a series of controller gestures. It starts simply enough, flicking the right analog stick about to open doors and flip light switches, though it gets more involved as you create architectural drawings, climb a muddy embankment, and tie a necktie. The closest I saw to action in my time with Heavy Rain involved a sloppy motel-room fistfight, which demanded some specific timing, but otherwise didn't resemble too many video-game fight sequences I've been a party to. In a game that's not as otherwise as fascinating as Heavy Rain, this style of gameplay could be a significant liability. Here, though, it seems justified, and it brings attention to the minutiae of the world that brings the game to life.
 
I've pretty deliberately avoided talking specifically about the story in Heavy Rain here because, well, it doesn't pack the same punch without the game's greater context, and I feel like it really needs to be experienced whole-cloth to be appreciated. With a few hours under my belt, I'm genuinely intrigued by how this Origami Killer story will unfold, and what the fates it holds for its collection of flawed protagonists. I'm also fascinated by its world of mundane details and the abstract, tactile feel of the gameplay. The lack of compromise promises to make Heavy Rain an incredibly divisive game, and one that will be hard to ignore.
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Posted by Ryan
 These two have good reason for looking so dour.
Much has been made about the recent resurgence of the traditional adventure game, though it's a format that Parisian developer Quantic Dream never really abandoned. Its cult-favorite Indigo Prophecy (maybe called Fahrenheit in your neck of the woods) brought a level of cinematic detail and mechanical ingenuity to the genre at a time when "adventure game" was tantamount to a dirty word. Quantic Dream's been making a lot of big promises with its follow-up, Heavy Rain, starting with an impressive early PS3 tech demo that boasted a level of grimy realism and jittery tension few games would dare aim for. Giant Bomb recently received a pre-release build of the game which I dove into immediately. It's not without some odd angles, but I can safely say I've never played anything quite like it, and I'm eager to see more.
 
If you're feeling like you don't have a point of reference here, Heavy Rain is, essentially, a deeply devoted marriage of adventure-game storytelling and quick-time event gameplay. The story of the Origami Killer, as seen from the perspective of multiple characters, is the focus, and it plays like a very deliberately paced police procedural. This is, far and away, the thing that struck me the most during my time with Heavy Rain: the story, the setting, and the characters lack the oversized flourishes and archetypal cartoonishness that even the most serious video games tend to indulge.
 
 Psychoanalysis: The Game!
For about the first hour or so, if it weren't interactive, and the characters weren't polygonal, Heavy Rain could pass for a serious and intense modern-day police drama. Its ability to convincingly stage such day-in-the-life activities as waking up in an empty house and starting your day, taking a trip to the mall, or talking to the grieving mother of a murdered child is so engrossing, that I actually found it kind of jarring when some game-friendly, improbable crime-solving technology made an appearance. It's a very dark, cold, sad, and serious game unafraid to dwell on personal loss, alienation, addiction, and other uncomfortable aspects of the human condition. In a format where escapism and power fantasies are in particularly high demand, Heavy Rain is, least in its early going, an M-for-Mature game in the best possible sense.
 
There's a grit and a pallor to Heavy Rain's presentation that reinforces the everyday weight of the situation. The crummy apartments, seedy motels, muddy crime scenes, and drab police precincts don't just feel like location types, but actual places, thanks to a preternatural attention to detail. Saying it's photorealistic would be irresponsible and hyperbolic, but it looks real enough. One touch that I particularly appreciated was the ability to move about the environment during dialogue sequences. So many games are intent on locking you into a face-to-face two-shot that it's surprisingly rare to see a little walk-and-talk in a game. Beyond some technical hiccups indicative of the non-final software, the only fault I could really find in the presentation concerned some awkward voice acting, which occasionally betrayed the game's non-English-speaking origins.
 
 Architectural Drawing: The Game!
There's a volume of generally naturalistic dialogue in Heavy Rain, though you'll also interact with other characters, as well as objects in the environment, through a variety of permutations on quicktime events. There's almost something kind of perverse about the kinds of mundane activities you'll perform through a series of controller gestures. It starts simply enough, flicking the right analog stick about to open doors and flip light switches, though it gets more involved as you create architectural drawings, climb a muddy embankment, and tie a necktie. The closest I saw to action in my time with Heavy Rain involved a sloppy motel-room fistfight, which demanded some specific timing, but otherwise didn't resemble too many video-game fight sequences I've been a party to. In a game that's not as otherwise as fascinating as Heavy Rain, this style of gameplay could be a significant liability. Here, though, it seems justified, and it brings attention to the minutiae of the world that brings the game to life.
 
I've pretty deliberately avoided talking specifically about the story in Heavy Rain here because, well, it doesn't pack the same punch without the game's greater context, and I feel like it really needs to be experienced whole-cloth to be appreciated. With a few hours under my belt, I'm genuinely intrigued by how this Origami Killer story will unfold, and what the fates it holds for its collection of flawed protagonists. I'm also fascinated by its world of mundane details and the abstract, tactile feel of the gameplay. The lack of compromise promises to make Heavy Rain an incredibly divisive game, and one that will be hard to ignore.
Posted by FesteringNeon

nice work Ryan!
Edited by danhusain

well, this looks interesting...

Posted by trimon

I really hope this game keeps it real

Posted by dbz1995

Whats the chance that we find soon enough the article '14 year old kid kills himself after playing PS3 video game'?

Posted by Wildfire570

Sounds like this game could be promising.

Posted by trophyhunter

I can't wait 
*giddy*

Posted by Jayzilla

this is going to be for a very specific audience, but kudos to them for taking a chance in an age where risks in game making are almost unheard of. I will rent this game just to see it even though I am not into games like this. It's a refreshing break from games coming out like that tripe called, "Dante's Inferno" that feel the need to steal from more than one source in order to make tons of money at the expense of real art.

Posted by insane_shadowblade85

Cool. I'm really looking forward to this game.
Posted by Venatio

Sounds great, cant wait to get this game next year

Posted by trophyhunter

I can't wait to buy this game day one easy 
but it won't sell well at all because ((and I hate myself for saying this)) but most people won't get it

Posted by InfiniteGeass

When I get a PS3 I will check this out. It looks really interesting.

Posted by Scooper

It sounds a bit like Shenmue but more interesting. At least to me.

Posted by misterpope

This game looks fascinating. Looking forward to it.

Posted by Hitchenson

There's a chance I'll get this. I really need to use my PS3 more anyway. 

Posted by Raspinudo

looks really interesting, definitely picking this game up.

Posted by Hockeymask27

Really thinking hard about taking the PS3 plunge for this and uncharted 2.

Posted by Red12b

Fucking Yes, I can't wait for this.

Posted by SoothsayerGB

 
Sounds like something that could completely fall flat on it's face.  By the way Ryan describes this game, it makes me think of another step away from classic video game formulas.  Into a new era of electronic entertainment fused with big budget films.  Interactive movies.   Which makes me wonder if they can get it right and not forget its a game. 
 
Story alone can only go so far and many gamers don't like long movies or even ones you interact with.  They want their button mashing fix.  I am also not a fan of quick time events, at all.  I have always felt they are a cheap tool for getting a rise out of the gamer.  The way Horror movies use quick shots of gore to startle the viewer.  It's always felt lazy and cheap to me.  
 
Tools like that tend to lack the elegance and subtly, that the story itself is trying to deliver. 
 
Anyway, Ryan makes we want to learn more about this "Game."  Whether he is being polite for receiving a early copy or not.  I'm really looking forward to the QL.  Hope its the classic duo of Ryan and Jeff.  
 
Dayz Ma Favo Rits!

Posted by Wiseblood

The Origami Killer better not turn out to be a fuckin' robot...

Posted by SuperJoe

Hopefully the developer doesn't go overboard with the Quick Time Events.  It was like playing Simon Says vs The Matrix towards the end of Indigo Prophecy.

Posted by chem

I'm really looking forward to this game. Finally something that isn't space marine #50000000000 on the planet Zog. Moar games that make me think and play with my head pls

Posted by Diamond
@Wiseblood said:
The Origami Killer better not turn out to be a fuckin' robot...
The Origami Killer will actually be a human controlled by a piece of paper that originated from a warlock from ancient Inca trying to come back into power and rule the world.  The final battle will be a 20 minute long DBZ-style high speed fight which will divide the Earth in two!  [semi-reference to Indigo Prophecy]
 
I do hope they keep stuff grounded this time.
Posted by IzzyGraze

This might be the game that makes me get a PS3.

Posted by RiddleBrother

Unless this game sucks, this will be the killer app that finally convinces me to get a ps3.

Posted by trophyhunter
@Diamond said:
" @Wiseblood said:
The Origami Killer better not turn out to be a fuckin' robot...
The Origami Killer will actually be a human controlled by a piece of paper that originated from a warlock from ancient Inca trying to come back into power and rule the world.  The final battle will be a 20 minute long DBZ-style high speed fight which will divide the Earth in two!  [semi-reference to Indigo Prophecy]  I do hope they keep stuff grounded this time. "
they already said there will be zero super natural stuff in heavy rain
Posted by CarolinaFan3515

Being John Malcovich: The Game!

Posted by GlenTennis

" With a few hours under my belt, I'm genuinely intrigued by how this Origami Killer story will unfold"
 
I see what you did there.

Edited by Wiseblood
@trophyhunter said:

they already said there will be zero super natural stuff in heavy rain "

I didn't even mind the supernatural stuff in Indigo Prophecy.  But when they introduced sentient AI into the story it lost me.  That was definitely too much. 
 
But I am very interested in Heavy Rain, especially if they actually keep things grounded in reality.
Posted by Tearhead

I'm really interested in this game, and keep scouring the internets to find any drip of video/info I can about it. I hope the final product comes together and properly executes what they are trying to convey. Two things I'm worried about is how well the QTEs are preformed and how long the game will be. I really hope scenes where characters can actually die will make the player feel real immersion, instead of easy button presses where the only way my character can die is if I basically put down the controller. Can't wait for the eventual Quick Look of this game, and the review!

Posted by Ryan
@GlenTennis said:
" " With a few hours under my belt, I'm genuinely intrigued by how this Origami Killer story will unfold"  I see what you did there. "
Hah, I didn't even realize I did that. I mean, of course! Wordsmith!
Posted by Diamond
@trophyhunter said:
they already said there will be zero super natural stuff in heavy rain
Really?  Good if true, not that I necessarily doubt you.
Posted by trophyhunter
@RiddleBrother said:
" Unless this game sucks, this will be the killer app that finally convinces me to get a ps3. "
well that's just the thing I will say right here and now that heavy rain will be the most polarizing game ever made.
I think it will be fucking awesome personally, but there will be tons of people that will say it sucks because you don't rip people in half or something stupid.
Posted by Arjuna

Picture is worth 1000 words.... 
 
GIVE US A QUICK LOOK! 
 
:)

Posted by radion_null

Well, hopefully 3rd time's the charm for Quantic Dream. Never played Omikron, but reviews were less than stellar. Idigo Prophecy was engrossing up until it got too supernatural for me; still worth picking up for like $4-$10 at your local gaming store.

Posted by trophyhunter
@Diamond said:
" @trophyhunter said:
they already said there will be zero super natural stuff in heavy rain
Really?  Good if true, not that I necessarily doubt you. "
yeah david cage said that in a interview with joysitq
Posted by MysteriousBob

I lost interest as soon as  Fahrenheit was mentioned.

Posted by trophyhunter
@MysteriousBob said:
" I lost interest as soon as  Fahrenheit was mentioned. "
you and I are going to fight
Posted by Tearhead

" it doesn't pack the same punch without the game's greater context, and I feel like it really needs to be experienced whole-cloth to be appreciated."
 
I pray to God that they release a demo to PSN so people can truly understand what the game is all about.

Posted by raynate2022

I've watched all the videos I can on this game. This is DEFINITELY a system seller for me. I've wanted a PS3 for inFAMOUS and GOW3 and such anyway. But this game just looks amazing

Posted by evanbrau

As long as they manage to keep the story as gritty and real world as Ryan says they do in his time with it then I'll be happy. Fahrenheit was good up until it went completely fucking insane towards the end.

Posted by Frester

Can't wait!!

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

i get the feeling that i'm going to love this game. ryan's preview did a great job of getting me hyped up for this, even more so than for mag and maybe even gow3. the fact that the game doesn't feature any "gamey" sequences thus far (like, say, taking down a helicopter or something crazy like that) and the game's apparent tendency to dwell on the darker side of human emotion have piqued my interest significantly.

Posted by RagingLion

Oh I am so so excited about this game.  I've already been thinking this way, but it really might be the game that compels me to get a console.
 
I really hope Quantic Dream pulls this off and delivers on what they've been promising to do.  I'm really excited by your preview Ryan because all that you've said here is exactly the kind of thing that I'd expect to be said if Heavy Rain is able to be what I'm hoping it will be: something very different to what's gone before and if we're lucky something that might even transcend what most games have been until this point.  I also think you're absolutely right when you say this will be a very divisive game.  I only hope they can market this game to bring in a new gaming audience that will really like this even if they don't normally play games.  We'll have to wait and see if the game can deliver on all it's promise for its entire length.

Posted by Lard

DLC for this game = FAIL.

Posted by jmrwacko

Wasn't this game first slated for release in like 2008?

Posted by HT101

It sounds like an interesting game but it's a game that I don't really care about.  It looks amazing and everything but there is just no tether for me to grab onto.

Posted by ADTR_ZERO

I wish I could edit this post, but I can't find the edit button! 
 
Those people don't look dour! They look sour!
Posted by Hashbrowns

I'm cautiously interested, but Indigo Prophecy was a prime example of incredibly effective presentation that was undermined by a fundamentally poor story.  Quantic Dream was able to stage extremely tense scenes with great characters, but all the style did not make up for the last third of that game's generic and unsatisfying plot.
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