clint's Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) review

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  • clint has written a total of 4 reviews. The last one was for FTL
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Wait, so what's done is done?

 Those of us who live in video games have always had the luxury of a rather juvenile approach to our video game lives. Did you screw up? Go back and try it again. Do you want to be good or evil? Here are two options for you. Here's what will happen depending on what you choose. Change your mind about which option you wanted? Well, that's alright — just go back and try the other thing.

Heavy Rain is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, emotional stranglehold of a game particularly because it violates all of these things that we've been accustomed to in video games. But first, some advice: 

Play the game on the hardest difficulty, even if you're not super familiar with video games. Unless you're missing more than a third of so of the prompts, you shouldn't pick the easier route. This game is much more interesting if you make mistakes.

This game is much more interesting if you make mistakes.

Most decisions aren't as easy to make as this one.
This isn't a game about winning. This isn't a game about doing things the right way. This is a game about people, and people make mistakes. And, unlike in video games, they have to live with those mistakes for the rest of their lives. Unlike in video games, sometimes what is asked of people is too much for them to handle, too much for them to accomplish. And forcing yourself to accept that reality and forcing yourself to accept that, for the next eight to twelve hours of your life, you have to live with whatever just happened — that is the insanity of this game.

And, the choices you make in the game are just as human, and just as insane. The sort of thing you're choosing to do in this game is organic and real in a way that I haven't seen in any other game to date. This isn't a game that gives gravitas to grand, sweeping decisions that you're making. There are no defining moments of choice. There is no Playboy X moment in this game. This game is much dirtier and much meaner than that.
There was one point in my first playthrough where I was confronted with a quick, simple decision, and implicitly given only seconds to choose — and I was completely paralyzed trying to make this decision because I had no idea if one of the options would perhaps kill me, or if the other option would perhaps result in the failure to find my son. In fact, I spent so long trying to weigh my options that the game stopped waiting for me and just moved on. The genius of the choices in this game is in the fact that you have an investment in those decisions (emotionally for the characters, as well as personally for your own time playing the entire remainder of the game), and as a result it becomes practically as real as it is for the characters in question.

Similarly, fight scenes are about as intense as any you'll find in any game, simply because the stakes are so incredibly high. And, with fights and intense action happening fairly often, you'll be about as exhausted as these poor characters by the end of the game.

I'd rather stop my review here. I think that everyone should play this game once. I think that while it may not be a revolution in the way games are made or told (it is, but it's too much of an insane effort to be replicated within pretty much any other game), it is an incredibly well-conceived and -executed experience that everyone should experience once — particularly those that spend a lot of time playing video games.

And, perhaps once is the right number of times to play this game. Going back and seeing how other decisions play out I found ruined the emotional value of the scenes. Real people, after all, don't get to time-travel back and figure out what might have otherwise happened. That nagging feeling after the game ends that perhaps you could have made better decisions, but not being completely certain, is part of the experience. Of course, if you want to get all the trophies in the game, you'll have no choice.

Either way, though I think everything else about the game should be inconsequential in relativity to what I've already described, this wouldn't be a proper game review without considering all the other components that make this game a game.

 The lighting in this game is absolutely fantastic — perhaps the best since Mirror's Edge.
Graphically, Heavy Rain is a bit of a tour de force. Sometimes the designers blew out the lighting a bit too much, for instance in the police office, and textures start to look like the pastels from the first Counter-Strike, but for the most part the graphics in this game are both technically and artistically breathtaking. The uncanny valley is in a bit of effect here, but it's more than counterbalanced by the beauty of the lighting in the first scene of the game, or the dust suspended in the air of the apartment you just broke into, with peeling wallpaper and a crumbling ceiling, sunlight scattering through the dirty windows. There are brief moments in this game that look better and more realistic than any other game I've ever played, and I'm not sure how they do it, but I suspect they put a lot of thought into light and how it diffuses. The PS3 has really been shining bright recently.

The sound in the game is also superb for the most part, with the obvious and oft-mentioned complaint about some of the voice acting. I didn't find it as distracting as others, but it was definitely a present problem. The music gets a bit repetitive after a while, with only a couple generic calm-yet-sad leitmotifs, and a small handful of oh-god-i'm-going-to-die cues.

Perhaps the most broken part of this game is the simple act of walking. After playing the game for a few minutes, you start to understand why the game controls like a tank (you hold R2 to walk, and then use the left stick to turn), but that still doesn't excuse the fact that the way it carries out said tank-controls is so awful. Sometimes you'll find yourself on the cusp of an invisible, virtual corner of the game, trying to get to the other side of the corner, but because you're a few inches off, you'll turn around like a drunk clown several times before finally giving up, walking several feet away, and trying it again. There must have been a better solution here than tank controls. Added to the fact that the way it's animated gives the impression that you're dragging these people unwillingly along by a piece of string attached to their noses, and it serves in general to make something which should be fairly simple incredibly frustrating.

Again, though, I think these things are inconsequential relative to the actual merits of this game. Everyone should play it once — perhaps precisely once, perhaps at least once, but once nonetheless.    
Edited by padrino

Interesting thoughts in the review. Nice.
Personalty, I found the normal difficulty fine because I made plenty of mistakes in my first playthough. Also, I committed to not re-trying chapters in this first run through the game.  Unfortunately, I felt I was making mistakes due to the poor way the game presents some actions and the sudden change in pace of the inputs that you just were not expecting.  In the end, because of mistakes, I ended up with the worst crap ending I think is possible in this game. 
It is very cool that the story does actually fork when you make some mistakes and you will not see these sections if you just play through the "winning" branches. So you are right that you should experience these branches by making mistakes.  At the same time, I was glad to play through a second time and fix mistakes because there was a lot of good stuff in the end that I missed and soured my first playthrough.

In my second playthrough, I was more flexible and did go back and retry some segments. They don't tell you this but if you quit a sequence (hitting start and go to main menu) as long as you quit before the next save you can replay that "segment". 
Certainly not the recommended way to play it but for me, I think I was glad to be able to correct some mistakes. I do agree that the "best" way to play would be to just play through and do not replay any segments. But I think if you play on Hard, you may make too many mistakes late in the game and end up with a  similar lame ending that I had. That is just not the best experience.
Certainly if you buy the game and have no problem with multiple plays, you should take that approach (do not replay segments) first.

Posted by Oni

Great review. My problem with the making mistakes part is though, that button prompts were either too unclear (moving controller versus moving stick was confusing, as was holding down buttons and tapping the last one) or sixaxis motions wouldn't register properly (easily the worst offender here). But in principle I agree with you: Live with the mistakes you made. I found myself quitting out and retrying a bit two or three times though out of sheer fear of losing a character. Weak, I know, but it speaks volumes about how good the game is at making me care about its characters.

Posted by Clint

The one type that I had trouble with, and that I agree with, is when you have dialogue options under a tense situation; the crazy shaking and moving shadow made the prompts difficult to distinguish, particularly x. 
I did restart a scene once because I hit a button and the character did something I absolutely did not mean to do.

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