Heavy Rain, the latest "interactive drama" from developer Quantic Dream, is a game where narrative is king. With compelling characters, intense set pieces, and a branching storyline, Heavy Rain puts the player in a position where every action has consequences. Building upon the ideas of Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain seeks to create an emotional experience that shouldn't be missed.
Visually the Heavy Rain looks beautiful, the world appears run down and grim which serves to amplify the overall feeling of melancholy present throughout the game. The characters themselves look quite impressive and it's apparent that a lot of attention has been put into every detail. The animation is impressive, but there are instances when things appear slightly unnatural, especially during scenes when two characters have to physically interact and there are some instances of bizarre facial movements, most noticeably concerning the way in which mouths move at times. There is some minor screen tearing, but it's infrequent and shouldn't be too much of a distraction for most players.
When it comes to sound Heavy Rain has a haunting score that perfectly reflects the tone of the game. The voice acting, however, is more of a mixed bag. Though the characters are from the United States, many of the actors are not and the resulting accents range from convincing to cringeworthy depending on the character. Whether or not this detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game will be up to each individual player to decide, but it's impossible to ignore, especially when characters are shouting. There are occasional instances of sound briefly cutting out, most noticeably with the music, but it's not a common occurrence.
The mechanics are similar to those of its predecessor, Indigo Prophecy, in that Heavy Rain requires precise controller motions, such as the flick of the analog stick or holding down multiple button simultaneously, in an attempt to simulate every day activities and draw the player into the narrative. However, more often than not these prompts serve to hold the player at arm's length rather than draw them in. While the concept itself is interesting, a more streamlined control scheme that allows the player to react instinctively, rather than needing reminders about how to use the controller, would probably have been more in line with what Quantic Dream was trying to accomplish.
With that said, Heavy Rain's control scheme works remarkably well during the game's more action oriented segments during which players are prompted to mimic a stream of controller actions as they appear on screen. One of the interesting things about Heavy Rain is that even if the player doesn't react as prompted the sequence continues and changes accordingly. For instance, if a player may miss a button press during a fight sequence, that doesn't automatically mean the fight is necessarily lost, just that the progression of the fight changes. Like the character, the player is forced to react to what is happening, there is no way to anticipate and prepare for what will happen next. That the outcome of the game hinges on events such as these adds an extra layer of tension to the action
Heavy Rain cannot be "won" or "lost" in the traditional sense as its ending is a direct result of the decisions and actions of the player. Every scene has multiple outcomes with repercussions that aren't always immediately obvious. It's a credit to the design of Heavy Rain that the mechanics behind the branching process are not easily recognizable. You can speculate as to what may have happened, but without multiple playthroughs it's impossible to know for sure.
One of the most interesting things about Heavy Rain is the permanence of death. If a character dies at any point in the narrative the game keeps going, forcing the player to question how they progress. How willing are you to take risks knowing that your decisions may get somebody killed? Will you wait and see how a scene plays out or will you act for fear of the consequences? Of course the effectiveness of such a system requires an emotional investment from the player in order to succeed. If you don't care about the characters, or if you're simply more concerned with discovering what the game will let you get away with, the specter of death carries the same weight as it does with most games: none.
Heavy Rain places great importance on getting the player emotionally involved. A simple scene involving FBI profiler Norman Jayden perfectly captures the boredom and frustration at being kept waiting. There's no way to skip this scene, the player must endure it just as the character does. Similarly, having to fight through a crowd during a critical moment, or having to recall specific details about events that happened earlier, help create feelings of panic and tension in the player analogous to what the character must be feeling. Again, how well these narrative hooks work is reliant on the player, but those willing to invest themselves will discover a truly rewarding experience.
Heavy Rain is a game that should be experienced by everyone if for no other reason than to see how varied games can be. In a time of endless sequels it's important to support games that at least make the attempt at doing something different. Though it suffers slightly from minor technical issues, Heavy Rain succeeds where it counts. Compelling characters, strong dialogue, tense action, and a branching storyline that makes each playthrough unique are why Heavy Rain is a must play.