Groundbreaking Cinematic Masterpiece
I’ve been a gamer all of my life. I remember getting my first video game system, a Super Nintendo, in elementary school and playing Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country on it endlessly. Through the years I’ve seen gaming grow and evolve and have played countless classics, from Super Mario 64 to Metal Gear Solid. The industry’s come a long way technically since my days playing the SNES, but in a lot ways, I feel like today’s games fail to capture the magic of past generations. Every year, we’re drowned in a sea of similar shooters and action games. I feel like many companies are just making the same game over and over again with a different coat of paint. As much as I enjoyed them, I was ultimately left underwhelmed with many of last year’s heavy hitters, including Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3: ODST. So when something truly unique comes along, it’s a breath of fresh air. And that’s just what Heavy Rain is. It is something genuinely original that manages to stand out among everything else that's out there.
Heavy Rain is the newest game from developer Quantic Dream. The best way to describe it would be as a kind of an interactive choose your own adventure novel. The story revolves around the hunt for the Origami Killer, a serial killer who kidnaps and murders young boys, leaving an origami figure with the dead bodies. You play as four different characters, all of who become intertwined in the mystery. It’s best to go into the game spoiler-free, so I’ll leave the synopsis at that.
The gameplay could be described as the evolution of the old school point and click adventure games. The story unfolds in one of two ways: controlling your character through fixed camera perspectives and interactive cut scenes. During the fixed camera portions, you hold down the R2 button to walk and use the left stick to steer your character. L1 switches camera angles and holding in L2 allows you to listen to a range of thoughts your character is having at the moment.
You interact with objects and perform various actions by either using the right stick or a combination of holding or pressing different buttons. For instance, to open a desk drawer you might push forward on the right stick. To push a heavy object, you may rapidly tap triangle. The developers did a good job of matching the action onscreen to the controller prompts. If an action is strenuous or difficult to perform in real life, the button combinations will try to mimic that. For example, to climb a steep hill you have to hold down an awkward grouping of three or four buttons at once.
The second method of control is through interactive cut scenes. There are many scenes that play out like a movie, but you guide how the story unfolds through Quick Time Events. They are primarily used in higher action scenes, like chase scenes or fist fights. I’m not usually a fan of QTEs, but they work perfectly in Heavy Rain. In most games that use QTEs, if you miss a button prompt you fail and either die or have to start the sequence over again. This is not the case in Heavy Rain. If you fail to hit a button at the right time, the scene will continue, it will just play out a bit differently. There are no game over screens, no way to lose the game. The story will always continue, just in a different way depending on your actions. Characters can even die if you miss the wrong sequence of prompts, but the game will just continue on without them. This approach transforms Quick Time Events from a frustrating gimmick into an organic and exciting aspect of the game. I never thought QTE controlled action scenes could be as thrilling as they are in Heavy Rain.
There are some problems with the controls, though. While the Quick Time Event sections are near flawless, the fixed camera portions can be a bit awkward. Playing those sections gives me flashbacks to the original Resident Evil. You don’t so much control your character’s movements as just point him in a certain direction. This is due to the fact that the left stick doesn’t directly control your character's movement, but turns his head instead. To, let’s say, walk over to a window you would turn your characters head towards the window and then hold R2 to walk in that direction. It takes some getting used to, but by the end of the game it becomes almost second nature. I still think a more direct method of movement would be better, but the controls are workable enough to not distract from the game too much.
What makes Heavy Rain such a compelling game is the story. The writing is all around excellent. The characters, dialogue, and narrative are all of the same quality as a top-tier film. The game has a Seven, David Fincher kind of vibe. The mystery of discovering the identity of the Origami Killer is suspenseful and unpredictable, but what really makes Heavy Rain so refreshing is how emotionally resonant it manages to be. It doesn’t shy away from themes that most other games wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. It can at times be a very sad game. Ethan Mars, the central figure in the story, is a broken, depressed man who is desperately trying to save the last thing he is still living for. We met the parents of the children who were murdered by the Origami Killer and see how their lives have completely fallen apart. The entire game is drenched in a never-ending torrential downpour. The tag line for the game is “How far would you go to save someone you love?” Heavy Rain puts you in the shoes of a desperate father and asks you to answer that question.
Heavy Rain is an adult story including nudity, violence, and language, but it never feels exploitative. All of the mature content is not just there because it can be, like many games, but instead is used to invoke an emotional response from the player. I’ve killed countless faceless people in shooting games without a second thought, but when the player is given the option to kill in Heavy Rain it is a different story. The developers really make you feel the weight of taking a life. The moment is disturbing, upsetting, and honestly made me feel a little sick. No other game has ever managed to do that. What is even more remarkable is how Heavy Rain manages to capture the little moments in life as well. Through the simple act of playing outside with your kids, it lets you feel the love a father feels towards a son. It captures the wonder a newborn child brings as you are tasked with gently cradling a baby to sleep. Most games don’t aspire to make you feel anything other than an adrenaline rush, butHeavy Rain dares to reach for deeper emotional responses.
As brilliant as the story is, it does start off a bit slow. It is necessary character setup, but some may be turned off by it all the same. I advise giving the game a couple of hours before passing judgment, though, because to miss out on such a unique experience because of a slow start would be a shame. The only major problem with the story is the voice acting. Some characters, like Scott Shelby, are voiced very well, while others feel kind of flat. The actress that voices Lauren is especially weak. Much of the acting sounds like it was voiced by first year acting students, which is baffling for a game so focused on story. I don’t know why Quantic Dream didn’t make sure all of their actors were exceptional. Recently Mass Effect 2 and Metal Gear Solid 4 both had phenomenal voice acting, which makes this oversight all the more apparent. The game still manages to be incredibly powerful, but the acting sometimes pulls you out of it, which reduces an otherwise beautifully told story.
Technically, Heavy Rain is very impressive. The graphics are incredibly detailed and manage to capture the subtleties of human expression quite effectively. This is part of the reason the game manages to be so emotionally poignant. There is never a barrier between the story the game is trying to tell and the technology presenting it. The characters look real and that carries over into the believably of the game. The quality of the graphics does have a downside, though. The load times can be painfully long at points. This doesn’t destroy the experience at all, but can be a bit annoying.
The largest issue technically, and also the biggest problem with the game as a whole, is the ridiculous amount of bugs. Not since the original Mass Effect have I encountered a game shipped to retail with so many glitches. The audio skips at times. Once all of the sound actually cut out and I was left playing a silent scene. Some players have reported getting stuck in walls and having to restart to fix it. The biggest bug is freezing. I’ve had the game freeze several times on me during my initial playthrough.
What makes it even worse is that anytime the game freezes, there is a danger of corrupting your save file. This happened to me. I was about an hour or two from the end of the game when my game froze on a load screen. When I rebooted the system, my save file was corrupted and I had to start the game over again from the beginning. This is not an isolated issue. Many people online have complained about similar occurrences. Heavy Rain needed an extra month or two of development time to iron out these bugs before release. There is apparently a patch on the way to address these issues, but as someone who as already finished the game, it is too little, too late. For those that have yet to play Heavy Rain, this patch may make these complaints a moot point.
Heavy Rain is relatively short, but still longer than I expected for this type of game. It can be beaten is around eight hours for the first playthrough. The game has several very different endings, so some may want to beat it multiple times to see them all. I’ve found that replaying sections of the game to achieve different results dilutes the magic a bit, but others may feel differently. For me, Heavy Rain is the equivalent of a great movie that is incredible the first time, but is really only meant to be seen once. I don’t see this a negative. One of my professors in college always used to say “You can only see a great film for the first time once”, which is true of movies and is also true of this game. Heavy Rain may not appeal to everyone, though. There is a group of people that will absolutely love it, but it may prove to be too unusual for others. There is a demo of the game on PSN, so I urge everyone to download it and at least give it a try.
Heavy Rain is a unique, groundbreaking video game. While many developers are content to rehash the same thing over and over again, Quantic Dream is pushing the industry forward with a refreshing new take on what a video game can be. These are the kinds of games that more companies should be making. Combing a gripping suspense story with genuine human emotion, Heavy Rain manages to accomplish what very few other games have: make the player actually feel something. While sometimes weak voice acting and an abundance of bugs hold it back, these problems are not enough to lessen the incredible impact that the game has. If Quantic Dream addresses some of the issues with Heavy Rain and finds some higher caliber actors, I have no doubt that their next project will go from being a brilliant, but flawed achievement to a near-perfect masterpiece.
• Excellent writing
• Emotionally engaging and gripping story
• Impressive graphics
• Brilliant use of QTE
• Is something unlike anything else out there
• Sometimes flat voice acting
• Somewhat awkward movement controls
• Long load times
• May not appeal to everyone
• Ridiculous amount of bugs
• Danger of a corrupted save
The Movie Police Rating: 95
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