It’s rare that a game totally delivers on its promises. It’s even more rare when a developer manages to live up to the claims they have made. When Quantic Dream announced their follow up to Indigo Prophecy (aka Fahrenheit), we heard whiled claims of creating a new and innovative ways of gaming. That they’d tell a story in a way never before seen in this industry. That they could make you feel, care and hope. That we’d be taken on a journey, as if we were watching a film. Well, after seeing Heavy Rain through to the very end, I can say that without a doubt, they have most certainly succeeded.
Quantic Dream have genuinely achieved something incredible with Heavy Rain. You may be skeptical. I too was hesitant to trust that it would do everything they boasted. I too feared it would be, (god-forbid) one long quick time event. But until you have experienced it, there is no real way to express how refreshing and exhilarating it was to play through what is, frankly, a groundbreaking product.
The first thing you’ll notice is how visually arresting the game is. Heavy rain employs stylistic techniques similar to what you’d expect from a full motion picture. Everything from the hazy background chatter of a busy police station, to the thoroughly impressive lighting effects - highlighted spectacularly as you hesitantly creep through a desolate apartment block, sunlight triumphantly pouring through grimy windows, bouncing off the dust particles floating aimlessly across your path. Of course there’s the rain itself, relentless and foreboding, it sets the tone for the dark, unsettling tale it permeates.
These visual tweaks and graphical flair make for cinematography that easily rivals the most depressing of European indie flicks; and the added touch of spot on performance captured animations mean you totally believe in these digital actors. You are engrossed from the word go, and as you are introduced to each character and treated to a beautiful close up of them, dilating pupils and all, you fall more and more in love with the sinister, yet downright beautiful world of Heavy Rain.
When Quantic Dream began tossing the terms “interactive film” and “interactive drama” around, showing screens of gameplay that saw huge button prompts appearing above characters, there was an almost universal moment of stomach churning dread amongst the gaming community. The fear was that we would be forced to endure a 10-hour long quick time event. Thankfully this is only partially true. Whilst you will occasionally be frantically tapping buttons and swiveling analogue sticks in order to keep the digital face you inexplicably care about from being murdered. The majority of the game however, proceeds and at a much calmer pace.
Instead of pressing ‘Triangle’ to block a punch or hop over an obstacle, the sticks are employed to mirror the actions that you are performing on screen. Similar to the control scheme in Skate, the input method here aims to represent as closely or intuitively as possible, the behaviour or actions of your character. This could mean anything from rotating the stick to wrap bandages over a wound, to holding ‘R1’ and slowly dragging the stick to set the table without dropping or breaking any plates. In one case, you’re even asked to gently sway the control pad from side to side to mirror the seductive dancing of Madison Paige, the games heroine.
It’s these innovative and exciting applications that make playing Heavy Rain so wonderfully refreshing, even if you’re simply cooking eggs or putting on lipstick, these mundane activities instantly become totally exhilarating. At least the first time round that is. Having replayed large chunks of the game more than once I can already see where some of these simpler, less interesting activities, may not be so fun a third or fourth time.
That’s not to say that the game becomes boring or too slow at any point, the pacing of Heavy Rain is one of the most impressive aspects. It manages to be exhaustingly quick one moment, and then reservedly slow the next, all the while being thoroughly enjoyable; whilst the quieter sections may drag on momentarily, and the more hectic segments seem too challenging at times, for the most part the game is constructed and present in a way that is virtually pitch perfect.
You’ll never be fighting for your life wishing you were methodically investigating a crime scene, and you’ll never be watching television with you’re kid hoping for a murderer to come crashing through the window. Somehow Quantic Dream have created a narrative in which you are happy at any given point, you are always satisfied with the challenges of that scene. Whether things are moving at a snail’s pace or hurtling at you with life threatening hast, you’re never left wanting more.
I wont give anything away about the story, all I’ll say is that although it’s not the most original yarn to be spun in recent times, and influences such as Saw and The Departed (to name a few) can be seen throughout. If we consider the way in which that story is told, with it’s endless variables, branching paths and multiple endings. The authentic and terrifically realised characters that act out these gripping scenes, as well as the vivid, engrossing world they inhabit. Then it’s clear that Heavy Rain is not a game, nor is it a movie; it is in fact is as perfect a cross between the two mediums as we’ve ever seen, or are likely to see for years to come. A unique and refreshing experience, that sucks you into its dank, grimy world, makes you care about the people within it, and leaves you with a sensation games rarely manage to evoke. This one is definitely not to be missed.