Giant Bomb Review

107 Comments

Heavy Rain Review

4
  • PS3

A few technical hiccups barely temper the emotional impact of this tense, character-driven thriller.


 You'll go through a lot of hell to catch a killer.
Heavy Rain bills itself as "interactive drama," a term that right away ought to clarify the focus of this grim thriller from QuanticDream. But in case you're still wondering, it isn't headshots or double jumps. Like the company's last game, Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain lets you carry out the ordinary actions of ordinary people caught up in an extraordinarily sordid, life-or-death sequence of events that's set in a soaked, dreary urban landscape. The particulars of the storyline are wildly flexible according to the influence of your guiding decisions, and they play out within a narrative framework that succeeds at creating a deep emotional resonance even when it's held back by characters and events that aren't always perfectly believable.

This is essentially an eight-hour movie, or, if you want to be cynical about it, an eight-hour cutscene that you frequently take part in. Heavy Rain's plot unfolds from the perspective of four loosely connected, archetypal characters: the despondent, down-on-his-luck single dad Ethan Mars, already reeling from the loss of one child and the separation from his wife; overweight, alcoholic private eye Scott Shelby; Madison Paige, the feisty newspaper reporter who will stop at nothing to get the story; and the out-of-town FBI profiler Norman Jayden, who predictably creates plenty of friction by grinding up against the internal politics of the local PD.

 Great cinematic presentation underpins every scene.     
For reasons personal, professional, or both, they're all connected to the Origami Killer, the enigmatic psycho who's been murdering children in the area for the last two years. None of these four characters are particularly happy people, but you can't help getting attached to them as their paths cross and converge in pursuit of the murderer. The flow of the plot is broken up into brief scenes starring one or more of these primary characters along with all manner of supporting cast, and it's only an hour or two before you start to see enough connections between people and events, and the story picks up the momentum to propel you rapidly from one scene to the next. You could probably finish the game in two or three sittings once it gets its hooks in you and starts to drag you along.

Even if the broader story succeeds at drawing you in, I found the smaller, personal interactions to be uneven. Plenty of the individual scenes convey honest dramatic heft, but some of them feel awkward or forced, as if you're watching automatons going through their preset paces rather than breathing human beings acting through their own agency. When a child willfully breaks away from his father in a crowded shopping mall, you just know something bad is going to happen to him, even when your character gets close enough to grab and stop him. When two characters lean in for a kiss, you can't necessarily see a romantic spark forming from their rigid facial expressions and lack of romantic preamble. And while most of the voiceover is perfectly serviceable and even quite affecting at times, some of the pronunciations and phrasings don't sound entirely American, though its characters are.
 
This is getting into serious nitpicking, because Heavy Rain achieves a level of believable human drama most games can only aspire to. And it's probably too soon to expect every synthetic character to match the lifelike precision of the ones in Avatar. But the occasional awkwardness here made me ponder the idea that the uncanny valley encompasses more than simple skin shaders and eye movements. Maybe it extends around the things people say to each other and the reasons they do things, too. But at any rate, it's a sign of the story's overall strength that the game engages and sticks with you in spite of its rougher moments.

 The game doesn't shy away from mature imagery and subject matter.          
Enough about watching the game; how do you play it, and how does playing it contribute to its story? Your interaction with the grimy world of Heavy Rain is limited to walking around in it (most of the time) and using combinations of buttons, analog stick movements, and Sixaxis gestures when prompted to perform context-relevant actions. These range from mundane (slowly pushing the stick downward to drag a razor across a character's face) to frantic (holding down five separate buttons in sequence to loosen a rope binding your wrists while the car you're tied up in is lowered into a junkyard crusher). There's a mostly satisfying, tactile feel to the way Heavy Rain makes you perform controller actions that look and feel like they map directly to what your character is doing onscreen. It's the sort of thing you need to experience firsthand to fully appreciate, but it generally works.

The first question that occurred to me early on in Heavy Rain was, Why am I doing this stuff? What's the point of making a character brush his teeth, urinate, or open the fridge to get a snack? It was around the time I piloted Ethan over to that fridge that I think I hit on the answer. Presented with the choice between drinking a beer or a carton of orange juice, I performed the analog stick action to pick up the beer. Then I was confronted with another action to make him actually drink the beer. I stared at it for a couple of seconds, then put the beer back down, and drank the OJ instead. Then I thought, maybe Ethan stopped to consider his distant, emotionally fragile young son sitting in the other room and thought better of drinking around him. Then I wondered: Did I just contribute to the development of this character in some tiny way through my own actions? I'd like to think I did. It was a strangely empowering moment, even if it was accidental.

 Everybody's got a reason to catch this killer.
There are a couple of other things Heavy Rain does better than any game I can remember. One of them is quick time events. You participate in every one of the game's frantic scenarios--be it a fistfight, a police chase, or escaping from a burning building--by quickly hitting buttons when prompted. But unlike, say, God of War, in which you fail and have to start over a canned animation when you miss a button, Heavy Rain's action scenes unfold seamlessly according to not only what you do but also what you don't do. Realistically, every character isn't going to escape from a car sinking into a river, or evade an axe-wielding maniac long enough to survive. When you miss a button press, your character exhibits a similarly inept action onscreen, so the course of the action sequence feels like it's being written as you play through it. The game conveys these failures fluidly and convincingly, and I was on the edge of my seat as I scrambled to try to make it through every one of them.

The other is that often ballyhooed but rarely successful back-of-box feature, moral choice. The game foists a great number of tough decisions on you that most people would be loathe to even ponder, let alone make. Is the life of your child worth more than the life of a stranger? Is it worth more than your own life? Would you spare your bitter enemy from a grisly death? Forgive a lover's betrayal? The game flings these sorts of either/or scenarios at you repeatedly, and each choice has dramatic, tangible effects on how the story plays out, even if the effects aren't immediately obvious at the time. And I'm glad they aren't. Since you consider most of these choices under serious duress, the game forces you to make them in a matter of seconds, and then live with whatever the consequences may be. That immediacy adds to the game's gritty realism and the sense than I was contributing to the narrative, rather than just watching it unfold. I got a sour satisfaction out of letting my choices ride as the story went along, even when their ultimate effects were unpalatable.

 Some decisions you won't want to make.
The only time I went back and immediately replayed scenes from Heavy Rain to make a different choice was when the game's controls prevented me from making the one I wanted the first time. Some of the Sixaxis movements in particular are a little finicky, causing me to miss taking the course of action I wanted even when it was clearly laid out before me. It's worth making sure your characters follow the actions you want them to, because the outcome of the story and even its middle parts can vary wildly depending on what you do and don't do. Major, playable characters can die early in the game, significantly altering the flow of events, and there's an enormous number of ways the story can ultimately resolve. Who's dead, who's alive, and what happens to the survivors is entirely variable and fully based on the way you played your version of the game. Those moments when I felt like my choices were impeded by the controls were rare but disappointing, since they slowed down a story that was chugging along at full steam under its own quick pacing. Even when my ass--or at least a major decision--wasn't on the line, the clumsy walking controls had me occasionally getting a character stuck in a corner or on a piece of furniture, which just looks silly.

Anyway, these technical issues are minor and only really glaring in contrast to the overall quality of Heavy Rain's plotting and presentation. Interactive drama, if you'd like to call it that, is certainly a young subset of game design, itself such an iterative process that most other games get the chance to build on the work of their numerous predecessors. Heavy Rain doesn't really have that benefit. It's coming out of mostly uncharted territory, and it's an impressive effort for that limitation. Interactive storytelling might not yet be able to evoke the same degree of raw human emotion as more traditional art forms, but this is a big step in the right direction. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
107 Comments
  • 107 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Posted by N3onThr33

Nice nice.

Posted by OroJackson

Hmm, would of thought Ryan would review this, either way this is a good read

Posted by Eversoranimus

Great review.

Posted by jkz

Well then, good to hear you liked it Brad

Posted by pbhawks45
@OroJackson said:
" Hmm, would of thought Ryan would review this, either way this is a good read "
He was supposed to.
Posted by canucks23

So is Brad the office Sony guy or what? haha, i haven't seen anybody else review a significant ps3 exclusive since kz2.

Posted by immike

Cool, I wish I could play it...

Posted by eclipsesis

" but this is a big step in the right direction"

I couldn't agree more, hopefully more dev's will have the inspiration to create games at both end of the spectrum, Completely over the top fantasy action (Bayonetta) <-------------(What ever is in between)---------------------> Grounded and mature (Heavy Rain) 

Posted by rjayb89

I can't believe Bruce Willis is the killer.

Posted by THE_END

This game is going to kick ass!

Posted by MetalGearSunny

I cannot wait to play this game.

Posted by John_Bender

From what I saw this game looked promising, glad to see it lives up to most of it. Hope it dosent go of the rails like 
Indigo Prophecy.

Posted by Nyro

Someone help! My wallet, it's dying!!!

Posted by BenderUnit22

"down-on-his-luck"? Way to describe losing your children, Brad.

Posted by Yzzerdd

Maturity in games is one of the worst and most overused buzzwords to in recent memory. Yeah a CSI ripoff games have finally matured...

Posted by natetodamax

Sucks this game wasn't released on 360. I so want to play it.

Posted by Xeiphyer
@OroJackson said:
" Hmm, would of thought Ryan would review this, either way this is a good read "
Yeah I was expecting that too, can't wait for the podcast, hopefully Ryan will have played some of it. Although its a game where you can't talk about specifics at all.
 
So I got the game earlier today, but then had to go to school right after =/ So far its amazing! I can't wait to play more, so I'm going to go play more.
Posted by Sephiroth9997

Great job brad!  Stoked for this!
Posted by Akeldama

I think this review really sells the emotion factor short. I have been playing the game for several hours now, and I am already feeling the full impact of the father character. 

Posted by JJOR64

This game really interests me.  I haven't bought a PS3 game since last year so maybe it's time I finally buy another one.

Posted by fastidious

Cool, might rent this and play it with a friend. Should be able to do it in a weekend if it's only around 8 hours.

Posted by JavsAddiction

I'm not drinking that kind of cool-aide. Heavy Rain as a game is nothing but a series of quicktime events. As a movie its at best a B-rated movie. For me, it's easily a step backwards for gaming...

Posted by SJSchmidt93
@JavsAddiction said:
" I'm not drinking that kind of cool-aide. Heavy Rain as a game is nothing but a series of quicktime events. As a movie its at best a B-rated movie. For me, it's easily a step backwards for gaming... "
Have you... played it?
Posted by JavsAddiction
@SJSchmidt93:  I played the demo and wasn't impressed. I don't need to spend 10 hours and $60 dollars to figure that one out. It's "neat", I'll say that much. But saying this is a "step in the right direction" for gaming? I don't agree. Just my opinion. But I've never been a fan of quicktime events, so I'm biased.
Posted by Chainsawleon

Grabbed a rental copy this morning (because I have very little in the way of game funds right now), and I've been playing most of the day. Really great game. I thought I was going to hate the controls much more than I actually do. 

Posted by chililili
@SJSchmidt93 said:
" @JavsAddiction said:
" I'm not drinking that kind of cool-aide. Heavy Rain as a game is nothing but a series of quicktime events. As a movie its at best a B-rated movie. For me, it's easily a step backwards for gaming... "
Have you... played it? "
Obviously he HAS. He got a copy this Tuesday played it ten hours straight and rushed to comment on the review of game he hates. Also learn the proper spelling kool-aid its a goddamn brand! You are making a marketing guy suffer a seizure somewhere (which is actually good)
Posted by Tomorrowman

kind of a downer review.  Sounds like he wasn't that impressed.  Four stars is definitely solid, though.

Edited by JavsAddiction
@chililili: No sweat, dude. Just a difference in opinion. My apologies to the "Kool-Aid" man.
Posted by RedSox8933

I am really enjoying Heavy Rain so far. Scott Shelby is the best character by far.

Posted by Whiskeyjack

 This does seem like a strong candidate for rental over straight-up buy sadly. But we`ll see where my budget ends up next month. 
I want to know how many people survived Brad`s review play through. :)

Posted by Cube

"down-on-his-luck" LOL Holy shit understatement of the fucking year.

Posted by DockJaw

Did you install the fucking 225MB patch when you played? Cause I think that may have fixed some stuff...

Posted by HaltIamReptar

Thirty fourth.

Posted by spankingaddict
@Eversoranimus said:
" Great review. "
Posted by Det1

press X to JAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYSSSSSSSSSUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNN
HADOKEN to INHALER
QUICK TIME EVENTS: THE GAME
"DUDE TRY THIS SHIT YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR BODY WITH A CONTROLLER" "why would you do that, that's retarded" "BUT IT'S TOTALLY INVOLVING"
...ok I'm done now. I also hated left 4 dead so what's my opinion worth anyhow?

Posted by Cazamalos

so much games this year, I've haven't even finished darksiders, and i already brought heavy rain,plus I want to play a 2nd play through of mass effect 2 while i level up in MAG, oh shi... and there is ff13 and gow3 around the corner...all this while i look the still sealed copy of WKC...
 
compulsive buyer?YES YES YES

Posted by ch13696

Great review. One of the best so far. But I have to ask. Do you think that maybe the romance scenes don't seem that emotional or believable because the developers haven't worked with anything like that before or maybe it was too much data on the disc? I heard it takes a lot of data to add in stuff just like Avatar or Heavenly Sword.

Posted by ZombiePie

Hopefully in this game you don't end up fighting the internet....

Moderator
Posted by VibratingDonkey
@Bradley Shoecrafter said:
"Interactive storytelling might not yet be able to evoke the same degree of raw human emotion as more traditional art forms... "
Disagree with you there. Since you're participating in the story instead of passively watching events unfold, you get like fivethousand times more invested, at least. So when Heavy Rain tries to provoke an emotional response it's that much more potent. 
 
With that said, there is an awful lot of washing of hands and urinating in this game. Anyone else notice this?
Posted by handlas
@VibratingDonkey: and, as opposed to a movie....you spend a lot more time with the characters.  Still, gaming hasn't reach the emotional attachment, for me, that a character in a movie can.  Maybe Heavy Rain will change that...probably not.  I can only recall one moment I actually felt sadness for a character in a videogame.  The end of Metal Gear Solid 3...of all games.  I wouldn't of expected it.
Posted by kagekage
@VibratingDonkey said:
" @Bradley Shoecrafter said:
"Interactive storytelling might not yet be able to evoke the same degree of raw human emotion as more traditional art forms... "
Disagree with you there. Since you're participating in the story instead of passively watching events unfold, you get like fivethousand times more invested, at least. So when Heavy Rain tries to provoke an emotional response it's that much more potent.   With that said, there is an awful lot of washing of hands and urinating in this game. Anyone else notice this? "
When they say you're interacting, you're INTERACTING.
Posted by MrKlorox

Nothing has made me want a PS3 more.

Posted by mosdl

They got brad to review it to test what happens if all the characters die quickly :)
 
Got my copy today, now to find the time to play it.  I bet the game works best when played in long sittings.

Posted by TwoOneFive

i understand some of the reasons yu were bugged about the game, but i would have still given it a 5/5 if despite those problems it still offered you one of the most unique gaming experiences you ever had.  
 
brad you should have given this a 5/5. i know its all opinion yada yada, but i think you were wrong here. 

Posted by Yummylee

Still not entirely convinced to be getting it anytime soon, especially after on the bomcast Brad mentioned that playing through multiple times will ruin the illusion of this being more of an interactive movie and having its own game-gears start to show. If one playthrough is for the best, at 8 hours I'll be finding it easy to hold off on a full price purchase.
Online
Posted by sandal_hat

Played this in one sitting and man alive did i love the shit out of this game. Brad hit it right on the head in that some of the actions you choose for the main character really determine his or her development and it is truly satisfying.

Posted by Eiskalt

I am so hyped for this game. Picking it up tomorrow and borrowing my friends ps3 just to play it. 
 
I cannot wait!

Posted by Snipes424
@RedSox8933 said:
" I am really enjoying Heavy Rain so far. Scott Shelby is the best character by far. "
agreed
Edited by Globox82

Lol Giant Bomb crew doesn't give a flying f..k about PS3, they probably have to argue over who is going to review PS3 games, since no one is interested, so Brad ends up doing it 90% of the time. Pathetic. 
I call it now, Brad will review 80% to 90% of Sonys exclusives in 2010
nice review though

Posted by RagingLion

Really nice review Brad.  Your closing paragraph brings up the great point of how Heavy Rain is bound to make mistakes since it's not building off the backs of loads of other games - I hadn't quite thought of it in those terms before then.  I liked your little description of the decision-making you made at the fridge and how that had an influence on how you felt playing the game.
 
I'd still really love to play this game at some point.

  • 107 results
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3