It’s time for an emotional downpour
Tension and mystery are incredibly dangerous companions. Give someone a season of Lost and their eyes will gobble every aura of suspicion from beginning to end, excitingly unravelling every clue like a puppy with exceptionally shifty eyes. It’s all fun and games until you realise its become an addiction and you’re fired for sacrificing a week of work for riveting storytelling. Luckily when Heavy Rain came my way, all I got was a suspension for the afternoon. Win/Win.
Somewhere on the East Coast of America, the bodies to young sons are appearing drenched in rain water with an Origami figure in one of their hands. With no leads, key suspects, or clues to track down a psychopath on the loose for three years, it will take the actions of four strangers, all with different agendas, to track down the killer…or fail.
Every artistic quality found in Heavy Rain practically screams ‘IMMERSION’ and draws its arms around you for a particularly distressing snuggle. Even during the games installation, you’re persuaded to reach into your game box to find a tattered piece of square paper and make the signature Origami Crane found in each victims’ hands. Heavy Rain can seem deceptively short after completion…yet it’s only then that you realise that you’ve been pulled into it for the past ten hours.
On the other hand, you may only last a fraction of that time. Make the wrong moves or the wrong choices and any one of your protagonists can die and the story altered. When entering the realm of computer entertainment, checkpoints and quick saves can easily bat off the hands of death, yet with a story that will carry on and conclude regardless to your mortality, the drive to find the killer becomes so unnerving that you better have a spare batch of seat edges to claw onto.
To fit in with the interactive movie aspect of the title, all gameplay is skimmed down to simple button commands, intelligently distributed and associated with movements of the right analogue stick. Hard hitting action sequences speed up this tepid sounding mechanic with nerve pounding Quick-Time-Events. Usually occurring during chase or fight sequences, these QTE’s are incredibly tense, with button commands dashing to and throw from all angles of the screen. A punch coming your way will have the appropriate button assigned to the assailants fist, so only the most cappuccino stained thumb jitterers will overcome in battles of skill and agility.
It’s ironic that Heavy Rain can make the taboo subject of haywire button timing so entertaining, yet attempts to fix what isn’t broke when it comes to moving about. Simply using the left stick forces you to look around the area, whilst holding R2 actually kicks you into gear and pushes you forward. Although smooth in open sections, when approached with the daunting aspect of an average living room, movement can seem disjointed and sketchy, and the immersion can waver somewhat when it looks like your character is having a hoe-down with the wall.
You can’t help but feel your local cinema has been scammed out of a would-be blockbuster.
In a somewhat bizarre twist, the high-octane set pieces actually manage to compliment some of the mundane tasks forced onto your lap. Sipping coffee, burping babies, dissecting the process of pouring a drink into several stick tugging motions, these are all ideas banished from the minds of The Sims development team. The opening is the most guilty harbourer of such events, yet all these manage to add strokes of realism to extraordinary events that seem to be spiralling out of control, stabilising the plot before removing the ground from your feet.
Graphically Heavy Rain may fool players into thinking they should be watching rather than playing. During cut-scenes, there would all too often be a cautious tap of R2, just to make sure that I shouldn’t be doing something more pro-active. There is some outstanding attention to detail with characters that at times even the outline of tears can clearly be visible, and beautiful locations prove all the more stunning, with grittier ones looking even better.
Even sound effects show that little really is more in many aspects, and the voice work of all of the main characters proves to complement the strong acting ensemble. With a soundtrack that can prove epic and unnerving, occasionally at the same time, you can’t help but feel your local cinema has been scammed out of a would-be blockbuster.
These are all aspects that strengthen the narrative backbone that Heavy Rain sustains itself upon from beginning to end. It’s difficult to talk about the plot as it’s so easy to blurt out spoilers, too easy to dispose of the many twists and hard not to let the fact as to why you’re so emotionally drained slip off your tongue. You become so emotionally invested that it’s difficult to put the controller down and you’ll certainly need some time to recover when the credits roll.
Although the story remains strong, it somewhat hinders replayability. A first playthrough can uncover a few minor plot-holes that can only be filled by a second dose of the story. Yet after becoming so attached to YOUR story, and after finding out the answer to the primary mystery of the killers’ identity, it can seem somewhat hard to motivate yourself into a second mental beating.
Exhausting as it may be, it in no way dampens the epic, unique and fascinating experiment from Quantic Dream that truly deserves to be called an experience. Every minor influence, every piece of emotion, every life or death decision only drags you further into the killers game and strengthens your resolve to bring them to justice. And after a while, it’s all too easy to find yourself in the shoes of your protagonists and ask yourself the key question that provides the momentum from beginning to end. ‘How far would you go to save someone you love?’
The Bad: Walking controls can be frustrating to work around, Impressive length can lead to issues with replayability