PS3 owners will no doubt have heard of Heavy Rain a lot over the past months, given that Sony are pushing the game as a console seller. After spending countless hours with the game and witnessing a handful of the many possible endings, I have absolutely no problem agreeing and expressing that if you don’t already own a PS3 or have Heavy Rain on pre-order; now would be the time to do so.
Heavy Rain is something new... something different. For a nice change the developers stand behind their product and instead of excusing their decisions defend them. They made the product how they wanted it to be made, it won’t appeal to everyone and will certainly find those that simply can’t understand it – but it is what it is, and that’s a masterpiece.
The genre classification of Heavy Rain is that of ‘Interactive drama’, which you will no doubt see listed as an ‘Adventure’ due to the rarity of such games. Anyone that has played Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy for some) will instantly know what to expect, for others think film, choices, multiple directions for the story to follow and a heap load of quick time events.
The gameplay is based heavily off quick time events, the process of pressing buttons, moving analogue sticks and even the pad at times when prompted. Missing these quick time events or simply performing the wrong action likely causes you to fail the event at hand which will change the scene and perhaps the entire story. This gameplay mechanic will instantly put off many, most simply because they aren’t holding a rifle and running mindlessly into something they can shoot. Those not wanting every game release to be that of a shooter's pace should rest assured that the gameplay can be just as intense, if not more so, than any game comparable.
This is often greatly aided by the fact that your character can die; die! Not the type of death that simply has you promoted with a game over screen in which you select the latest save and try again, but fully fledged death that will result in that character being written out of the story. In Heavy Rain there is only auto saving, so any decisions made for good as they would be in real life. Knowing this, and amazingly enough feeling it, I have experienced some of the most intense gaming moments of any game before it. Quick time events during a fast paced scene are fast requiring split second reactions to perform one of many possible combinations, or they can come slow at a torturing snail’s pace that has you hoping to have made the right choice and anticipating the results in delayed agony. These moments will have you sat on the end of the sofa, gripping the pad and pulling the strangest of faces in anticipation of what’s coming next.
Thankfully if you do fail to keep your characters life continuing, there are three others still available. This is thanks to the game having you lead four separate characters in an intertwining story, that if one was to become lost it will only impact your story (albeit heavily) and not your ability to finish the journey you are on.
Quick time events come in the form of quick button presses, holding down buttons, tapping of buttons, flicking the analogue stick in a certain direction, moving the analogue stick slowly in a given path, and slamming or shaking the entire PS3 pad making use of the sixaxis. Given the long list of possible quick time actions, you will fail to hit one in time or panic and hit a different button altogether, and when this happens, fully dependant on how often and at which precise moment, it could mean anything from a slip, a cut, a bullet wound, a broken bone or even your death. Anything outside of death will have an effect on your character, so keeping them at their best is in the better interest of finishing the story as you would want, and ultimately solving the crimes of The Origami Killer. In order to trigger these quick time events you will be mostly moving around environments yourself using a Resident Evil style of R2 to walk. Unfortunately also like Resident Evil the camera will often flip around to provide a cinematic viewpoint, which often results in walking in the wrong direction; no doubt the main criticism of the game.
The game's story is all about normal people who have landed in extraordinary situations, with scenes that flow from one to the other between characters and back again. The story is best summarised as an intense noir thriller that surrounds a serial killer, with each character developing a reason for wanting to track the killer down. It's impossible to express some of the fantastic scenes without providing countless spoilers, but just imagine a game in which you finish the story and are still hesitant to talk to others about what you and they experienced, as the differences could be huge. A game where emotion is actually taken into consideration, of the sense that will not have you angry at failing like most games, but sorrow, regret and even sadness. Games like Fable and Mass Effect, which promise choice and game change depending on your choices, are put to shame as Heavy Rain actually delivered on this pledge. Each time a large choice is given to you, you will likely struggle to hold to your initial decisions and afterwards wonder what would have happened ‘if only’.
Throughout my countless hours with the game (8-12 hours for a single playthrough) there were many times I was blown away with the fantastic graphical scenes, amazing facial and body animations and great voice acting. This often has the effect of making the game feel more like a film than anything else, or even more of a compliment to a modern day Shenmue. The game wasn’t without fault though as certain scenes (typically those in daylight) made apparent a few of the games graphical inadequacies and many of the game's characters voice acting was not nearly as high quality as the staring cast. These small issues aside though, the game is beautiful and the technical achievements in bringing characters to life is one of which I hope the game will be remembered for and replicated in future games for years to come. You get the sense that developers Quantic Dream have put their heart and soul into the game's creation, and it shows.
Heavy Rain is the Marmite of gaming, and one of which I hope gains enough respect for the developers to continue working their magic. I would typically recommend any fan of the adventure genre to make sure to pick up the game, but in all honesty I wish everyone to do so. For every person that hates this breath of fresh air for gaming, a dozen will love it. For me, Heavy Rain has been the highlight of the last ten years and a ground-breaking event in video games that I am glad to have experienced; a masterpiece of gaming.