Review: Heavy Rain
Written by Josh Rai
Published at 2010-03-06 08:48:22
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1-player Adventure for the PlayStation 3.
Developed by Quantic Dream. Published by Sony Computer Entertainment.
Released 2010-02-23. Rated M (Mature).
Supports PlayStation Move.
Saved game data is copy-protected.

Heavy Rain is a very difficult game to review. With most games the main subject of interest is gameplay. Story, graphics, sound, etc. are good things to have, but it is the gameplay that a game lives or dies by. If you were to look at the gameplay in Heavy Rain, it turns out to be average. The story is also average, with a few plot holes. But, when merged together, the game can evoke emotions that no other game can.

The basic set up for the story is: a serial killer abducts children and drowns them. You play as four distinct characters to find the killer and save the most recently abducted child. To say the least, the game borrows from the serial killer genre in the film industry. Saying anything more could spoil the story, which is integral in keeping suspense and emotion during Heavy Rain.

Let's get the bad out of the way. The actual plot of the story is average. In other mediums, the plot would be criticized and, though passable, is definitely not the best story told in the video game medium. The acting, while sometimes very good, can be pretty bad and evens out to be average. And the animations outside the interactive cutscenes are just poor; every character is stiff and robotic. If there is a place called Uncanny Valley, then Heavy Rain has definitely moved into that neighbourhood.

I know what you are saying now, "how can a game be good when it is story-focused, and the story, acting, etc. is only average?" Well, figurative person I just made up, I'll tell you. The key to Heavy Rain's story is that while the situations for each scene are predetermined, the outcomes are completely dependent on the player's actions. The story is not being told to you, it is determined by you.

To get the most out of Heavy Rain, you need to know that any of the playable characters can die if you screw up. There is no game over screen, and the story will continue. Knowing this creates an immeasurable weight of emotion during every single action scene. The first time when I failed to accomplish the "best" outcome and the story of that character turned from grave to life-threatening, was probably the single most emotional experience I have had with a game. So much so, that I had to turn off my PS3 and take a breather.

The gameplay can be separated into two parts. The interactive cutscenes that ask the player to hit button prompts, button combinations, move the controller, or a combination of the above in a timely manner is the first. The other are the times where you are waking around investigating areas. The game will switch between the two seamlessly.

The "quick time event" sequences are more than what you have seen in other games. Unlike God of War (the game that is synonymous with QTEs), when you fail here there is no game over and re-starting of the segment. The game continues on and you are maybe hit by that crowbar that the suspect was swinging, instead of dodging it. And if you fail to hit the button again, you are maybe knocked out, and the suspect escapes. Or if you are successful, the opposite can happen, and you are able to bring the suspect in for questioning.

The other segment is usually far less intense, however, that does not mean they are less emotional. Investigating areas is similar to the point and click genre of yesteryear. You move around the environment looking for things to interact with. Sometimes these scenes are within an unclear time limit, such as cleaning an area before the police arrive.

The story changes are not only affected by the action sequences, but also by the moral choices that you run into. These choices rarely have an immediate impact, and some are just there to question your own personal morality. The choice may be as simple as to kill a random person or let them live, or as complicated as trying to save yourself and a comrade in danger or leave them there to ensure you get out safely yourself.

Heavy Rain has been garnered by some to be the new king of game interaction and storytelling, and loathed by others who do not want games to turn in to this. But, I submit that Heavy Rain is simply a new way for a video game to tell a story. Just like how Half-Life and Uncharted have very distinct ways to tell stories, Heavy Rain just adds another distinct way.

When looking at Heavy Rain's story, gameplay, visuals, and sound in an isolated fashion, those features are very average. But, when combined, they create a very emotionally-charged experience that few games can match. This game defines the expression "not everyone will like it, but everyone needs to play it." The game takes about two out of ten hours to get going, but when it does, it is a rollercoaster ride. While plot holes, bad acting, and sometimes stiff animation can lower the experience of Heavy Rain, the game is an important landmark in gaming history.


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This game is painful to watch when someone who has difficulty with the controls is playing...

@Dana Olson: This game is painful to play. Choppy animations, bad dialogue and shitty controls. I'm glad I didn't buy it, it was an ok rental, but nothing more.

@Tayler Bell: I agree. However, the story is interesting and it made me wanna know what happened next. I only played the first 5 chapters and I'm already hooked into the story. It's kinda sad actually how the story begins.

I've had this for a week, and I'm already closing in on the Platinum. Great story, and I love ocmparing my (first run) ending to what other people got. I have yet to encounter someone who had the exact same ending as me. My wife's ending was drastically different from mine.

@Tayler Bell: I loved it! Depressing? YES! but so much fun to play especially the scenes with the sun glasses.
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