So one of Sony’s most anticipated exclusive releases came out last week and I have had the pleasure of borrowing it off someone else to play it. I am speaking of course about Heavy Rain, The highly enigmatic noir styled murder mystery game by Quantic Dream. Over the weekend I got the chance to really sit down and sink my teeth into this game. So gather round children, while I tell you a tale!
Now writing about this game is going to be tricky for me, chiefly for two reasons. First, it’s not a game in the most conventional sense, more of what the game designers themselves label it as interactive drama. This is to say, its a choose your own adventure story in video game form. Secondly, the game’s appeal is mostly in the unraveling of the mystery and as such divulging too much about the story would potentially ruin it for you. Given that I am prone to prattling on in my reviews going into at times excessive detail this will challenge me, and I will do my best to walk the fine line between description and spoiler.
So to give you a brief overview of the premise, the game is set around a string of murders being committed by the origami killer who’s m.o. seems to be drowning children. The game is narrated through the perspective of four different characters which you will interchange between throughout the various chapters. As the game progresses, more and more details are unraveled by the games multiple protagonist until leading up to the games climactic final scene. Through the game you play as: Ethan Mars, the family man and architect, Norman Jaden, a FBI investigator, Scott Shelby, a private eye hired by the victims of the origami killer to investigate the murders, and Madison Paige, a photographer.
Gameplay in Heavy Rain is a sticky issue for me to address, because it’s very minimal. The game is based mostly on quick time event interactions while scenes play out, with your correct cues or misses effecting the particulars of the scenes choreography. While some of the decisions you make will have a profound impact on how the game plays out, most of it is really just token interaction, as you will do menial tasks like dry off after a shower or push your kid on the swing set. The little touches add a bit of attachment to the character but it is minimal at best. There are also several times where you will find yourself walking around, this is by far the game at its worst. The control is clunky and often you will find yourself getting turned around or walking in the wrong direction because of how poorly the mechanic works. It’s a minor flaw, however it is a glaring one which will seem to constantly make itself apparent. There are scenes where you get to search for evidence and later examine it with Jaden using CSI gadgetry that seems to fall somewhere between Batman and Minority Report, this is probably some of the most engaging gameplay and I found it to be a fun challenge to try to divine out as many clues as I could, using my holo-files.
Without going into too much any detail, the story is an entertaining one. The mystery is maintained throughout the game, with several red herrings and plot twists to keep the player guessing. Speaking for myself, when I discovered who it was I was quite surprised because I had already suspected and then dismissed the person as not being the killer. The plot moves at a deliberate pace constantly taking strides to draw you in and become emotionally attached to the games many characters. The tactic is effective, as suspenseful moments had me itching to hit the cues and make sure my characters got through unscathed. When someone dies in this game, you feel it. Such feeling is rare in a generation of games fraught with shoot em ups and hack and slashers, where someone dying is nothing more than another multiplier on your combo. The point is to feel cinematic, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this Oscar worthy, it certainly achieves its ambition.
The visuals are inconsistent, but they range from being breathtaking to acceptable. Being a game where the player mostly takes the backseat while the story unfolds you would expect nothing less. Its obvious playing the game the focus was on the characters and more specifically on facial animations. The tactic is extremely effective, as the vivid visuals allow for unparalleled levels of emotional range through facial expression. Environments look gritty and real, typically having a dingy feel. Throughout the game it is raining, which is represented very effectively, with a sort of hazy look to outdoor environments. The game does suffer from it’s limitations however, with moments where more nuance physical interaction ends up looking like a scene played out by your kid sister with her Barbie dolls…
The sound is phenominal, and it certainly helps to create the heightened tension in the atmosphere that makes the game so gripping. Music is well used with a recurring brass driven theme that seems to come in and out at strategic moments, creating a gritty noir cinema style. Voice acting is also excellent, with one caveat which I will get into in a moment. The actors almost all do an excellent job of hitting their marks and using effective emotional range to make the characters believable. However one problem I found was that given that the game was developed in France, the use of European voice actors in a story voiced with north american english makes them sound at times very bizarre. I have to admit there were moments where emotions were supposed to run high but I ended up finding myself giggling at the odd accent characters were speaking in.
All in all the game is not without its flaws. If you’re a hardcore gamer looking for a game that will take playthrough after playthrough to master, this game is not for you. However the unique experience offered is something I really feel anyone can enjoy, and for the hardcore gamer I would even still suggest renting the game and running through it at least once. Heavy Rain continues Quantic Dream’s attempts to fuse video games and cinema to create an interactive cinema experience. The story makes the game in this case, and while it does have a couple of plot holes and at times borders on the incredulous, it is overall a very entertaining story. I really enjoyed playing this game, and I think this sort of game will become more and more prevalent over time, engaging a different audience from the modern warfare players, that allows for something you can casually enjoy and get sucked into a story.