How far will you go to save someone you love? Developed by Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain is an exclusive for the PlayStation 3 that tries to find the answer to that question. Priding itself as an 'Interactive Drama', Heavy Rain follows the story the Origami Killer, a serial killer who drowns children and leaves behind origami figures with each body. Quantic Dream takes a very large risk with this title, hoping that its psychological thriller can finally put a wrangle on what exactly an adult gaming experience should be.
It's difficult to describe the game's storyline or character development without creating some sort of a bias, but Heavy Rain's goal is crystal clear: to create an emotional experience that will keep players hungry for more. Players are given the storyline through the eyes of four characters, each oof which has a unique contribution to the game's overall story. There is very little control in where the characters go, or what they say, and most of the time a very defined route is followed. Despite this however, the controls never feels too restrictive. Instead of offering a plethora of options for the player to mull over, the game instead selects the most emotional sequences and then has the player interact.
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This is the real genius behind Heavy Rain, a very careful balance between action and exploration. Players don't simply watch a cutscene of a relaxing sunny day, they actively choose for their character to partake in it or not. Unlike games that assume an emotional attachment is inevitable because the player 'watches something sad happen' or 'sees the main character struggle', Heavy Rain presents a ground level look at each character's plight. Some of it can be funny, other times it can be very disturbing, but it is always moving on an emotional level.
Storytelling in Heavy Rain is defined by failure, since failure can change the story or move it into an alternate path. However some of the more mundane choices don't actually yield any consequences, just if the player gets a trophy or not. Most scenes taking place around Ethan (one of the game's protagonists) are a perfect example of this. Players are frequently given the option to take care of him in different manners, or to just let him sit. Either way the game will push onward as long as some core activities are done. Other times, the player can choose to do nothing and the game will continue on without player interaction, though most will only realize this with multiple playthroughs.
While Heavy Rain doesn't have many bad points there are a few shaky elements to the simple gameplay. Controls are too delicate, and sometimes a bit vague as to what needs to be done. Sixaxis isn't spot on either, as the more subtle commands have a hard time reading small turns and light controller shakes. The gameplay also isn't very noteworthy in itself, which again calls into question whether Heavy Rain can be defined as a 'game' in itself. It's mostly based around speed, or how fast a player can respond to quicktime events. The faster the player's reaction (or smarter decisions made) the more likely players will survive more dangerous encounters. It's also possible to tone down the difficulty of the game based upon how well the individual player is familiar with the Sixaxis controller, rather then just vague 'easy, normal, hard' difficulties.
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Graphically Heavy Rain is one of the best looking titles to date, with settings that look extremely realistic and characters that look very real. The cast looks identical to their voice actor counterparts, which isn't something done often enough. The results are fantastic, giving a lot more credibility and realism to the world and helping to suck the player in more. Everything from discussions and fight scenes are done with a level of fluidity which, as a package deal, is jaw dropping. Even the loading times are well spaced, giving the player a chance to take a mental breather before reaching the next stage.
Sound wise the game also delivers, featuring a soundtrack that compliments the games acting and choreography in every single way. Sweet yet sorrowful, Heavy Rain's musical score is strong enough that many portions of the game feature it instead of dialogue, and as a result much of the game's emotion is tied directly into its soundtrack. The voice acting also deserves particular commendation, as it rarely ever becomes too cheesy or unrealistic. Most of the cast is memorable simply due to the energy and enthusiasm their actor brought to the game, which also helps in being able to connect to their characters.
In the end Heavy Rain isn't a game for everyone. Quick time events and somewhat linear gameplay might turn off some people from the concept, but anyone that sits down to give it a try will be greatly rewarded. Heavy Rain isn't about getting the best ending, beating the game in the fastest time, or boasting over any sort of multiplayer. Much like sitting and watching a movie, Heavy Rain is about having an emotional experience. There's something to be said about finding a game that provokes action not to receive a reward, but simply to do the right thing. Whether it's taking care of your son, or trying to stop a serial killer, wanting to make things right is the biggest (and best) part of Heavy Rain.