Heavy Rain – The PS3 Attitude Review
Just those two simple words have caused ripples across the gaming community since footage of a ‘casting call’ at E3 2006 became the talking point of the event.
Is this finally a game that can deal with adult themes in an effective and affective way?
David Cage, the Director behind Heavy Rain, is somewhat famous for introducing his own games in person. In Heavy Rain, he decided not to go that route, so rather than deny him his introduction opportunity we thought we would let him open our review instead:
“Heavy Rain is about normal people who have landed in extraordinary situations. I wanted a much more personal story. The first thing that came to my mind, as a father of two little boys, was that the main theme should simply be a father’s love for his son. This is not a game about saving the princess or the world. It is purely about a father’s love.
The main story will revolve around four different characters, and we’re putting the spotlight on their perceptions. The question ‘what is good and what is evil’ is the key here, that will be just a matter of viewpoint… I believe heavily in moral choices, I’m going to use them a lot. They’re not about being good or bad, but about finding the right balance.” – David Cage, CEO, Quantic Dream
The scene is set then for a ‘film noir’ experience that deals with a common theme throughout – how far would you go for love?
Heavy Rain combines that old staple of the adventure game – exploration – with dialogue and drama that wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of CSI or your favourite Se7en-like movie. It combines this exploration and action with a powerful and compelling narrative.
In the game, you take control of four different characters, each with their own distinctive motives and reasons for being involved in the case of the Origami Killer; a serial murderer who has taken the lives of eight young boys, always leaving an origami figure in their hand and an orchid on their chest after he has disposed of the body.
The big idea? As you play through Heavy Rain, your choices and grasp of the game’s control system will have a real and lasting impact on the storyline and plot. If, as a result of your choices or your inability to press the right button at the right time, the character you are controlling dies, the game does not end. Instead, that death will become part of the story, influencing the other key characters – simultaneously closing and opening new plot-lines and story elements.
In talking with other reviewers, we can report that no two of us had the exact same experience, which suggests the content available within Heavy Rain is sufficiently diverse and that the re-playability of the title is without question, as you go through the game several times making different choices.
The controls in Heavy Rain have been a real discussion point in the lead up to the game’s release. Making heavy use of QTEs, or Quick Time Events, your task is to follow on-screen prompts in order that you press buttons or perform other actions (such as shaking the controller) within a certain amount of time. Heavy Rain, at the most difficult level, makes full use of the PS3 controller, offering QTEs that require you to press buttons within a certain time, hold ever-increasing combinations of buttons, shake or jolt the controller and draw gestures with the right analogue stick.
As you progress through the game, some of these control requests become quite difficult to perform; in one particular section our hands had taken on the form of an old witch, contorted through years of arthritis and evil deeds. The difficulty of pressing these button combinations, however, perfectly matched the difficulty our character was going through on-screen. It actually made us feel a little desperate at times as we reached for that extra button, and that helped us to empathise with our in-game persona.
If you’re not a PS3-controller maven, Heavy Rain offers three control difficulties that remove some of the buttons involved in the QTE process and reduce the amount of button combinations in the more difficult sections, so any level of gamer should be able to enjoy the experience.
The only area where the controls don’t work well is in the free-walking sections of the game. You will be holding down the R2 button to walk forward, and using the right analogue stick to control direction, when the scene camera changes. You will continue to walk in the direction you were going, which means that the right stick is now pointing in the wrong direction for the action on-screen. Your instinct will be to move the stick to compensate, and this can lead to so odd ‘forward, back, forward, back’ situations as you bounce across camera angles.
Does this destroy the illusion that Heavy Rain is trying so hard to cultivate; that you are playing an interactive drama? No, but it can be a little disruptive to the flow at times.
The graphics in Heavy Rain are certainly impressive and sufficiently detailed enough to make you feel you are controlling an interactive drama. The facial models that fill the screen as each section of the game is loading are certainly very impressive, and all the characters within the game – not just the leading men and women – are well thought out, designed and animated. Like Uncharted 2, this really feels like a ‘next gen’ game, oozing quality from every pore.
The cityscape, based on the urban areas of Philadelphia, is believable and suitably drenched in autumnal rain showers throughout the story. There are some ‘flashback’ moments that show a polished, almost pharmaceutically clean, town with bright colours and bustling crowds, but these serve the purpose of showing you just how miserable a place this is once the cumulonimbus take over and the people have all gone home.
In terms of audio, the voice acting throughout Heavy Rain is superb, whilst the atmospheric and incidental effects help to deliver an all-round experience that is completely believable. The score is suitably haunting, and after each gaming session we found ourselves having to go and listen to something else because it is one of those themes that just gets stuck in your head. I guess that means the composer did his job well as even whilst we’re writing this review, we can hear the main refrain looping around in our heads.
One incidental point. If you own a SixAxis controller and don’t have a DualShock 3, now would be a good time to go buy yourself a shiny new accessory for your PS3. We can’t remember another game that used the vibration feature this well – it really helps to seal the deal and immerse you in the experience.
Where Heavy Rain really delivers is in how it portrays, and has you interact with, real moments of pain, desperation, stress, fear and uncertainty. The controls help to immerse you by sometimes being so counter-intuitive that you feel the desperation in the real world. The graphics always convey the action and emotion believably, pulling you further into the story and the characters. The audio seals the deal, constantly providing the right amount of background illustration whilst the score changes to suit the tension on-screen.
The game will cause you to feel real emotion. You will be faced with difficult moral choices. Your actions will have real consequences attached to them.
Heavy Rain succeeds in creating something so very rare; a compelling experience that can’t be had anywhere else. This is not just an 18-rated game because of the content and storyline, it is a truly ‘adult’ game. Adult in the respect that it takes the gamer seriously throughout and deals with themes that require the kind of decision-making and emotional strength only a mature person can manage.
Because of this, it is unlikely that Heavy Rain will sell as many copies as everyone’s favourite rail shooter, but it should. In our opinion, this is one game every adult PS3 owner should own, because otherwise you’ll be missing out on something special.
Moreover, if you feel that video games really can evolve past the likes of the standard FPS, platformer or racing game, supporting Quantic Dream means we could we could all end up drowning in titles of this quality and calibre, and that is a video game future this reviewer would love to see.
All sales made through PS3 Attitude help our charity fund