Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain’s prologue is unlike any tutorial I have ever experienced. Get 10 minutes into a standard AAA blockbuster and you will generally find yourself crouched behind a conveniently-placed wall spraying bullets at low-rent baddies, while a guy on an intercom gives you handy hints on how to be a more efficient psychopath. During the first 30 minutes of Heavy Rain you take a shower, get dressed and play with your children. It is clear from this gentle beginning right up until the game’s emotionally charged finale that Heavy Rain seeks to distance itself from the frenetic run-and-gun formula of most modern titles. This is a project that has consciously chosen to prioritise character and story over acrobatics and genocide. For some people, that sentence alone will be their cue to stop reading this review and go back to playing The Adventures of Captain Kill-Krazy and his Hugely Over-Compensatory Hand-Cannon. But for those who have been waiting for a game that cares about something more than splatter radius and gold stars, Heavy Rain is a landmark title, one which represents a long overdue step into a brave new world of interactive entertainment.

Although many games have been touted as ‘cinematic’ recently, Heavy Rain is probably the first to truly deserve the label. It plays out like a crime-thriller, a sort of interactive film noir, complete with clever camera-work, flawed characters, adult themes and moody orchestration. Over the course of your 10 hour journey you will control four primary characters, each intrinsically linked to the central story arc. Through these characters you explore themes such as loss, mental illness and addiction, and find out just how far you will go to save someone you love. While the core of the tale remains relatively consistent, each of the game’s ‘scenes’ have multiple solutions and outcomes. Based on your responses to conversational choices, moral dilemmas and physical tests, the story will unfold differently for each player. Will you use cunning to try and think your way past a problem? Will you attempt to talk your way out of trouble? Will you try to prove that violence does actually solve everything? Whatever your choice, Heavy Rain is a game driven by consequences, and your actions (or inaction) have ramifications which echo far beyond the situation at hand.

In an effort to immerse players in their dark, damp world, Quantic Dream have built a control scheme around imitating body movements and hand gestures. For example, to open a door you might sweep the analogue stick from 3 o’clock to 6 o’clock (an inverted hadoken), mimicking the motion of pulling on a real door handle. The remainder of the control system comprises an assortment of differently flavoured quick-time events. The QTE has a bad reputation in gaming circles, and deservedly so, as it has a nasty habit of popping up at random intervals in third-person brawlers and completely breaking flow. Heavy Rain, for the most part, manages to make them work to its advantage. There are moments that require quick reactions, but also instances that demand slow, subtle motions. Sometimes you are asked to perform two or more different mechanics simultaneously. This variety not only helps to keep you on your toes, but also reflects the varying physical demands of the tasks you are faced with. Even the dreaded tappy-tappy mechanic feels more at home here, with button spamming actually requiring a good deal of effort at times, your knackered wrist neatly mirroring your character’s own frantic exertions.

Visually, Heavy Rain is striking. Much has been made of the photo-realistic characters and mo-capped performances, and I’m pleased to report that the hype is entirely justified. The quality of the facial textures coupled with the authenticity of the expressions and animations give the characters a sincerity that is tough not to engage with. The environments are necessarily grey and drab, but very well rendered and richly detailed. Lip-synching is good, and the majority of the vocal performances are strong. Tension is generated by an ominous orchestral score, and supported by the oppressive sound of constant rainfall. Everything from the gloomy sound design and stark presentation through to the plotting and characterisation has been conceived with an adult audience in mind. Heavy Rain is mature in the traditional sense of the word, before it became a synonym for decapitations and boobs. Thanks to its high-concept ideals, the game reaches emotional notes that few others have approached. Superficially menial actions like shaving or applying lipstick actually serve to enhance the empathy between you and your character. This means that when jarring and traumatic events do happen to them, their agony is your agony. In-amongst the more macabre happenings lie moments of genuine tenderness – moments which caught me completely off-guard because, sadly, I simply wasn’t accustomed to seeing them within the confines of a video game.







2 responses to “Heavy Rain”

  1. DelTorroElSorrow avatar

    Sounds like indigo prophesy/fahrenheit with less violence.

  2. Kirsten avatar

    It’s made by the same developer as Fahrenheit and shares some of its maudlin atmosphere but it’s definitely a current generation game.

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