Heavy Rain User Review
Ethan Mars is an architect and father of two young boys. Madison Paige is a journalist who suffers from insomnia. Norman Jayden is an FBI agent with a strong sense of morality, and Scott Shelby is a private investigator, asked by the families of the victims to find the Origami Killer. Over the past three years, eight young boys have vanished from public places, and each of those children has turned up a few days later dead, drowned in rainwater. Now, another child has vanished, and linking these four characters is the quest to find the killer before it is too late.
More akin to that of a mystery novel or film than a game, the story carries you along based entirely on emotional intensity. It is truly affecting, if you let it be. I found it difficult at times to accept it for what it was, unable to escape from the mentality of the relatively shallow stories of video games, but I soon came around. My first play through made me think that there were plot holes, but in retrospect, everything makes perfect sense. You just have to be able to connect the dots. The pacing is as good as it could have been, but I found some elements of the script lacking, or seemingly out of place, mostly in regards to the children. Outside of that, I have no qualms.
In terms of the graphical fidelity, Heavy Rain is a masterpiece. At first glance, the characters appear ugly, but I feel that this is a result of the uncanny valley effect. The more you play, and come to accept them as real people, the better they look, and you soon come to the realisation that these are some of, if not, the best models yet seen in the realm of video games. A similar level of polish has been applied to the ancillary characters with each of them being very convincingly detailed. This same brilliance is carried into the animations. This is probably what sets Heavy Rain apart the most. As you control almost every movement of your character through button prompts, the team recorded over 30,000 unique animations through motion capture. A daunting task, which paid off in spades. Every movement is believable.
This brings us to the environments. From Ethan’s small, dark apartment, to the brightly lit police station, the subway and everything in between, each of them is a mirror to their real-life counterparts, and serve well to reflect the events of what is happening within. Over all of these environs is the constant feeling of misery invoked by the eponymous heavy rain. This, I felt was a shining point of the graphics. Never have I seen precipitation portrayed as faithfully in the digital realm as it is here.
There are a few minor problems with the graphics though. One of them I have already mentioned, and that is the way the characters initially fall into the uncanny valley. Thankfully, it isn’t difficult to get past this. Second is occasional texture pop-in. This is really only noticeable in times where there are close-ups of environments. Finally is a propensity for characters to zip about in cut scenes. This is probably the biggest drawback as it is enough to take you out of the experience. A major shortcoming when considering the immersive nature of the game as it is an annoying and distracting occurrence, although thankfully rare.
The sound is very good. The ever-present noise of rain pounding down is convincing, as are most of the voices. All of the environmental effects are close to perfection, but I did find some balance issues. There were quite a few instances where something just did not seem to be at the correct volume. Also present are infrequent points at which the sound drops out. It usually does not last for very long, and considering it most often occurs soon after a loading screen, you rarely miss much. The extras are a drawback to the overall production as, for a city that is supposed to be in America, a surprising number of them carry French accents. This is understandable as QD is a French studio, but it still seems at odds with the placement. The other major flaw lies in the scripting and voice acting for the children. It seems abysmal compared to the rest of the production, and drags it down slightly.
Accompanying every scene is an evocative score, which captures each of them perfectly. From the gentle strings that play during the tender moments, to the heavier tunes of fight scenes and the soaring refrains of the final sequences, there are no complaints to be made.
Unlike many other games, the controls and gameplay are meshed together. I simply cannot find a way to look at them separately because of the unique method of controlling the characters. The game uses a fixed camera set up, obviously essential as a result of the motion capture. Resulting from this is a new way of moving your character about. Movement speed is controlled by pressing down R2, as it is pressure sensitive. The left stick turns your character’s head and their body should you choose to move in that direction. I found this to be a bit too unpredictable at times, causing me to miss turns every now and again. Pressing the L1 button switches the camera angle, which is often quite useful. Holding down the L2 buttons brings up the thoughts menu, which allows you to use the face buttons in order to hear what is running through the characters mind. While this seems, at first, as if it is a pointless addition, you should soon come to realise that is actually a rather great hint system. It also serves to give further reasoning to your characters actions.
Everything else is dictated by Quick-Time Events, or prompting to perform actions by icons on-screen. There are several different options to play with; QD has used this to their full advantage, and it further serves to draw you in. There are points that force you to hold down a series of buttons. This is handled extremely well, as the combinations you are asked to press are rarely overly difficult, and never require more than a cursory level of skill. Tapping is simple, and unless you are slow to get started, near impossible to fail. Then there are the reactionary prompts. These appear on screen in times of high action, and are quite easy to miss if you are looking in the wrong place. Finally, there is the excellent use of the SIXAXIS controls. This is one of the best games when it comes to showcasing the potential of the system, and it does so with a great deal of ease and style. They are presented to you in the same way as the button prompts, but the sensitivity of the controller often makes it difficult to get right.
In addition to all of this, much of the game’s dialogue is up to you. At times of choice, images of the face buttons will float around your character’s head, with a small description of the choice beside it. It is up to you what you want to do, and you can unlock different scenarios simply by choosing different paths. This simple addition makes the game seem much more in your control.
My sole complaint about the control schemes stems from the character movement, and the camera angles. Although there are always two angles to choose from, some instances result in one not being able to properly gauge where you are in regards to the environment, which can cause you to not line up with a path properly. It is frustrating, but thankfully, rare.
As far as the game goes, the opening few hours are very slow, and act as a tutorial for what remains. It works well, but will undoubtedly be enough to turn some people off. After that initial build, the game is quite unrelenting in throwing challenge after challenge at you. A single play through will last roughly ten hours, but this is more than made up for by the brilliant pacing, and one of the best, most believable and memorable stories available. Offering a great deal of replay value is the manner in which so many choices are left for the player, and you can always go back and play over chapters in order to unlock any that you may have missed, and to collect the trophies that relate to them. There are also the three separate difficulty settings. No matter which you choose, none of them seem to require faster reflexes. They seem built upon diversifying the buttons that you need to press. It is a great deal of fun to try on a harder setting. Throughout the course of the game, you will unlock bonuses, simply for playing. These bonuses are concept art, and making-of videos, which are common enough, but also include a trailer for the game and The Casting Demo, which was the first time that Heavy Rain was revealed. If you are at all interested in some of the details behind the game, these are well worth looking at.
The game feels perfectly paced, which means that I wasn’t disappointed when I came to the end of it. I wish that there were more scenarios to explore though, resulting in more emphasis on each character. Each of them is fleshed out well enough, but I simply enjoyed playing as them that much. Outside of that, I also wish that there had been more emphasis on the making-of videos. Brevity is the name of the game here, as none of them last very long, and contain very little information on the development cycle. I thought that this was a missed opportunity as Heavy Rain is such a unique title.
In conclusion, Heavy Rain is a masterpiece. No other word can describe it. It is, in and of itself, a completely new entertainment medium. Everything from the intense focus on story and characters, to the novel control scheme, to the emphasis on immersion, is done to perfection. This is not a game that will appeal to everyone, but everyone should try it, regardless of your tastes. It is simply that fantastic.
That, therefore brings me to the question of ‘Is Heavy Rain a possible Game of the Year contender?’ The answer is simple. No. Beyond a shadow of doubt, Heavy Rain IS worthy of the title. Along with this comes my personal reason for enjoying the game so much. It makes me hopeful for the future of videogames. Heavy Rain is such an engaging, engrossing experience, and has sold remarkably well. When putting these two aspects together, as well as the current development of games running along similar lines, such as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and L.A. Noire, I reach the conclusion that more such games will come to be. I cannot wait.
One final note, Heavy Rain has recently been patched, and re-released to be compatible with the Playstation Move. I have made no mention of that here, as I do not have access to that peripheral. When the day comes that I am able to play through the game again, I will most certainly add my thoughts in the comments section below.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.