Hey, I’m a little late to the party, but again, I’ve been without a PS3 for quite some time since the last one crapped out on me, so now I’m doing my best to catch up to an ever expanding backlog. After all, the PS4 is out in a matter of months!
Heavy Rain sounded like an interesting experiment of sorts, but I wasn’t sure how well that would translate into ‘fun’, and that’s ultimately what any gaming experience boils down to – ‘fun’, or at least ‘enjoyment’ in some respect. And yes, there is a difference. You need look no further than ‘The Last of Us’ to know what I mean, because although it’s an AMAZING game, I wouldn’t exactly call it ‘fun’… it’s a harrowing and very depressing experience, but captivating nevertheless.
Reviews filled me in on what I should expect, but regardless of how much they divulged, I still wasn’t sure how to interpret them. I mean, I heard everything from ‘it’s an interactive crime drama’ to ‘it’s nothing but a series of quick time events’, and all I wanted to know is if everything amounted to a fun experience. Well, I’m probably three-quarters through the game now, so I finally feel confident to say… no, Heavy Rain isn’t fun… at least, not in the traditional sense. When they say this game is an interactive drama, by gosh, they mean it. If you strip away the story, all you’re doing is steering your character from one point of interaction to the next. Sometimes you get to choose which order you’d like to interact with things, if at all, and quite often you’ll trigger a series of quick time events. Rinse and repeat for about 9 hours (I’m guessing), and bingo-bango, you’ve just played through a lengthy interactive cut-scene. Sounds kind of dull, right? Here’s the thing… it actually works.
There’s one thing you need to know before playing this game – It’s all about the story. Period. If you’re looking for a game that’s going to let you free roam or platform or puzzle solve, then Heavy Rain isn’t for you. If you want to play a ‘choose your own adventure’ movie, then you’re going to love what this game has to offer. What concerned me going in most of all, was that I wasn’t convinced the story would deliver, and without an engaging plot or intriguing characters, the game would be a complete waste of time and money. For the first hour or so, I was beginning to convince myself that I made a bad move buying this game. The beginning of the game allowed me to get out of bed, brush my teeth, take a shower, get dressed, drink some orange juice out of the fridge, do some work, turn on a radio… and all I could think was, “I hope I don’t have to do a bunch of meaningless crap throughout the rest of the game.” Fortunately, I didn’t have to. This introduction to the primary character sort of serves as a tutorial, allowing you to understand the various control mechanisms before you get into the thick of things, which is wise, because the controls aren’t very conventional (more on that in a bit). It also allowed me to make some sort of connection with the on-screen character… because I was controlling him and doing things that a real person would do, I began to feel like I was involved with the story, instead of merely watching things unfold. After the opening ‘scenes’, the game picks up its pace and unravels a tale about the Origami Killer, an intriguing villain that could come right out of a David Fincher film. I won’t go into details, because such a fresh ‘gaming’ experience really shouldn’t be spoiled.
What I will say, is despite the fact you’re only operating on a linear path, the choices you make along the way will actually affect things that will happen, or WON’T happen, later on. That’s the brilliance behind Heavy Rain – You can’t really make a mistake. You’ll never lose or see a ‘Game Over’ screen. If a character bites the dust, no big. The story will continue to unfold. As a result there are a ton of different endings, and it’s possible that you and your friends will never experience the exact same story. Heavy Rain plays it off like everything you do along the way was supposed to happen, which is one of the more unique storytelling techniques I’ve ever seen in a game. Let’s say you go to a woman’s apartment and come to understand she’s being abused… you can walk away, or you can go in as the knight in shining armor. There are moments in the game where you literally have to decide to walk away, or take someone’s life… and the choice is never easy, because the story successfully pins you in a ‘gray area’, where either choice seems like the right way to go. After all, you’re not doing something bad just for the sake of it, right? You’re trying to protect yourself, and others, from the game’s antagonist. You will do whatever necessary, no matter what the cost, to survive. The villain may put you in a ‘Saw’ type trial… and you can fail, or you can take the coward’s way out. The game will go on…
As a result of all this, you really feel like you’re experiencing something unique… you’re literally helping to shape the story being told. Still, as good as the story and character development is, why did the devs have to make the entirety of the game a quick-time event? Let me put it this way – I was shocked when I began to realize just how much it actually helped with the immersion. Are you going to slam something on the ground? You emulate a quick dropping motion with the Dualshock. Trying to climb up a muddy hill in the rain? You’ll have to alternate between the R1 and L1 buttons… holding onto one until your foot is securely in place, and continuing to hold it in place until you can move your other foot onto solid ground. Your character might be running after a suspect, and as the suspects hurdles things in your path to slow you down, you’ll have to dodge by moving and tilting your controller, as well as pushing a variation of buttons in sequence. Believe it or not, this actually goes a long way in making you feel like you’re inside the game.
All this praise aside, there’s one downside to such an immersive experience – The minor flaws that pop up now and again are that much more noticeable, meaning you can be taken out of your illusion rather quickly. The voice acting is excellent for the most part, but certain characters come off as grade-A gaming cheese. Sometimes a voice actor’s natural accent will slip out. As far as the technical presentation is concerned, there can be some frame hiccups, minor tearing and the occasional pop-in effect. There’s an incredible amount of detail on most character models, but most of the other details around them don’t look quite as impressive as they could.
These are minor complaints though, and wouldn’t even be that big a deal if the game didn’t suck you in as much as it does. For me, that makes Heavy Rain a real winner. I actually find myself not wanting to put it down, and it’s a shame my lifestyle doesn’t really afford me any time to ‘marathon play’. I’ll probably never play the game again, despite how different my experience might be the second time around, but for $20, I was ecstatic over how much I enjoyed what was such a controversial style of gameplay.