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Heavy Rain: A Review
Singing in the Rain
When Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain was released in February 2010 it immediately saw one of the largest followings for the adventure game genre. It's not as secretive as The Neverhood's, nor is it as popular as Mass Effect's, but it is still one of the most highly appreciated forms of virtual art and is undeniably one of gaming's biggest achievements. Not only is the story and the telling of it fascinating, but its visuals and soundtrack capture every single speck of atmosphere without leaving anything out or behind. It's also the most touching game I've played since I saw Winter Tundra in Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer, so you must understand that this review is going to be nothing but positive. Well, maybe a few peeves will be stated along the way.
But before we advance any further I'd first of all like to talk about this game's audience, so nobody buys it and thinks "oh dear, I was misinformed about what kind of game this is". This is not an action game for the most part, nor should you be expecting huge amounts of gore or even eeriness. It is a very slow experience that doesn't drag on all that much, and requires patience all the way through. Every scene in this game is tailored magnificently, and even though there's plenty there, it always leaves you hungry and you're stuck with a cliff hanger. It takes a good four to six hours before things go a bit faster, and even so it requires even more time before learning about each of the characters, and not until half way through do you feel comfortable and knowledgable about each member of the cast. Is this a bad thing? That depends on how much time you have. This game is not meant to be completed as fast as possible, so if you are going to rent it, be sure to extend the time to up to 4 days to a week. The idea is to explore everything, and in some cases you won't be satisfied until every single object has been interacted with and inspected. My recommendation is to buy this game with a clear head, and not see too many reviews so you don't spoil the experience for yourself. With that in mind, we may advance.
"Quick time events play a huge role in the game so if you don't like them, don't bother with this title - it takes up a good 70% of the gameplay."
The story revolves around four characters, each of which slowly but surely become connected to a child killer known only as "The Origami Killer". We're all probably thinking John Woo's Stranglehold here, but the killer is the last person you'd expect to be, even with the clues that try to pin the blame on each of the characters. You don't get to choose who you play as and when, but each time you complete a scene you move onto the next. It is possible to kill playable characters, but that doesn't stop the game from continuing the story, but I'll cover that shortly. The Origami Killer always drowns children in heavy rain water, be it in a puddle, in drains or pits, and leaves behind a clue; an origami creature. Because such rain seasons don't happen regularly in the parts where the game takes place in America, the Origami Killer can only strike at particular times, and has been doing so over the course of three years. He's very hard to track too, because the distance between each kill is very far, and thus it's hard to say if the killer is local (as they always have somewhere nearby to retreat to). Rather than have the four characters chase after the killer and run away from him, they each have different reasons to track him, but let's start from the beginning.
You begin the game as Ethan Mars, a family man who has a loving wife and two sons, as well as a job as a successful architect. He doesn't drink, smoke or take drugs and he hasn't any visible signs of being torn or having his past ruined. But that changes rather quickly. When one of his sons is killed in a car accident, his whole world is ruined; he and his wife get divorced six months after Jason's - his eldest son - demise, and Shaun, the youngest, is tossed about between the two without much love or interest in his father. The game starts out with a flexible tutorial, allowing you to play the game at your own pace without being tied down by time (which happens in dialogue and the environment later on), therefore you can mess about and learn under your own steam.
The other playable characters take some time to get accustomed to, and the reason why Mars is a personal favourite is because I've seen his personal life shatter like a hand grenade to a mirror. Plus he's the first character so naturally that will add some more reason. Most of the game you spend playing as him, and his quest to do the right thing as well as discover the Origami Killer is one we follow with few interruptions or parts missing. We have Scott Shelby, a private detective who is actually as tough as he is round, and is quite a gentle giant when it comes to dialogue and in some cases stealth. Then there's Norman Jayden, an FBI agent who has been sent to the town to investigate the killings, and brings quite a few fancy innovations. He uses his power glove and power shades to search the environment for clues, making the hunt for the serial killer far more interesting. It also gives some great gameplay mechanics in the office, and is good inspiration for you upcoming thriller writers! Finally there's the least explored character but still loveable and innocent Madison Paige. She's a journalist looking into the Origami Killer case and this could be her big earner, but she doesn't intrude in the life of Ethan Mars, and she abandons her journalism to care for him later on. If I were to do another Top 9 Most Awesome Females in Video Gaming article, she'd be my number one. Unfortunately she doesn't do much but help out, but that's not to say that her debut and later escapades aren't boring - they're some of the most tense in the game, as well as some of the most degrading.
"Heavy Rain is the first game where I've seen QTE done right, and feels exhilarating throughout it, and rewarding when it's over!"
This game isn't about trying to beat it as fast as possible, but tinkering and playing with the environments you're in. It's not always best to do so because you might end up putting your foot in the waste disposal or your head in a lion's mouth, perhaps not that radical but being too nosey can - and will - get you in deep trouble. Your freedom is both limited and unlimited, allowing you to do all kinds of things and more, but the control is what holds you back. The movement is rather stiff and on very few scripted occasions can you sprint or so much as jog, so this can take you out of the zone to have a well needed sigh. There's no main action button, because the four coloured buttons on the right side of the pad do most of the work, as well as the triggers, the right stick and even Sixaxis. Because I've not got a Playstation move I can't comment on how well that works, but I've seen some gameplay images and it doesn't look too bad.
The buttons are mostly for dialogue, or for a sequence of events. They don't always have the same purpose either, so don't think that the 'X' button will always be for nice replies in dialogue, and triangle for sarcastic remarks and such. The right stick does the most work with your hands, such as opening a door, pouring a virgin screwdriver or patting someone on the back. The R1 trigger is used whenever a character has a gun (very rare), but also for sequences.
The actions you do are numerous, and are broken down into dialogue, environmental interaction and quick time events (QTE for short). Quick time events play a huge role in the game so if you don't like them, don't bother with this title - it takes up a good 70% of the gameplay. This doesn't mean that they're as bad and generic as throwing a zombie off you in Dead Island: Riptide (always L1 then R1), nor are they as stale as Viking: Battle for Asgard, but they are very well designed and each button, tap of the triggers or movement of the stick matches the character's actions. For example, if you throw a right hook then a left, you'd press the circle button then the square button, or lean down on the right stick and bring it up, then do the same again but bring it left. That's just one example of the cleverness that goes on in this game, and during chases you can tip obstacles and lock doors behind you to hinder the enemy progress, or you have to take shortcuts using these actions. Heavy Rain is the first game where I've seen QTE done right, and feels exhilarating throughout it, and rewarding when it's over!
Outside of QTE and doing everything that you can in the room from playing with faucets to food poisoning the mother of a lost child, there's not much to Heavy Rain in gameplay. The entire purpose of this product is to entertain, to move and to reach out (and in some cases strangle) the player with its pure storytelling. But that's both this game's downfall and its uprising: you can't fail.
Nowhere in this game can you 'fail'. You might not truly discover the Origami Killer, you might lose Shaun, you might kill off most of the main cast but you cannot get the "Game Over" screen. You might think that's great, and if you don't care about the ending you will, but there will be times where you feel as though the game over screen would've been better than the option you chose. There's no 'reload checkpoint' option either, and while I can understand where the developers were going by leaving it out, it still doesn't stop me from going to the main menu after making a bad move and reloading the latest checkpoint from there. And each time I have to do that, it annoys me to no end. But what you have to remind yourself is that this game is not about being there to win, nor is it about being competitive. You don't read a book so you can power through 'til the end, and even if you do here, what will the reward be? The trophies you earn at the end aren't numerous and it will take several months to find all the endings (on your own), so don't rush. It's OK to feel that urge to burn through everything as you near the end - you discover Shaun's location; you find out who the Origami Killer is.... you can smell the ending like a pie on a windowsill and it's time to launch yourself at it to take a bite. But while you're in mid-flight and that pie is about to have an intimate relationship with your gob, you've still got many important things to do at the end. The gameplay doesn't end until the case is closed, and you can sit back and watch your achievements unravel.
Another great thing about this game is that all of your major choices factor into the game, and it's not just right at the end like games such as Mass Effect. It seems as though Alpha Protocol took a page out of Heavy Rain's book and threw some more into the original design, as with that game you can make choices that will make or break friendships and rivalries, and don't wait until the end to discover if you did the right thing or not. You might or might not like the fact that there's no way to see your morality in the form of a bar or a meter that turns blue or red like it's a pregnancy test, because you should make the choices you want, and not be about playing a good or evil character. There's no incentive to be a good guy or a bad guy but at the same time it's not an option, because you will do unspeakable things and it's down to you to decide if you can or want to do even worse things than that, or you might be polite but then decide to throw someone out of the way of a speeding bus. It's purely random as and when these kinds of things happen, but you'll know when they do. What you don't know is how and when they will affect you.
The visuals are some of the best I've seen since Little Big Planet, especially the physics for the rain fall and how each droplet can affect a puddle. Everything looks so miserable and depressing, and rather than make you feel the same, it actually makes you want to run out into some downpour like it. The mood is perfect and very few times is there sun or moonlight, only at the beginning and the end of the game will you see it. The sky is always grey with chances of flooding and drizzle, forever reminding you subtly that Shaun is going to drown and the number of inches of rain is rising. But what makes this game brilliant is its character models and animations, which easily compete with L.A Noire's. While this game's animations are a bit sloppy at times from the neck down, looking somewhat robotic (and even the Gamecube could've done a better job), the facial animations match the voices and emotions, as well as the thoughts in each character's head.
As for the voice acting, it's perfect. Top notch believable and moving voices, and most people who portrayed their character did their own voice too. The sound effects such as guns, doors slamming and that crackling splattering of rain is always nice, and makes me wish for a thunder and lightning in our world. Finally the score is amazing and really shifts the mood into the direction the game should if the visuals fail to set the tone. Normand Corbiel was the composer of this soundtrack, and it gives Amnesia: The Dark Descent a run for its money, which is a major accomplishment in my books.
Can you stand the rain
I now have to conclude my review by saying that Heavy Rain is all about how you tell the story, not how you play the game. I recall saying not long ago that "it's amazing how Roleplayers add more to WoW than the raiders do", because while the raiders experience the content, the roleplayers craft their own stories and lives, and shape current ones. And with that in mind, you have to appreciate what the developers did here, starting the car they chose up, but allowing you to drive wherever and how quickly you wish to. Designer David Cage led the team to make one of the most tense, thrilling and believable video game concepts I've ever been presented, and is a no-nonsense tale of woe, despair and trickles of hope amongst showers of grief.
Despite the game's obscure control scheme and ways of being played Heavy Rain scores a ginormous 9 OUT OF 9 for its brilliant story, content that makes the disc bust at the seems and terrific visuals and audio! For this, Heavy Rain is easily a Greasy Gamer MUST BUY, and because it's a game you can return to at any time, it's a MUST STASH in your video game shelves! Thank you for reading, and I wish you all a very pleasant (and sunny) day!
Gameplay is limited but the story is what you play for, as well as to engage in the characters and understand them. If you don't like Quick-time events, it will be a gamble getting this game, for there are a lot of them, but very well crafted.
This game feels as though it lasts a good 70 hours, but actually goes on for 24-36 depending on how much or how little you do. It never feels dragged out and there's always something going on to keep it fresh.
Movement feels a bit stiff but nothing you can't put up with, though it can make tensions rise and not in a good way either. The game takes full advantage of the Move, Sixaxis and every trigger, button and stick.
Brilliant character designs, especially Ethan who takes loads of punishment later on that lasts, as well as terrific environments that constantly remind you that there's nothing to laugh about in this current time.
The voice acting and music is fitting, and few times was I fully conscious of the soundtrack and thus removed from immersion. It draws you in and is always playing the right track at the right time.
This game has short DLC which gives each character a prologue to these events, allowing you to add more to the experience. However I shan't come back to this game because it's so good, I simply cannot bring myself to go through the tragedies and joys it gave. Very, very moving.