Heavy Rain (Only available for PS3)
ESRB Rating: M
Developer: Quantic Dream
Release Date: February 23, 2010
A little origami birdie has been squawking around these parts lately, something about Indigo Prophecy 2.0‘s availability on gaming retail shelves everywhere. Indeed, Heavy Rain is here and worth every minute spent with it. I issued the initial comparison for a reason too. Quantic Dream, responsible for the current game in question, also developed that sleeper hit which landed on PS2 and Xbox last generation. Heavy Rain, being IP’s spiritual successor, expands upon its concepts in every expected way. It also leaves the supernatural nonsense from before happily behind, and pushes emotional realism to unseen levels.
The premise follows Indigo’s murder mystery motif in that someone has been offing a number of young boys in the area for a couple years running. No one knows why, but the psycho’s routine is to leave the victims out in the rain with an origami figure and orchid in their possession. These evidences are significant as you control four characters across a 10-15 hour plot arc. The juicy parts don’t mind sitting on the sidelines for a while, but once they finally engage the field, it’s extremely difficult to put the controller down. I’m living proof, as I played from 6pm to 3am the night I bought the game just because I craved answers, and couldn’t be satisfied until the ending credits rolled. Somehow I wasn’t exhausted at work the next day, but I still have five more endings to unlock (two so far), which means plenty of play time left.
If you’re well-versed in Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain shouldn’t prove any trouble. I’m not a fan of the ‘hold R2 to move’ mechanic, but everything else is straightforward. The environments are addictively interactive, observing the character relationships unfold is surreal, and witnessing the consequences of your choices is nothing short of sobering. I would even venture to say that Heavy Rain is inspired by the Saw films because of what lead protagonist Ethan Mars must endure if you have him participate in the spine-chilling trials presented by the villain. There’s the core plot: the Mars family is faced with a terrible tragedy at the game’s onset, and it’s only compounded when young Shaun is kidnapped by the Origami Killer. To obtain the information necessary to save his son, Ethan is confronted with unspeakable challenges. I’m itching to describe them, but since they’re so integral to the experience, I will refrain so you can enjoy the greatest immersion possible. I’ll just say that it was actually tough to watch some of it happen, and all so this father can acquire Hangman-style letters that lead to Shaun’s whereabouts.
One of HR’s most redeeming qualities is an uninterrupted pace. Indigo Prophecy featured several scenarios that afforded a possible restart if you failed to satisfy the input prompts or what have you. That doesn’t happen in Quantic’s latest drama. Regardless of your hand on events, the story continues. Characters may or may not survive, bonds can be shaped differently and what occurs after the final chapter depends on all that happened in between. Everything boils down to a choice, and each renders both subtle and major outcomes; some as simple as lines exchanged during a conversation, to whether or not Shaun is rescued at the end and by whom. The personas are genuine too, as each could certainly be encountered in the real world. Ethan is an architect and loving father of two, Madison is an insomniac journalist, Norman is an FBI agent drug addict, and Scott Shelby is a PI asked to personally investigate the murders by the victims’ families. That’s diversity, though they’re hardly the only ones involved…hence why Heavy Rain is so special. It’s Saw meets Ransom meets CSI, and the execution is sublime.
The presentation is especially intense, despite an odd quality difference between the characters’ bodies and their faces, in addition to strange frame rate and screen tearing instances. Sony-owned Quantic Dream exploits the PS3’s technology well in light of the former. I’ve never played a game that features more detailed faces than HR. The realism of the eyes (the retinas particularly), hair follicles and general blemishes on a 1080p HDTV is just dumbfounding. This not only humanizes the characters more than ever before, but it brings out the personalities in a borderline frightening fashion at times. That’s why I’m disappointed about their bodies; they don’t look quite right. It’s as though the faces that go above and beyond the call of duty made a lesser effort unusually noticeable. Even the set pieces undoubtedly had exceptional talent behind them, as most objects can be toyed with, the resolution of what would typically be meaningless text makes it perfectly legible, and so much more. The technical problems do remind that Heavy Rain is a fictional world, but it by no means takes you out of it for very long.
I have similar feelings about the audio production. The music is thrilling to a T, even if that’s not tough to do with a murder mystery game, but it’s appreciated nonetheless of course. The general effects are as they should be as well, which plays hand-in-hand with the immersion factor. However, the voice work is sadly inconsistent. The majority of the dialogue is spoken professionally (especially when you provoke the characters’ thoughts), but I noticed an uncomfortable share of moments when tone didn’t fit the bill, or the emotion wasn’t appropriate enough. When Ethan is scrambling to find his lost son Jason in the local mall at the beginning of the adventure, hearing him shout for him sounds incredibly weak compared to how panicky I would be in such shoes.
Before concluding, I’ll briefly discuss Heavy Rain’s uncomplicated gameplay. It’s a healthy mix of quick-time events, and circumstances that require input that convincingly matches the resulting on-screen action. For instance, FBI agent Norman [Jayden] calls for a push and pull of the right analog stick to pull out his ARI shades. Those bad boys are wicked too, as our own Jarrod Nichol would claim, because they not only record evidence without a hint of pen and paper, but store it all in a virtual desk of sorts. Other moments require holding down, rapidly tapping or merely pressing a button, and some input is time-sensitive. It’s all good fun, and depending on the difficulty you play with initially, what develops is wholly unpredictable due to not knowing what Heavy Rain will have you do. It’s an interesting challenge the first time, but after you’ve seen it all, pursuing the remaining endings turns the game into a more player-controlled affair. That’s really how it should be though, since we are the ones manipulating the DualShock.
Heavy Rain is the first product that our Sony rep demonstrated during COE’s booth tour at E3 last year, and I knew from that moment that I would love it once arrived. Quantic’s labor doesn’t necessarily push the genre forward, but does bring it to the level that it needed to be at in order to be a legitimate current generation release. After all, the value of these ‘choose your own path’ types of games only extend as far as the plot web stretches. It’s great that QD’s writers accomplished the task of ensuring that one player’s experience could and very likely would be radically different than another’s. Yet in the end, without redeeming characters and a story that doesn’t force mental acrobatics to understand it, it’s all for naught. Thankfully that’s not the case with what I believe is the PS3’s most prized offering for the beginning of 2010. It’s somewhat of a shame that younger gamers shouldn’t be exposed to the sexual and verbal content, but Heavy Rain is otherwise a title that shouldn’t be missed.
Overall (Not an average): 9