Several thoughts percolated through my brain as I waded through the unique gaming experience that is Heavy Rain. Thoughts like, “Why does every character I control move around as if they just got punched in their asshole?” And, “Why did developer Quantic Dream decide to make a game out of that crappy Christian Slater/Morgan Freeman movie? Oh wait. That was called Hard Rain! Man, I am such a flaming idiot.”
Anyway, after all is said and done, Heavy Rain proves to be an emotionally engaging experience that is equally adept at dishing out intense, visceral thrills. Revolving around an intricate murder mystery; Heavy Rain details the actions and motivations of four characters who each embark on a journey to track down the elusive Origami Killer; a serial killer who kidnaps children in a nameless city and drowns them in a secluded location by utilizing the accumulated rainfall.
Presented as an interactive movie that unfolds like the chapters of a book, Heavy Rain is comprised of context-sensitive cinematics and linear gameplay. While there are several different interactive gameplay options during non-cinematic sequences; there are still limitations within each environment. Unlike a sandbox game, Heavy Rain confines its characters to certain surroundings and it is up to the player to determine what actions need to be taken in order to advance. Luckily, players have the option to “see” the thoughts of each character that they control (which manifest as words that spin around their heads), which can steer players in the right direction.
Players alternate control between four characters that include:
Ethan Mars: An emotionally shattered man who is coping with the death of one of his children and who finds himself embroiled in a game of cat and mouse with the Origami Killer. With his other son kidnapped by the Killer, Ethan is forced to undertake numerous tasks to prove his loyalty and love for his captured son. Complicating matters is the realization that Ethan might be the Killer, since he frequently blacks out and awakens in strange locations with origami figures in his possession.
Madison Paige: An investigative journalist who crosses paths with Ethan and eventually helps him with his search for the Killer.
Norman Jayden: A drug-addicted FBI profiler who consistently has to deal with a misguided police force. Equipped with hi-tech forensic technology, Norman uses a virtual-reality program to dissect clues.
Scott Shelby: An older, out-of-shape private detective with asthma who teams up with a broken-down woman who has lost her child to the Origami Killer.
One of the most interesting and innovative gaming experiences I have ever come across, Heavy Rain displays every cliché inherent in the murder-mystery/thriller genre. However, this adherence to clichéd material works in such a way as to give players a new perspective on these time-tested situations. Players become active participants during each sequence, instead of passive viewers. This tweaking of the formulaic brings a whole new dimension to these familiar scenarios. While most of these sequences would normally be disregarded as unimaginative or boring, by putting players into these situations, the context takes on a deeper meaning and an immediate sense of urgency is felt.
For example, how many times have you seen a character try to escape from a car that is submerged underwater? While this scenario has been played out in far too many movies to mention, in Heavy Rain, the scene carries weight since you have forged an emotional connection with the character and, in turn, the intensity gets ratcheted up because the character’s life is in your hands.
Another interesting aspect of the game involves the use of split-screen. Like an old Brian DePalma movie (Heavy Rain even has a grimy, washed-out look that mirrors the aesthetic of many paranoid thrillers from the 1970’s), Heavy Rain expertly employs split-screens to maximize the tension. A good example of this occurs when one of the characters is tied to a table, about to get chopped-up by a psychotic Doctor. For a brief moment, the Doctor’s attention is diverted by somebody at his front door. While the Doctor leaves the tied-up character alone to take care of the person at the door, players are forced to find a way out of this predicament. Via split-screen, players are afforded the opportunity to concentrate on what their character is doing, as well as simultaneously seeing and hearing what is happening at the front door. Can you free yourself before the Doctor comes back? Once again, the use of split-screen heightens the tension.
While the game excels on most levels, I did have some minor problems. Now, I do not know if the ravages of time have rendered my once-supple hands into the gnarled appendages they are now, but for whatever reason, I did find myself occasionally having trouble with the wonky controls. Most of my grief was brought on by the right analog stick, which is primarily utilized throughout the game. Sometimes you are required to roll the stick in a specific motion or direction, as well as move it around slowly or quickly. On the whole, this was not too difficult, but there were numerous scenes that were time-based, which really fucked up my response time. Now, I did panic at various intervals, but I also buckled down and concentrated like a motherfucker and still could not master the controls when I truly needed to. This led to several frustrating moments, especially when I could not advance the story the way I wanted to. Oh well, at least the game gives you the option to repeat any level that has already been completed.
Another odd part of the game revolves around the discarding of certain character traits. Scott Shelby’s asthma problem is brought up early in the game…then it disappears. This also goes for Ethan’s blackouts and Norman’s drug withdrawals. I can understand how these character quirks would not want to be overused due to repetition, but then why choose to devote so much time to them in the first place? On top of this, the onscreen control prompts are sometimes obscured by characters or objects, which is extremely maddening during intense, reflex-based sequences.
Although these issues can be problematic, they are nonetheless small when compared to what the game does successfully accomplish. Mainly, it creates an oppressive world that makes you care about the characters. And while the controls can be erratic (it also doesn’t help that every character moves…so…deliberately), they do not detract from the overall experience. Some might find the cinematic-loaded game to be too slow (the game does take awhile to get going, but I found even mundane actions strangely compelling. How often do you get to control a character’s bathroom rituals? I hate having to piss, shave, and take a shower in real life, but man its fun to get a pixilated person to do it!). Part thriller, part murder mystery, and part police procedural, Heavy Rain tackles its story from a variety of angles and viewpoints (which splinter off in numerous directions, creating a multitude of different scenes and endings). Couple this with several cringe-worthy moments that test your own moral and ethical resolve, Heavy Rain does more than just entertain…it provokes thought.
For adventurous gamers who want to travel off the beaten path, you need to check Heavy Rain out.