Short Version: Heavy Rain is an intense title with incredible depth – especially for players who are willing to follow the experience with an open mind.
Game Rant reviews Heavy Rain
It’s been almost four years since Quantic Dream revealed The Casting, an early tech demo that would serve as the foundation for Heavy Rain. Featured at E3 2006, The Casting showcased a highly detailed character model named Mary Smith that allowed for shocking emotional realism as well as fluid interaction with the physical environment.
The demo looked great and carried the viewer through a disturbing, emotional story, that wasn’t afraid to revel in tension as the character’s actions rapidly intensified.
With such a well-conceived foundation, it should be no surprise that the final product, that is to say Heavy Rain the game, is a remarkable experience from beginning to end and could possibly be one of the most thoughtful, immersive, and important titles ever created – pushing innovation and artistry in the gaming industry.
When the actual gameplay mechanics for the title were finally revealed about a year ago, many gamers dismissed Heavy Rain as nothing more than an electronic “choose your own adventure” book with beautiful next-generation graphics. Ultimately, the comparison isn’t accurate, as it attempts to simplify the title’s innovative gameplay experience into a familiar, and somewhat dated mold.
Does Heavy Rain utilize quick-time events for a number of the game’s action sequences (brawls, shootouts, and a highway chase)? Yes. Is it fair to categorize Heavy Rain as a quick-time game? Absolutely not, because in Heavy Rain, QTEs aren’t patched in as a means of testing the player’s skills or a gimmick to keep you from getting a snack during a rendered cut scene.
The QTEs are as essential to the game as the story because the story continues regardless of your success or failures – which makes the action scenes that much more tense and nerve-racking. If you fail a set of QTEs in Resident Evil 5, you are merely taken back a few minutes in gameplay. In Heavy Rain, failure could result in minute or major changes to the story as well as the death of one or more of your characters. Unlike other titles that use QTEs, there are no do overs – you are left solely responsible for the fate of each character and left to contemplate their absence when they’re gone.
This might sound overly dramatic, but that’s one of the game’s main objectives – drama.
A while back Quantic Dream’s CEO, David Cage, said of Heavy Rain:
“[It’s] about normal people who have landed in extraordinary situations. I wanted a much more personal story. The first thing that came to my mind, as a father of two little boys, was that the main theme should simply be a father’s love for his son. This is not a game about saving the princess or the world. Its [sic] purely about a father’s love.”
Due to the game’s incredible facial expression, motion-capture, and story, it’s easy to be swept into the plight of these characters. Their conversations are so authentic; interactions so fluid, that the player will either marvel at the technologic achievement or forget these characters aren’t actually real.
In addition, the four playable characters have distinct personalities as well as approaches to following the trail of the Origami Killer. Each character utilizes specific gameplay mechanics (one character might be more analytical, another more physical) offering the player a varied gameplay-experience in a title that could have been hammering the same note too often.
The story itself is dark, intense, and extremely disturbing at times – think David Fincher’s Se7en. Though, even with such a complicated premise, and structure, the plot never goes far astray. Every chapter has a purpose, and as the game presses into the final hour, the threads come together beautifully. However, make sure to temper your expectations a bit as there are a number of plot holes – especially depending on which of the twenty-two possible endings you end up viewing. It’s not that the missing plot points are left open for a sequel or anything; rather, there are just a few peculiar story elements that go unexplained.
It’s also worth noting that it takes about two hours for the main story to get going. Players will undoubtedly find themselves endeared to the characters but restless and ready to get the greater plot underway. It’s not that the first two hours are bad – because they’re not. They’re full of a lot of important gameplay-tutorial information (shaking orange juice cartons and carrying groceries) that players will be glad they mastered early on.
More than anything, these early chapters are emotionally draining, with little sense of forward momentum, and by the time the main-plot (disturbing as it is) gets going, it’s actually a bit of a relief – feeling as though you might actually get to make things better for these people.