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.
For the most part the controls are intuitive, attempting to mimic the actual motions orchestrated on screen: opening a car door requires a downward quarter-turn on the right analog stick or shaking the controller upward in order to kick open a locked door. Prompts also indicate actions that must be done carefully or aggressively: setting a fancy plate onto a table requires a slow downward press of the analog stick where repeatedly shaking the controller might be used to push away an attacker.
The QTE prompts don’t simply flash in the middle of the screen either, in a fight they might appear over an enemies fist and then on an object in the environment, forcing the player to be aware of the entire area, not just fixated on the center of the screen. In some cases, the player might be restrained and have to turn a character’s head from left to right in order to see all the available options: seated in a car looking right will bring the glove box within the character’s field of vision – allowing the character new options.
That said, the control mechanics do take some getting used to – it might not always be especially intuitive whether to hold a button, press a button, or tap it repeatedly – this isn’t because the game doesn’t have different prompts for each, it’s just that, at times, in the heat of the moment it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Additionally, the Resident Evil style tank controls (holding R2) for walking aren’t as good as they could have been (though, they’re a necessary evil because of the directional QTE prompts) and will certainly cause you to bump into a few tables or get stuck on a corner once in awhile.
The difficulty setting of the game determines the maximum allotted reaction time as well as the frequency of the prompts. Most players should be able to find a play-setting that makes the game challenging but not frustrating.
For the most part, even with all of the QTE prompts, and tense, time-sensitive, action scenes, it’s relatively clear what to do – though, there are situations where a player, pressed for time or fearful of impending death, might screw up, missing a prompt or overlook a key clue, and get frustrated with the game. But these smaller failures aren’t a flaw in the game design, they’re actually the result of the carefully constructed chapter set-pieces in Heavy Rain which set the player in very real, very intense situations, without really knowing how long the player has to fully examine or think-through their actions.
The hysteria and panic set-up in each scene feels very real and forces even the most levelheaded gamer to get a bit sloppy. As a result, the player is making the fiction up as they go – because, unlike a choose your own adventure book, the looming threat of time, and subsequently a character’s life, is always present.
The musical score, something we don’t talk enough about in games, is exceptional. The four main characters each have their own theme, beautifully orchestrated at the level you’d expect from a feature film. The various action motifs set a number of different tones in the game that compliment the carefully constructed visual shots, as well as subconsciously prepare players for impending threats – ratcheting up tension in the action set-pieces.
Finally, for a game that offers such an incredibly immersive experience, the voice acting is potentially the least successful aspect of the game. That said, a number of reviews for the title have been overly critical of the game’s vocal track. Yes, there are certain characters in the game whose vocal work isn’t as good as it could be, offering up a few awkward phrasings.
However, most of the main characters, as well as supporting characters, are convincing and never impairs the mood or overall experience. Plus, wouldn’t you rather have a few odd turns of phrase than yet another main character voiced by Nolan North?
Ultimately, none of Heavy Rain’s flaws detract in any significant way from the overall experience – an incredible experience. It’s a must play for gamers who enjoy video-entertainment that attempts to go beyond racking up kill streaks in online death matches. If you’re the type of gamer that skips single-player cut scenes just to get onto more gunplay, Heavy Rain is unlikely to satisfy your thirst for precision shooting. It’s a thoughtful title that blurs the lines between narrative and gaming. It’s the kind of game that you’re likely to think about days later – revisiting a particularly disturbing set piece or contemplating the meaning of the larger story.
That said, even if it’s not the type of game you normally imagine playing, do yourself a favor give the demo a shot. With an open mind, you might be surprised by how quickly you’re drawn into the world of Heavy Rain.
If you’re still on the fence, and are interested in reading more Heavy Rain impressions from our writers be sure to keep an eye out in the next couple days for a feature article with further input from several other Game Rant contributors.
The rain is here. How far will you go for love?
Heavy Rain is available now exclusively on PS3.