Heavy Rain’s concept is a bold one. It’s not just a video game – it has attempted to blur the lines between a novel, film and humble gaming experience. Quantic Dream’s brainchild has distanced itself from the traditional elements a third person action/adventure title, instead deciding to concentrate on an in depth narrative. But there-in lies the problem; do video-gamers want an in-depth experience? Or is a player content with switching their minds off as they switch their console on?
Heavy Rain is indeed in depth. Its comprehensive storyline follows the aftermath of a notorious child serial murderer known as the ‘Origami Killer’. Upon the kidnapping their latest victim, Shaun Mars, players take control of four different characters, Shaun’s father Ethan Mars, journalist Madison Paige, Private Investigator Scott Shelby and the FBI agent investigating the killings, Norman Jayden. In order to progress through the game, players must participate in a series of chronological scenarios to achieve the ultimate end: find Shaun Mars and track down the Origami Killer.
Heavy Rain’s story is incredibly emotive, however despite its ability to draw the player in, its finer points border on the unoriginal and are often daft. The ‘tests’ that Ethan must take are reminiscent of the tests in the Saw series. Meanwhile, the majority of the support cast come from even the most clichéd crime films, seemingly created from one-dimensional moulds, with inexpressive voice acting to match. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that despite the length of time the script took to write (around eighteen months) it makes huge leaps in order to fit the scenarios together, often without paying attention to evidence or logic. For example, Ethan is made a scapegoat through out the game with no evidence. For a game that is so story driven, such oversights are stain on what could have been a well thought our crime thriller.
That said in Ethan, Madison, Scott and Norman, Heavy Rain has four lead characters that do more than enough to hold the plot together. Voice acting from the four protagonists on the most part is heartfelt (a few scenes are questionable, in particular when searching for Ethan son, which repeats the same unconvincing call). While the option to hear their thoughts not only provides a useful in-game guide, but provides an insight into the characters emotional investment in the unfolding events.
Although each character has their own back-story and reasons for their involvement in the investigation, it is FBI agent Norman Jayden’s view on events that is the most compelling. Fighting a drug addiction whilst coping with controversial co-workers makes for some difficult decision-making. Norman’s scenarios make for some interesting CSI style investigation. Norman possesses a device called A.R.I (Added Reality Interface), a sunglasses-like device that allows him to scan the surrounding area for evidence. Although it simplifies the investigation process and takes the challenge from it somewhat, it does allows the game to flow, ensuring that the player doesn’t get bogged down in finding that clue which could make or break the case.
Irrespective of size and importance, almost all decisions or actions made within the game have consequences. Some might affect the scenario that follows, for example, a scenario towards the game’s beginning see Ethan looking after his son, a decision as small as not asking Shaun to do his homework will leave him dejected in the subsequent scenario (as he was punished at school). Of course more substantial decisions or actions have more impact, even to the point that it could affect the game’s final outcome. An event as great as a character’s death is no obstacle, regardless as to which character or characters it is. Instead Heavy Rain’s immense depth works the storyline around it, making for a seamless narrative that reinforces the player’s choices.
For a title that requires the amount of attention that Heavy Rain does, no doubt due to its depth, it requires modest input from the player. For the most part, it adopts a context-sensitive control scheme – almost all actions are controlled through a button press, analogue stick movement or use of the Sixaxis, which appear as visual prompts. During the action and interaction sequences it works well; the button sequences create a realistic impression of control over events that gives the player a sense of involvement, despite the limited input. For example, miss a button prompt in a fight sequence and it could result in a character not connecting or dodging a punch. Miss enough and they could loose the fight or worse, die. General movement however is flawed in comparison, walking feels stunted and awkward at times and will often see the character walk past the object the player wants to interact with, sometimes requiring some delicate and frustrating manoeuvres.
Interacting with objects can also prove frustrating. No text description is given with the on screen prompts, which can result in the player doing something he or she didn’t intend to do. Generally, this flaw in the interaction doesn’t affect the narrative, however accidentally sitting down in a chair or switching a light on can spoil the games flow, thus reducing it’s cinematic quality.
Control faults aside, Heavy Rain’s cinematic approach is excellent. It’s beautiful visuals combined with some superb animation creates the experience of an extended cut scene. In fact, Heavy Rain’s presentation is film-like through and through. It utilises obscure camera angles and split screen to portray that unique cinema style, while its score is the standard of a BAFTA award winning film.
Although its presentation suggests a third person action title, for intent and purposes Heavy Rain is a role-playing game. However, despite its in depth story, it isn’t a game that will tax the brain. Heavy Rain is a game that the player experiences, one that a player invests their emotions in, and it’s asking nothing more than that the player pays attention. Of course, some will feel cheated with the lack of direct input, in which case it is one to avoid. However for all its flaws, its unoriginal storyline, occasional plot holes and sometimes-unconvincing voice acting, Heavy Rain is one of the strongest storyline lead games ever produced, and has set the standard for the cinema experience game.