Heavy Rain review

“How far would you go to save someone you love?”

Out of all the PS3 exclusives, this was the one that had me excited the most, a multi-layered gritty murder mystery that sought to boldly redefine interactive entertainment through its ambitious narrative and unique control scheme. ‘Interactive Drama’ is the term that David Cage attempts to eschew in your mind, but does such a game… a thing work? Predictably this is an incredibly divisive game, many are going to hate it and everything it stands for but having experienced the genius of the first few hours of Fahrenheit, I had already bought into the vision and it was finally time to see if Quantic Dream could realize it.

Heavy Rain revolves around the abduction of a boy by the ‘Origami Killer’, a serial killer who has been abducting and leaving the bodies of boys in deserted areas around the city, the narrative is unique in the sense that it forgoes traditional gaming structures in favour of maintaining and augmenting its boldly cinematic tale. It manipulates the linearity of a game through its interaction mechanics, specific skills aren’t needed to advance through the game, rather it is all about experiencing the rapidly unfolding storyline on a level which has been rarely, if ever seen in this medium of entertainment.

More on the interaction later but to go back to the story, it’s a downbeat yet largely compelling tale that manages despite some instances of atrocious writing, to overcome the jarring fantasies that so plagued Fahrenheit during its later stages. The compulsive pull of a father to save his son throughout his nightmarish journey does not abate and its emotional struggle had a big impact on me by the time the credits rolled. I couldn’t help thinking what I would do in that situation, the concept of how far would you go to save someone you love? It proves to be an enduringly fascinating motif.

Man if ever there’s a difficult part in trying to review a game, trying to explain how Heavy Rain plays would be near the top of the list. Anyway in Heavy Rain, you play as four very different characters, there’s Ethan the dad who’s recovering after a tragic accident and has now searching for his kidnapped son, Madison a journalist suffering from insomnia who takes an interest in the Origami Killer case, Jayden an FBI investigator sent to help the local police force in finding the boy and finally Scott, a private detective who experiences first-hand the fallout from the murders by visiting the families of the boys.

Heavy Rain plays out in a series of chapters with one usually being exclusive to a single character until later in the game where the branching storyline causes your choices and consequences to overlap for them to all meet in some form or another. But I suppose what makes this game so distinctive is in its control scheme or perhaps a lack of it, everything besides the awkward, imprecise movement of your characters where you have to hold R2; is controlled through QTE’s and on-screen prompts usually through the thumbsticks. When I say Heavy Rain is revolutionary interactive, I really mean it, things like getting your character to do trivial things like brush his teeth require you to tilt the Sixasis and move your thumbstick in the required motion. This interactivity is guided in most instances by the speed of your motion, for example it tells you to rock a baby to sleep but if you move the thumbstick too fast, you’ll ‘fail’ that prompt and the baby will wake up as a consequence. This unsurprisingly has its frustrations, one various occasions that amount of buttons you’ll have to hold down are completely obscene and you’ll have to reconfigure the traditional way you hold your controller, your thumb on one button, fingers on the triggers and your nose on another button…

If this frantic game of dualshock twister wasn’t enough, since some of the action-scenes are incredibly tense and high-stakes, you’ll be boiling over with rage and anguish when the game is being ridiculously fussy over a prompt. This was all because of Heavy Rain’s tangible threat of death and its consequences, if you fail a particularly vital prompt for example, your character may even die but the story moves on.

But when you’re playing it the action-scenes are breathtaking to behold, each prompt advances your character along a dizzyingly frantic choreographed sequence and you know that if one prompt goes wrong, the scenario will take a whole new turn etc. Having had time to complete the game and reflect, I still can’t really get over how intricately-connected these sequences are, an array of prompts can create vastly different outcomes, it’s just a phenomenal experience to play through.

Not all of the game is like this, Jayden being an FBI profiler has investigative work to do throughout the game and these were probably my favourite sections of the game where you go along and collect evidence, review the clues and make conclusions. Of course, with it being a Quantic Dream production, things are a bit weirder than that, Jayden has these special (ridiculously) high-tech glasses where he can analyse clues in the environment (think Batman’s detective mode) but also it’s his own virtual world where he can explore all the resources he needs to find the killer. It’s utterly bizarre, nevertheless its hugely enjoyable and a great change of pace.

Heavy Rain is a mesmerizing journey, significantly because every chapter is so different, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults. It has a very slow start, some terrible instances of writing, very tedious sections (JAAAAASSSSSSOOOON), strange voice acting, a screamingly cumbersome control scheme and significant plot-holes.

Despite these notable faults, I overlooked them if favour of Heavy Rain’s enthralling sequence of events that just kept pulling me back in, it’s greater level of interactivity permits an even greater level of immersion. The unparalleled sense of gravity in your choices is overwhelming, it’s unlike any game you’ve played before, once the credits start to roll and you see just one of the many endings you could have gotten as a result of your actions, you appreciate just how painstakingly composed it was. It will be debated for a long time to come but when it challenges you to think, to assess what the consequences will be as a result from your chosen action, I can’t help but deeply admire it.

9/10

+Engrossing narrative

+Diverse chapters

+For every action, a consequence

+Incredibly unique experience

+Breathtaking action sequences

Tedious opening

Occasionally frustrating control scheme