Heavy Rain Review
After literally years of waiting, Quantic Dream has finally unveiled its cinematic take on current generation gaming with Heavy Rain. The game is controversial for both its deep mature storyline as well as is cavalier attitude toward established gameplay techniques. The 10-hour long game really does play more like a film than an adventure, and this will put off some gamers who are used to having their reflexes tested. On the other hand, the team has done a commendable job by creating a dynamic, mature storyline that slowly sucks the player in and won't let go until the credits roll. If you like a bit of cinema mixed in with your gaming, if you are the type of person who doesn't skip cutscenes, and if you want to try something new, then Heavy Rain is definitely worth a look.
When the game was first shown off in a 2006 technical demo, the public was highly impressed with what the developers had accomplished on the PS3. With an established track record in motion capture, French studio Quantic Dream are experts at creating lifelike character animations. This gives the game a realistic depth, no matter what situation is confronting your character. It allows for a perfect blend of cinematic presentation and game-like interactivity. Other film-like qualities that have seeped into Heavy Rain include visual effects, dramatic camera angles and story pacing, all of which combine to create something not quite a movie and not quite a video game, either.
Heavy Rain doesn't look quite as good as the original technology demo, but it still does a fantastic job of conveying atmosphere.
Now, more than three years after we first saw the demonstration, the game might be less impressive graphically but it still manages to hold its own. Human characters are well modeled, even if their skin occasionally picks up an artificial looking pallor. We are disappointed to report also that jerky animations and low-resolution textures crop up from time to time. These imperfections are not deal-breaking, but they occur often enough that the player will never forget this is a video game rather than live-action cinema. Still, when compared with games of only a few years ago, it is clear that Quantic dream have raised the bar to a certain level when it comes to presenting realistic human movement and environments.
While the graphics are definitely up to par, it is somewhat disappointing that the voice acting let us down in places. Considering that the game has dozens of hours of original dialog, an occasionally rough or unnatural section is to be expected. However, the game has been in development for more than three years, and wooden voice acting can quickly lift the cinematic spell that otherwise envelops the player. On the other hand, the original musical soundtrack composed by Normand Corbeil, is excellent.
It must be said that Heavy Rain is absolutely not an adventure game, in the purest sense. That is, unlike games such as uncharted, where the player can navigate the game world more or less freely, the narrative in Heavy Rain is much more linear. More than half of the experience takes place through extended Quick Time Events (QTEs) that allow a minimal amount of player interaction and choice. In fact, there is a quick time event for just about everything in the game, from applying make-up to drinking a cup of coffee. Holding down a trigger moves the character forward in space, while on-screen cues tell the player when to input motions. Some portions of the world open up a bit more, giving the player the opportunity to interact with characters and look for clues in the environment. However for the most part, the game feels more like an on-rails shooter, without all of the shooting.
Character models look pretty good, although they sometimes descend into the 'uncanny valley'.
The story in Heavy Rain begins very slowly, taking about 2 hours to really get into the meat of the narrative. For example the first ten minutes are mainly spent brushing your character's teeth and putting on clothes. Gone is the sci-fi flavored mysticism of Quantic Dream's last project, Fahrenheit. However, what's left is a very real and very engaging thriller that builds with the pace of a nail-biting detective movie.
The game features four playable characters Norman Jayden, an FBI Agent, a retired private detective named Scott Shelby, an architect named Ethan Mars and a journalist named Madison Paige. All characters have the same objective: tracking down the serial killer known cryptically as "The Origami Killer", named after his habit of leaving folded paper designs on the bodies of his victims. The characters are all very human, each with interesting traits, habits and faults that flesh them out for the player as the story progresses. For example, FBI Agent Jayden is addicted to prescription drugs, while Ethan Mars has a very personal reason for tracking down the killer, who has kidnapped his son.
If one character dies, the player can choose to keep playing as one of the alternate personalities, with the story changing to reflect the absence of the deceased character. While the experience itself is mostly linear, there is some obvious replayability is built in to the story as players will want to return and find out how certain decisions will shape the outcome of the game. Frustratingly, these story outcomes are not always the result of conscious player choice, but often depend on whether or not the player has successfully passed a Quick Time Event.
If you've lamented the immaturity of recent storylines at the same time that video game technology has improved by leaps and bounds, you will appreciate Heavy Rain. This game is a rare gem that exudes maturity, from the themes handled in the story to the details that flesh out a mostly realistic world inhabited by actual people. There are no superpowers, no invading aliens and no adolescent angst driving the plot here: just believable characters with strong motivations and a very frightening (but altogether terrestrial) threat that menaces them. That said, not every gamer will appreciate what Quantic Dream has done, and it remains a title which appeals to only certain types of people. Not everybody likes serious drama, and those who don't might find the storyline plodding or the lack of player control a bit frustrating. However, if you really dig police detective stories and you want to try something new, it's worth looking past the stigma of "interactive movie" and give this experience a try. We almost guarantee you will enjoy it.
Genre: Interactive Cinema
Developer: Quantic Dream
Pros: Engaging story, nice graphical presentation, mature themes.
Cons: Somewhat boring sections, frustratingly shallow QTE gameplay.
Final Score: 4/5
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