Kill or spare? Run or fight? Heavy Rain is a game stuffed full of tough choices. So should you choose to buy it?
Five years ago Quantic Dream and Atari released David Cage’s Fahrenheit and caught the game industry’s attention with their intriguing take on video game storytelling and control. By using clever analogue stick motions to replicate real-world actions, the game tested the water for new ways of approaching so-called “cinematic gameplay.” This year’s PS3 exclusive, Heavy Rain is the natural progression of Cage and Quantic Dream’s original vision. This time though, the developers have turned the production values and the writing up to eleven and with the publishing muscle of Sony they are taking their innovative ideas to a much greater audience. Since The Casting tech demo at E3 2006 gamers have been captivated by this game’s potential and though it has its flaws, it absolutely delivers on its thrilling premise.
The story of Heavy Rain places you in the juxtaposing roles of 4 very different characters whose paths will cross, as they find themselves caught up in the case of a child serial killer in a city on the USA’s East Coast. Unlike the vast majority of modern video games, there is no separation between story and gameplay in Heavy Rain. As if to support its use of cinematic overtones, each section of the story is referred to as a “scene” and usually involves elements of conversation and action.
Throughout the game the perspective is always a choice of 2 fixed cameras and you move your character by holding R2 and steering them with the left stick. It’s perhaps most readily comparable to racing games and to begin with it feels extremely unnatural. However, as you get used to the movement it becomes clear that it’s a very clever way to simplify movement within the rigid confines of the game’s camera. During conversations, your possible replies are represented by one word descriptions, such as “trick” or “empathise” which do a great job of being very clear how your character will behave when chosen.
Of course, no game is ever truly perfect in all of its elements, and Heavy Rain is no different. The story certainly has many contrivances and some of the design choices can seem highly questionable. The most glaring of these is the game’s nudity. There are three or four scenes in Heavy Rain which feature explicit female nudity, but only one of them even comes close to benefitting the story. At times in feels unnecessary and gratuitous. Nudity in video games has never been done tastefully and it’s unlikely that it will ever be comfortable to watch. There will always be that knowledge that underneath the polygons there is a real person in a skin-tight suit, covered in white balls, writhing around in a mo-cap studio. It’s embarrassing to think about and will never look realistic on-screen.
Heavy Rain is a little bit flawed technically as well. Though the character models and faces are mesmerising and have an outstanding level of detail, the textures in the environment and on background characters can be significantly less well developed. Random bugs and glitches also occur. Some people won’t see any of these during their play-through, but others may experience sound glitches, broken animations, full crashes and even corrupted save files. These issues don’t effect specific regions or specific PS3 SKUs so, for now, your technical experience with Heavy Rain will be complete luck, at least until another patch can be released.
If you own a PlayStation 3 then you owe it to yourself to play Heavy Rain. No other current-gen console has anything which can match it for storytelling, immersion and high tension. The more copies of this game that are sold, the more likely it is that the rest of the industry will recognise its astounding achievements. If Heavy Rain can inspire more great script-writing and great control innovation then we will all be richly rewarded.