Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3
Genre The Movie: The Game
Score 8  Clock score of 8
Buy from Amazon

I am willing to give every video game genre a try, including what Wikipedia describes Heavy Rain as an “interactive drama” and “psychological thriller.” To the traditional gamer, those probably rank right up with the dating sim and train simulators of the world. Why play an interactive drama when I could just watch a movie?

But this is a valid question that can be used to juxtapose any type of media. Movies are an excellent format at telling a story in about two hours, while many games take a two hour story and stretch it across 12 hours with bits of action padding the time. Heavy Rain was created from the ground up to challenge the idea that not only can a video game tell a compelling story, but that it can deliver the same emotional punches that a movie can too.

Released in February 2010 by French developer Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain tells the story of a father, a journalist, a detective, and an FBI profiler all tracking down an elusive serial killer who targets young boys. As one of the PlayStation 3 exclusives I’ve wanted to play the most, I was very excited to get my hands on the game after two years. You can see my first hour review here, or read on for spoiler-free thoughts on Heavy Rain.

At Heavy Rain’s core is a story of love, life, and death. This isn’t the kind of story that is often attempted in video games, but when it is, the hero is often just a few roundhouse kicks away from rescuing the damsel in distress and resolving things quickly. Heavy Rain takes a different approach, it puts the hero in situations that force them to make choices and come to decisions that are honestly difficult. Of course, the player is ultimately behind all of these choices, and it is incredible what a little interactive drama can bring out in a gamer.

Broken up into “scenes” across four different characters, Heavy Rain moves quickly (well, after it’s very slow and tedious first hour) from location to location, with every new character introduced forcing you ask, “are they the Origami Killer?” It’s all very cinema-like, from the frequent red herrings to the awkward, I mean artsy, camera angles. Along with Shenmue 2, Heavy Rain is one of the few games that could have its script successfully converted to an honest-to-goodness decent screenplay in less than a day.

But Heavy Rain isn’t all film-wannabe, there is actually a game here, and it comes in the form of lots and lots of quick time events. QTEs have garnered a pretty nasty name for themselves over the years for lazy developers’ ridiculous implementations. Fighting the last boss in Knights Contract is deservedly tough, but you shouldn’t be required to quickly tap a series of random buttons that flash on the screen to finish it off.

But where most games fall down hard when implementing QTEs, Heavy Rain actually shines. During action sequences, the button necessary to press will actually float translucently above the object it represents. If you mean to block a punch, the triangle button will appear on the bad guy’s fist. Handling fragile things requires slow thumbstick maneuvers, and other times you’ll be required to press and hold many buttons at once to simulate the heavy load places upon your avatar. It’s done surprisingly effectively, and helps translate the emotions the onscreen character is experiencing directly to the player.

Heavy Rain Nothing Serious

There are some issues with the controls, simply walking around at times is problematic. The controls aren’t exactly tank-like, but you’ll find yourself spinning in circles at times as your character bumps into objects or the camera angle abruptly changes and you attempt to compensate. You’re also required to hold down the R2 trigger whenever you’d like to walk around, which is as awkward and unnecessary as it sounds. Couple these issues with some of the intense and time-limited situations you’re in, and your heart rate can increase exponentially.

The voice acting is hit and miss, some of the lead actors are trying to pull off American accents rather poorly, and the game has its share of crappy sounding secondary characters. Thankfully, they hired better composers than voice actors that were able to squeeze out that much more emotional impact from a lot of the scenes.

While a game doesn’t need anything near realistic graphics to communicate emotions to the player, Heavy Rain is trying to deliver the full cinematic experience, and with it come mostly excellent models and animations. Human faces look realistic without diving into the uncanny valley, and as long as the animation doesn’t have anything to do with hair or clothing, the game looks pretty great.

Dialog conversations are all held during normal gameplay, and your responses appear as floating phrases around your character’s head. This is a unique and seemingly foolproof way to eliminate any need for a heads-up display, but do you know how hard it is to tell the difference between a circle and square as they’re quickly revolving around your head? Pressing one or the other may lead the conversation (and potentially the entire game) in an entirely different direction, and if you wait too long to try and parse it out, the game may respond for you. How about the developers use the actual colors of the button to help distinguish them? Frustrating, to say the least.

Heavy Rain Ethan Mars Depressed

And before I continue with any more negatives, I honestly enjoyed Heavy Rain’s story and Quantic Dream’s way of executing it. I felt drawn into the world at almost all times, and felt dread whenever I played as one character in particular. This game will affect you in some way. I’m personally the father of two young boys, similar to the main character, and it was emotionally tolling to play Heavy Rain at times.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t story issues. Being a thriller playing the serial killer angle, Heavy Rain throws red herring after red herring at you, trying to throw the seasoned armchair detective off track. The frequent potential misleads open up a ton of plot holes, especially near the end as the final threads are unravelled. While the game itself moves quickly enough to avoid scrutiny while you’re actually playing it, many things begin to fall apart post-credits when you have time to think. I obviously won’t go into them because of spoilers, but some of the twists are baffling in retrospect.

This doesn’t stop Heavy Rain from having the emotional impact it was striving for by successfully melding unique gameplay with a powerful tale of redemption. Heavy Rain will go down as one of the definitive experiences of this generation.

Overall: 8