When we, as writers, begin to play a game, an initial sense of how to go about a review usually springs to mind. Start with an introduction, move onto plot and then follow up with a look at controls and visuals is the formula that can be applied to the majority of titles. Then Heavy Rain made its grand appearance and after playing it and placing down the controller, a new thought entered the mind; Just how do you begin to review this game? The obvious start is by acknowledging the fact that Heavy Rain is developed and directed by the same team that bought Fahrenheit to life back in 2005. David Cage once again displays his imagination in this Quantic Dream release which retains elements from his last title, creating an almost entirely new gaming genre known as Interactive Films.
As with Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain is in essence an Interactive Film whereby you enjoy an extensive and engaging plot line, only with a degree of control over the final outcome. Now, this is the time when I should begin to talk about the title’s storyline but to do so without dropping any spoilers is near impossible, so a brief overview seems more appropriate. You take control of four different characters, all with one common influence; The Origami Killer, an individual who abducts young boys and drowns then in rain water. The first character we become acquainted with is Ethan Mars, a happily married father of two architect who is enjoying his average, tranquil life in the prologue to the main story. Next we meet Scott Shelby, a retired police officer turned private investigator who is conducting his own research into the victim’s disappearances on behalf of the the bereaved parents.
Next we fill the boots of Norman Jayden, an FBI officer drafted in to help police enquiries in the case of the Origami Killer. His investigation techniques are made unique with his ARI (Added Reality Interface) glasses that allow the scanning of crime scenes in order to pick up evidence that could be crucial to investigations. Long periods in his artificial world have led to him developing undesired side effects in his real world setting, which a drug named triptocaine addresses. The last character that we enter the head of is Madison Paige, a lonesome photojournalist who suffers from severe insomnia and is drawn to investigate the case in her own way.
The interactive element of the title kicks in from the very beginning at the loading screen. In your game case, you receive a piece of paper. Instructions then appear on screen which show you how to make the origami figure that features on the title’s box art. Prior to this there is a difficulty setting selection but no easy, hard, etc options exist here. Instead you are asked about your gaming experience level and how well associated you are with the Sixaxis controller. The uniqueness and innovation is clear from the start.
When done folding, we enter the opening level, the prologue to the main story. You control Mars whom you meet in bed. This chapter acts as a tutorial to the innovative controls, which are unlike anything you will have experienced within this generation of gaming. Your first task is to get Ethan out of bed and when he sites on the edge of his mattress, you will realise just how much detail and control you have over your characters. The right analogue stick soon becomes your best friend, as it acts as your main control throughout. You push it up to make Mars stand but the speed at which you do it can be controlled. To control character movement you need to press R2 and then the left analogue stick to indicate direction.
Using the left stick alone will move your character’s head, allowing you to notice and interact with items that cross the line of vision. Once out of the bedroom you then need to access your thoughts, which is done by pressing L2. Doing so will make a variety of options swirl around the head of your character, and you press the button that corresponds to the thought you want to hear. This can provide valuable information if you find yourself in a plot cul-de-sac.
Choices such as “get dressed”, “take a shower” or “do some work” appear and the option you pick can make all the difference to the eventual outcome of the game. The opening scene is nothing short of impressive. The controls are smooth, slick and you really feel that you are in total control of everything that happens.
You will know which control you need to use as it appears on-screen in a boxed prompt. In terms of the right analogue stick, arrows appear within the boxes that dictate which direction it needs to be pushed. You may also need to hold the stick in the direction displayed or in some cases spin it around in a 360-degree motion. If the box is dotted around the outside, you need to use a great deal of care when pushing it in the correct direction, being gentle and following the action with sensitivity, all the while paying attention to how fast the box colour is filling. If you do not, you stand a chance of failing the action, which can have dire consequences. The stick will also be used to do things such as open doors, dress a wound or even swing a left hook at a bad guy.
Heavy Rain manages to incorporate the rest of the available controls into the story too, creating mechanics that work to absolute perfection. All four shoulder buttons and all four face buttons are used throughout and you will need to perform combinations that can involve five different buttons at some points. Not only does this provide a physical challenge, it also heightens the mood when combos need to be held for a set period of time. The elapsed time for each of these quick time events is indicated by the prompt filling up; You must execute it before it completely fills to be successful. The basic controls you learn in the prologue are expanded upon as you progress through the story to create extremely intense and intimate moments. In later chapters the Sixaxis capabilities are on show with swinging the controller up, down or side to side being necessary. This might be to slam an object onto a surface or land one final blow in an epic scrap.
Some of the more memorable highlights include a section where you need to drive the wrong way up a highway with the on-screen prompts guiding you through the danger. Fight scenes are done in the same way, with immaculate timing necessary to prevail. More emotive moments come when taking care of a baby whose mother has attempted suicide for example. You can also undress and guide your character through a shower sequence (yes, you do get to see some nudity – pervs) or even engage in a private moment between characters at one point. The mood and atmosphere created in scenes like these is a credit to Quantic Dreams. They have successfully managed to create a title that sucks you in and places you firmly in the positions your characters are in.
Reviewing your characters’ thoughts regularly throughout each chapter is essential as it opens up a whole host of options. If you see a situation unfolding in front of you, seeing thoughts allows you to act in a way that you feel appropriate. Whatever thought you decide to pick can completely alter the entire course of the game. Your decision can also lead to another set of options, meaning there are multiple outcomes to the dilemma you are faced with, the most extreme of which could result in the death of your current character. This doesn’t mean game over however, as you can still continue but the deceased character will no longer play a part. There are a variety of endings, over a dozen in fact so playing through just the once will unlikely answer all of the questions that fill your head as you progress.
Heavy Rain is not without its faults however, with plot holes and a degree of predictability appearing intermittently throughout. While the control system is one of, if not the best seen on the PS3 to date, it does provide frustrations in the actual seeing of the prompts. At points, viewing and camera angles can be poor and, depending on your setting, it can be hard to see what button it is you need to press (though naturally the fancier your TV, the better your view will be). No better example can be pointed to than when placed in tense situations and the thought options appear to be shaking. This doesn’t allow you to make a thoroughly informed decision and as time runs out for you to react, you can end up pressing whichever button falls under your thumb at that time.
Unless you’ve played Fahrenheit (and in some instances even if), Heavy Rain will be unlike anything you have ever experienced. You need to approach it with a completely open mind and appreciate it for what it is; an Interactive Film. The controls are extremely effective, easy to use and most importantly, they work. What you will also find is that you’ll be engaged throughout thanks to just how interactive this title gets, with a whole spectrum of emotions being experienced from start to finish. Heavy Rain provides something new and different for the gaming industry and for Playstation 3 owners, this is a title that must be experienced, simply because you can.