Before its release, Heavy Rain was viewed as a noble experiment; a game that had potential but was unlikely to create an enjoyable playing experience. Most gamers have grown annoyed at quick-time events and few buy games for the story alone. By all rights this concept should have failed, but it doesn’t. The formula works well and crafts one of the most memorable gaming experiences I have ever encountered. If you own a Playstation 3, you owe it to yourself to play Heavy Rain.
Much of that glowing endorsement comes from the story itself. While I won’t spoil any of it here, I will say that the hunt for the Origami Killer is as riveting as any movie. The fact that the choices you make as you progress affect the outcome makes it deeply personal as well. I’ve talked with several others who have completed the game and all of them have had a slightly different experience. The story isn’t perfect by any means though. There are several plot holes and the opening hours can be slow. Compared to the overall story, these are just minor gripes. If the plot wasn’t as strong as it is, the game wouldn’t be nearly as good. The story’s true strength is in its characterization. All four playable characters are likable and realistic. It’s incredible how quickly you become attached to each one. You care about their well-being and try to help them survive the entire game. It wasn’t readily apparent just how connected I felt with them until a certain choice later in the game. The outcome wouldn’t affect the character’s physical health but rather his emotional state, and I couldn’t make a decision. Moments like this are peppered throughout the game, and you come to invest a stake in these character’s lives.
Though the game has been labeled one long quick-time event, the description doesn’t exactly hold water. If anything, the game most closely resembles classic PC adventure games. The button prompts come in three forms which I’ve come to call exploration, classic, and twister. Exploration allows you to freely move around an area and interact with objects. It’s the simplest but adds the most to the immersion of the game. When you’re following prompts constantly, it quickly becomes second nature. The classic prompts work the same as quick-time events from games like God of War and Resident Evil 4. You must hit the right buttons in order for a scene to continue in an advantageous way. Finally, the twister form is completely original to Heavy Rain. In it you must hold down certain buttons until the prompts disappear. While it starts you with two or three, eventually you’ll hold down up to five and be continually switching between buttons. It’s easy to get your hands twisted and perfectly simulates the effort to do the action. The prompts will sometimes shake or rotate to show the mental stress of the action as well. All three forms come together to create a completely immersive experience that likely couldn’t have been done any other way.
Beyond the prompts the only control you have is walking, which is handled by holding R2 and aiming the left analog stick, and seeing a character’s thoughts by holding L2. It’s not a necessary feature, but it gives you insight into the emotional state of characters as well as give clues to options you might not think of yourself. Unfortunately, the walking controls can be wonky at times and often found myself going in the completely opposite direction. It’s not a huge problem but can ruin some of the immersion. The worst problem I encountered was that button presses wouldn’t register at times which didn’t bother me until the end when it really mattered. I pushed a button, it wasn’t recognized, and my character died. It was frustrating to say the least and though I could have replayed the chapter, the experience wouldn’t be the same. Multiple playthroughs are encouraged for the game to see all the possibilities but only the first one will give you emotional impact. The others feel like reading the other endings of a choose your own adventure novel.
The graphics try to sell you on the immersiveness of the game, but they only work about half of the time. The character models and environments are extraordinarily detailed. Each character looks like a real person down to the hairs on their arms. Environments impressed even more with every product in a story labeled and the smallest debris rendered convincingly. The game can look truly impressive at times. However it’s when characters, especially the playable ones, begin to move that the cracks begin to show. Sometimes the movements can look good but most of the time the motion is so stiff that it can be distracting, especially when everything else looks so good. Even worse is when items are picked up and hover a few inches away from the hand. Graphical glitches happen occasionally as well where objects will get stuck in the air. The game is still one of the best looking on the Playstation 3, but it makes these hiccups all the more apparent.
Sound design in Heavy Rain is another hit or miss. The music fares the best with most tracks being unobtrusive and usually heightening the tension or excitement of a scene. The main theme is memorable and every song adds to the experience. Voice acting is hit or miss with performances that stand out as really good and others that are almost laughable at times. Certain scenes are read with little to no emotion when there obviously should be. All four main characters are spot-on though with side characters often pronouncing things strangely or lacking the emotion needed. The sound is good overall and enough to get you invested in the story.
It’s easy to nitpick a game like Heavy Rain. The developers at Quantic Dream made a bold move and it paid off for the most part. The game isn’t perfect but it’s well worth experiencing. I guarantee that the flaws won’t matter as you become enraptured by the story. Don’t miss this game.