The first quarter of 2010 starts off with a bang with many AAA titles launched, amongst them, Quantic Dream’s “interactive drama” Heavy Rain exclusively for the Playstation 3. With previous adventure games such as Omikron: The Nomad Soul and Fahrenheit (a.k.a Indigo Prophecy) under Quantic Dream’s belt, Heavy Rain builds upon Fahrenheit’s “elastic” story telling premise and further pushes the boundaries with next-generation graphics. Released on the 25th February 2010 in Australia, this thrilling adventure game with a dark subject matter and mature tone weaves a very engrossing tale featuring a unique control system and boasting a dynamic storyline with numerous endings all shaped by the decisions and actions of the player.
The central core of Heavy Rain is in its storytelling and the dark themes it touches throughout the 5-7 hour ride. The main tag line, “how far will you go to save the one you love?” is heavily emphasized throughout with most attention placed on the lead character, Ethan Mars. The other three playable characters, Scott Shelby, Madison Paige and Norman Jayden each develop the story through their unique perspectives in tracking down the Origami Killer. I won’t dwell on too much on the story since that is central to the Heavy Rain experience but will say that its plot thankfully avoids taking a supernatural or occult route to wrap things up though expect some plot points unexplained. Control of each character is the same though Norman Jayden’s ARI does add a nice touch, adding a unique detective experience different from the other characters.
One of Heavy Rain’s uniqueness is its control scheme, devoid of HUDs and inventory management which most adventure games commonly have. The prologue chapter gives you a brief run through of the icons and types of commands you will be prompted throughout the game. Movement is triggered by R2 and your analogue sticks. The left stick is responsible for turning your character’s head to focus on different objects while the right stick is used to interact with them. Every so often prompts will ask you to press repeatedly a certain button, hold a series of buttons down, rotate your analogue sticks in certain motions or even utilize the six-axis motion control. The camera view is doesn’t get in the way of the action since you can switch at will to alternative camera angles, assisting in navigating your character to points of interest.
Heavy Rain definitely fits the term “interactive drama” since at times; it really does feel like you are watching a dark thriller movie instead of playing a game. The ability to listen to your character’s thoughts greatly establishes the atmosphere as they battle through various emotions such as fear, regret and determination. Hints also come through your character’s thoughts for those stuck on what how to proceed. From a game play point of view, the puzzles in the game are fairly simple to solve and they often have multiple solutions. The remaining sequences are quick time event driven but uniquely, there isn’t that much pressure to complete them all successfully, depending on how you want the story to play out. Failing some crucial events does lead to a character’s death but this simply shapes how your ending will turn out. The developer’s vision was for a player to play through the game without backtracking and reloading past saves, so if you fail a quick time event, you are supposed to suck it up and keep going. One major point to note is that throughout the game, the player will be challenged to make decisions which early on, only make slight impacts to how the plot turns out but towards the last half of the game, stakes are raised and potentially could mean whether a character dies, or is missing at the finale chapter.
Heavy Rain’s graphics definitely impresses, the motion captured scenes are very lifelike and fluid. The overall colour palette focuses on drab grays and browns, emphasizing both the non-stop rain and dark subject matter with the prologue chapter contrasting with vivid colours. Interestingly the game avatars are modeled very well on their respective voice actors. When the game shifts between characters, the loading screens feature high resolution models of the character’s face, showing lifelike resemblance with great texture quality; each wrinkle, pore and hair is modeled exceptionally well. Frame rate is stable with very little slowdown or screen tearing and the crowd scenes are handled well, although background people models get recycled, so it’s not uncommon to pass by multiple blue vested men or female Asian ladies wearing the same grey shiny cocktail dress. There are some strange graphical glitches however; texture pop-in occurs occasionally and sometimes characters will walk through people as well. With the 1.01 patch people have noticed freezing issues and bugs though I did not have any issues.
The orchestral soundtrack enhances the mood of the game, often providing the suspense during dangerous moments and thumping heart beats during tense or stressful moments especially for poor Ethan Mars. All dialogue is voiced and the voice actors try to inject as much emotion as possible. The children’s voices are a bit strange and some secondary characters have a few odd accents, possibly since its mostly European actors mimicking American accents. Occasionally I did encounter the sound cutting out, interrupting conversations which does hamper the experience.
The core value of this game lies in its engrossing storytelling experience. The first play through will probably last between 5 to 7 hours, a very lengthy thriller/detective movie indeed. Bonus extras such as movie clips and concept art are unlocked as you progress and you are able to play previous chapters of the story should you wish. With the game boasting multiple endings and the ability to shape your own experience based on how you play, there is some purpose to play the game multiple times, trying the different decision paths but the overall story arc still stays the same and the killer appears to be fixed no matter what decisions you make. There is some DLC planned for this game which will help flesh out the Heavy Rain universe but unless you are a real fan of adventure games or love trophy hunting, after your first play through you probably won’t be playing it again anytime soon. This is definitely worthy of a rental at the very least.
Quantic Dreams should be commended for the direction they’ve taken this adventure game, with a focused story and strong plot whilst giving the player interactivity and freedom to shape their own experience. The graphics, character modeling and texturing is top notch, delivering an immersive experience. Although one could argue it relies too heavily on quick time events, on its easiest setting the controls aren’t that complex to decipher and there is no punishment for failure. Great adventure games are a rare breed on consoles so Heavy Rain is a worthy addition to the genre and to the Playstation 3’s library. One caveat is that the game is quite short, able to be finished in less than 10 hours leaving you to collect trophies or do multiple play throughs to watch missed scenes. Whilst this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is one game Playstation 3 owners should experience. Heavy Rain does offer a glimpse to the direction next-generation adventure games may take. This is definitely one game you should try and a recommended buy for fans of the adventure genre.
AAG SCORE: 8.5/10
+ Graphics, voice acting and motion capture are all done very well
+ Plot is engaging and engrossing.
+ Background music captures the tension and supports the atmosphere well.
– Some graphical glitches present, texture pop-in.
– Short game taking only 5 – 7 hours to complete.
– Technical bugs (random freezing and crashing issues) mar the experience.
Reviewed and Written By Danny Yee