Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain can leave you feeling drained and beaten. As the name implies, it aims to soak you in sheets of emotional precipitation, doing so not with hurricane force, but with unrelenting, constant pressure.
Stories are the lifeblood of almost any game that doesn’t involve a ball. Told well, they can keep the player sucked in for hours, jostling everything from their psyche to their moral compass. A poorly done story turns the experience into a chore, also shining the spotlight on the game’s other problems.
Thankfully, Heavy Rain leans more toward the former, while also doing as much as it can to forward Quantic Dream’s efforts to advance a gameplay style past the “acquired taste” phase of acceptance.
The entire game is about reaction and adapting to situations in “quicktime” sequences. Instead of fully controlling everything the characters do, you’re put in situations where you’re prompted to push the right buttons at the right time to progress while a sequence plays out in front of you.
This interactive-movie approach immediately puts the player on the defensive, forcing one to constantly be in a state of readiness, and in many ways, fear.
What adds to the undercurrent of suspense is the story’s structure, which details the chase for a serial child murderer dubbed the “Origami Killer” through the eyes of several people: a private investigator, a photographer, an FBI profiler and a father whose son was taken by the killer.
Each of these characters is engaging in his or her own right, and the game adds to their individuality with the tasks it asks the player to engage in. It could be something as mundane as shaving or taking a shower to finding a way out of a flaming car or trying to talk down the God-fearing, gun wielding zealot pointing a gun at your partner.
Some characters even have special tools and skills. For instance, the FBI profiler uses a very nifty high-tech investigation gadget known as ARI that helps him canvass crime scenes using Minority Report-like imagery and sensing equipment.
The game’s blend of visual trickery, direction and music do a fantastic job of striking the proper emotional tone, be it extreme tension or a general fear of death.
Death has a different meaning here, since a character’s demise or extremely poor decision merely adjusts the story arc instead of ending the game. I found myself committed to trying to win every fight and to keep everyone alive, which speaks to how the game almost commands you to care about its protagonists.
What you probably won’t care for are the game’s enigmatic walking controls.
You don’t spend the whole game being fed various situations. Sometimes you have to pilot or steer a character (you hold down a button to start walking) around an environment, and the game’s switching of camera angles paired with a funky sense of direction can turn getting out of your own back yard into a maddening mini-odyssey of trial and error.
Another issue is the game’s inconsistent voice acting, which is an odd problem to have for a game built on interaction and realism. There were instances where yelling occurred where it wasn’t needed, or the tone of the conversation changes without warning. This didn’t really bother me too much, but it’s a risk to the game’s immersion efforts.
Admittedly, I had some doubts about the ability of a game like Heavy Rain to hold my interest. Instead, I emerge from the experience a tired and mentally drained individual who’s ready, at some point, to go through it again.
Sony Computer Entertainment / Quantic Dream
Rated M for Mature