Review: Heavy Rain

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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.

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E3: Heavy Rain

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I’ve seen a lot more than this game, but it had a high spot on my mental checklist. I loved Indigo Prophecy, so I felt the need to see how this game was coming together.

If you’re not familiar with Heavy Rain, here’s a general story rundown. It’s about the perspectives of hour people looking into the phenomenon of the Origami Killer, a murderer who leaves a little origami piece at the bodies of his victims. There was a playable demo on the show floor featuring Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler, but Sony’s breakout session about the game revealed a new female character named Madison, an insomniac photojournalist who likes to rest in motels. The scene we saw was at a nightclub called the Blue Lagoon, where she had to find a way to talk to the sleazy club owner for information. The direct approach doesn’t work, so she had to doll herself up and dance on a small platform to get invited to this guy’s private room.

I found the placement of the QTE icons interesting … they work within the flow of the scenes rather than being layered on top of the actual visuals. You’ve got button icons near heads, elbows, feet. Thought processes and decisions orbit the head of the player and get harder to read the more stressed out the player becomes. This was wild to see in a non-combat situation, where we saw how one can control everything from how Madison put on her makeup to having to strip off some of her clothes for the odious, gun-toting club owner, who orders her to strip or die. We saw her strip, nervously, try to figure out how to buy time while stripping (her thoughts are very hard to read at this point), work her way into position to grab a lamp (by shaking her booty in his face), and then smack him with the lamp to knock him out. My favorite part, but also the most painful to watch, was how she extracted information by taping him to a chair and then squeezing his … well, the things on guys that aren’t supposed to be squeezed. This is all player controlled of course, so you have to mash on a button and use whatever controller motions are available to you.

It was made very clear to us that Heavy Rain is going to be more grounded than Indigo Prophecy, so you’re not going to see aliens or any other extreme weirdness. Also, there’s no such thing as a game over screen. If one character dies, his or her death becomes part of the story, and you move on. If all four characters perish, it’s simply how the story ends. This is essentially the game’s way of making sure you play it over and over again, looking for stuff you missed and seeing how the story evolves. I also think it’ll be a challenge to my own gaming sensibilities, which run hot and cold on the concepts of QTEs.