Heavy Rain Review (PS3)

Heavy Rain is not the dawning of a new videogame era. Neither is it the advent of a new genre as has been touted by developer Quantic Dream. Heavy Rain is actually a spiritual successor to Fahrenheit (aka Indigo Prophecy), taking the foundations of the PS2 and Xbox title to craft a truly memorable experience happily free of the credibility stretching hokum that marred what was an otherwise absorbing game of cat and mouse. But a new genre? Not really.

Heavy Rain, like Fahrenheit views the same story from several different perspectives, with the narrative ultimately revolving around a central character. Where Fahrenheit had convicted murderer and fugitive, Lucas Kane at its heart, Heavy Rain focuses upon a snapshot of protagonist Ethan Mars' life, which begins as an idealistic slice of American, suburban bliss before descending into much darker territory.

Ethan loses his son at the shopping mall, which is terrifyingly conveyed. Sadly, the actor who plays Ethan recorded the shout out for his son, Jason about three times. Soon the voiceless sound of “Jason” becomes laughable, leeching much of the scene's tension.
Madison Paige is undeniably sexy, but she's the least well-drawn of Heavy Rain's cast, relegated to slinky dancing, nudie showers and unconvincing love interest duties. Her limited role in the investigation does throw up some great moments though.

With Mars clearly defined as the centre of the story, the other three playable characters are all essential pieces in Heavy Rain's rich tapestry, which ultimately boils down to the ongoing investigation into the identity of The Origami Killer – a serial murderer who traps his victims in a storm drain during the period at which rainfall is at its highest, slowly drowning the hapless detainee.

As each character's plot strand steadily unfolds, the investigation (and the rainfall) gets ever deeper and increasingly complex, although never in as intelligent a way as you might hope. Heavy Rain seems to rely too heavily on throwing red herrings into your path, so that you're forever coming up with theories on who the killer might be, and while that might sound like a neat device to keep you second-guessing, none of these red herrings are ever explained. They're simply shoe-horned in to throw you off the scent.

Heavy Rain is at it's best when you're sampling the extremes of a mundane routine or experiencing the other end of the scale with tensely-paced actions that require hair-trigger reactions that could be the difference between life and death. And while the slower, more thoughtful scenes in which you maybe take a shower, brush your teeth or fix some eggs stand out as distinctly everyday activities, it's the frantic scuffles for survival that really stay ingrained, simply because getting them wrong means that your character can die and will stay dead.

What's true of Heavy Rain, is that you do begin to care about what happens to your characters, which goes some way towards showing how effective the performances are for the most part. It's just a shame that there's little subtlety in the characterisation, which deals in a kind of homogenisation of various movie clichés. FBI Agent, Norman Jayden is a recovering drug addict with an asshole partner that prompts several instances where you each play good cop, bad cop. Scott Shelby is a hard-boiled detective, who wears a dirty, brown raincoat, is an ex-cop and of course, is a hard-drinking, gruff type. Madison Paige, meanwhile is an investigative journalist whose sole job is to exist as a kind of sex object it seems. She's the least developed character in the group, though her story is no less involving.

Loading screens look like this and allow you to really admire the detail that's gone into realising every pore and pock-mark on each character's face. Detective Scott Shelby here, looks like a goggle-eyed Soggy Boglin though. Remember them?
“ARI Comment:” Jayden uses these silly Advanced Reality Interface (ARI) spectacles to examine crime scenes and scan evidence. He can also use them to transform his office into an oasis, an undersea haven or even the surface of Mars. It's just one instance of impossible tech that crops up.

And the narrative has to be incredibly absorbing given how the majority of interactions are largely pointless, such as taking a whizz, checking an empty cupboard or looking out of a window. There are some moments, where you feel that you should be given control, but the scene plays out without your input anyway as you're left blinking at the screen in disbelief thinking, “why wasn't I able to make that choice?” Even if some of the decisions are seemingly minor, it ain't an 'interactive drama' if you're not able to play a part in each and every choice, rather than effectively having David Cage wrestle the controller away from you.

Nevertheless, Heavy Rain weaves a yarn powerful enough to keep you completely riveted throughout. We finished the game in two extended sittings during a weekend and days later, felt compelled to revisit it to see what we'd missed and whether we could really push the boundaries. As it happens, almost every decision is a binary one and on a second playthrough this is more evident as are the narrative conceits constructed to set the irrevocable course of the story. The red herrings become more transparent and the smoke and mirrors the game throws up seem less subtle and consequently less effective. Ultimately, you'll never top the experience of your first run through with Heavy Rain as the revelations and stand-out moments really grab you and pull you right in. When you can already see them coming however, much of the impact is lost.

Heavy Rain successfully blurs the line between cinema and the traditional videogame template – specifically an evolution of the point-and-click, but without the pointing bit – Quantic Dream's Fahrenheit follow-up is a bold experiment, no question - but the movie influences are always on show, especially the grime, grit and driving rain of David Fincher's Se7en (arguably Heavy Rain's most overt influence). What the game lacks that the movies it borrows from do so well, is an ability to keep things on an even keel – Heavy Rain often over-eggs the grandiose orchestral score, often at really inappropriate moments and deals in ill-considered ethnic stereotypes that never sit too well.

There are other problems too, such as the on-screen revolving button interface, which occasionally becomes obscured behind an object or your character, causing you to jab the wrong button and commit to a decision you never wanted to make. In instances of panic, this is entirely understandable and in keeping with the situation. In a fraught scenario, you might be prone to making a wrong choice when pushed, which sometimes happens and is entirely rational. What doesn't make sense is screwing something up when you've plenty of time, just because the interface momentarily hid the button you wanted to push.

Sequences like these require quick thinking. One wrong button press can have fatal consequences.
Beard = depression, sadness and despair. No beard = happiness, freedom, joy.

Also, having to hold the R2 button to be able to walk seems pointless and doesn't actually correspond to a real-life action in any way, which is unfortunate as the game does a pretty bang up job of mimicking actual gestures elsewhere, using a combination of analogue stick and Sixaxis motion inputs. Importantly though, the mechanics do work when it really matters, during the parts of Heavy Rain that evoke genuine panic – the fights, the scuffles, the tough decisions that could have fatal consequences for you characters. As Mars, Jayden, Paige and Shelby get put through the wringer at various junctures in the game, so too can your fingers as you desperately keep your concentration sharp to ensure a character doesn't die. A slip on the analogue stick or the face button can cause it to happen and if a character is killed, the events adapt to reflect that.

Heavy Rain is a vast leap in drawing believable digital performances from actors, managing to invoke empathy as the story develops, causing what would be a so-so movie narrative, to flourish as a genuinely memorable and affecting videogame. It's certainly an essential purchase for any self-respecting PlayStation 3 owner or anyone with even a passing interest in movies or the idea of an interactive movie. An excellent game in its own right, Heavy Rain lingers in the conscience long after the final credits, but it feels less like a revolution, more like a precursor to something genuinely fresh and groundbreaking.

Heavy Rain demands to be played and experienced by everyone at least once and even if it is over all too soon, chances are you'll want to go back for seconds.

Top game moment:
An exceptionally horrific decision, which involves several sharp implements. To say any more would be a huge spoiler.

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By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Aug 05, 2010
Looks like a nice game. Graphics are amazing. I might give it a shot.