Let me get this out of the way first: Heavy Rain is not your average, bog-standard game, It’s as close to a cinematic gaming experience as you’ll get on the current generation of consoles.
Very much a labour of love by David Cage and his team at Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain is a tour-de-force that completely draws you in.
The plot centres around a murder mystery. There is a killer on the loose who has been kidnapping children and drowning them in rain water. Needless to say, a central character’s child disappears and the ‘Origami Killer’ is suspected.
With the torrential rain building up the clock is ticking and the tension builds up throughout the proceedings.
Initially taking control of the main protagonist, Ethan Mars, the game takes a little while to get going, but once it does you will find it quite hard to put the controller down.
As the game progresses you also take control of three other characters – each one having their own plotlines, which will later cross into each other in the final stages of the story.
There’s also a fair amount of character development to keep the gamer interested.
I’ll be honest here, It’s a hard game to review.
Very much of it is plot-driven, and if there is one thing that I cannot stand it’s reviews that are laden with spoilers. The surprises along the way are enlightening, shocking and to go into too much detail about it would ruin the experience for anyone reading this.
If you are familiar with Quantic Dream’s previous effort, Fahrenheit (also known as ‘Indigo Prophecy’ in some regions), you’ll probably know what to expect as Heavy Rain – it is very much in the same vein.
The control mechanism is quite unique as the game is a little bit like one massive quicktime event. However should you miss a button or hit the wrong the one, it doesn’t necessarily mean game over.
In fact there is no game over screen whatsoever. What happens is that the game will either encourage you to do the action again (for the more minimal tasks), or, for example during an action scene, your character will take an extra smack in the face, prolonging the sequence.
Throughout the game decisions have to be made, and quite often they will affect the outcome of the story. Should one of the characters die the story will simply go on, incorporating the death into the plot.
Depending on your reactions and decisions the narrative of the story varies greatly. For this style of game the mechanic gives Heavy Rain a nice little bit of replayablity, albeit in a way that you wouldn’t want to play again so soon after completing it.
I say this because the experience itself is completely unique the first time. Once you know the outcome and the plot twists, I suspect the game loses a certain quality.
Should you find that you are just curious as to how the sequence could have been played out, there is an opportunity in the main menu to play each chapter again. This also gives you the option to save your progress from whatever point in the story.
The game also rewards the player’s progress with several bonuses. These include a number of in-game trophies and unlockable content such as documentaries, concept art and trailers.
The cinematic and visual presentation of Heavy Rain is extraordinary and does a fantastic job in upping the tension. During certain situations the camera angles will change, adapting to suit the atmosphere or whatever the task your character is doing.
These tasks range from the more important events that affect the overall plot to simpler moments like having a drink, brushing your teeth, taking a shower and even changing a baby’s nappy.
Quantic Dream have also incorporated the SIXAXIS controls for these moments, as it’s a feature quite often ignored on the PS3 and it works rather well – feeling more like a feature than a gimmick.
For the most part the controls do work well. However, on occasion they can work to your disadvantage.
The game is quite often presented with fixed camera points and the mechanic of holding R2 and using the left analogue stick can at times leave you walking round in circles – it’s a bit like a throwback to the earlier days of the Resident Evil series.
Graphically, the game is very impressive and with the character models rendered extremely well (each one featuring detailed facial features and expressions), it is quite easy to overlook the shortcuts that Quantic Dream have taken. The environments themselves are beautifully designed and make good use of the lighting effects.
Though certain objects in the game’s world,are lacking the quality of the character design, this is quite easy to overlook and doesn’t affect the gaming experience. Another visual flaw is the noticeable frame rate, which does stutter a bit too often.
On the audio side of things, it’s all a little hit and miss. The music, whilst fitting the mood of the game like a glove, can be a little too loud and does at times completely miss the mark.
The voice acting is also a little drab here and there, with the accents sounding a little off.
However these are minor gripes and they don’t affect the overall experience.
If it wasn’t for the small technical hitches Heavy Rain would be a complete masterpiece. It is fantastically written, completely engaging and emotionally rewarding. If you own a Playstation 3, Heavy Rain is not to be missed.
Verdict: 8.5 out of 10
Fantastic character design
Weak movement controls
Several plot holes