Review by WonderCaliban
An ambitious yet overrated quicktime experience
It is often the case now that hype about some games will start to be generated a year or two in advance. We are drip fed information as magazines and websites release new screenshots and do numerous previews. As the consumers we are endlessly told of the games innovative features and revolutionary gameplay. Heavy Rain was one such game and unfortunately not only does it not really deliver what was promised, but it doesn't deliver enough excitement either to make up for it.
The game itself is styled as a gritty crime thriller cinematic experience. You directly control four main characters through a series of over 50 segments as they investigate a series of child murders by the Origami killer. In each segment you interact with the environment via on screen prompts for button presses, control stick movements and six-axis rotation. Essentially the entire game is one long quicktime event. The parts of the environment that are interactive is limited to those that are or will be directly related to the scene, if something comes up with an interactive icon next to it, you know you will be using it in the near future. Often the on screen prompts are not clear as the the associated action, with many just being as up or down, as a player you have very little choice (usually none) in what you can do so you just follow the prompts and see what series of actions the character takes.
The game is styled as a cinematic thriller and it does try to do this more than any other previous game, unfortunately the interactive aspect weakens the experience. The trouble is one of pacing, as a player you are never asked to solve any puzzles or do any real thinking for your self. Objectives are always clear and given to you, for that reason as a player you have to do little more than walk through the game areas and fulfill the on screen button presses. As you are having to really do very little the burden is on the plot to maintain your interest, as most scenes progress at a very slow pace then interest drops off quite quickly. For instance the first scene involves you doing little more than getting up, having a shower, laying the table and playing with your kids in the garden. If this were the film its trying to be then that scene would be about 2 minutes long, as a game its more like 30. It might be acceptable for this one scene as its little more than a tutorial, but many other scenes later in the game progress at such a pace. This gives long gaps between anything interesting actually happening, either in terms of plot or as a player.
For the majority of the game, the tasks you have to walk through are not very interesting. When quicktime events were first used there were to make cinematic sequences interactive, in games now they are generally overused and unwanted. Here the entire game is quicktime and used for mundane tasks. On at least three occasions you have to use a medicine cabinet to take out first aid supplies then administer them, other occasions have you changing a baby and making scrambled eggs.
One of the big selling points of this game was that it would revolutionize storytelling in games. You are supposed to be able to replay scenes several times and each time be able to play through it differently. After some experimentation, this does not seem to be the case. There are a few scenes which allow for some variation, most of the time the difference is based on your decision not to act, rather than an actual choice. But mostly each one is scene plays through in a linear way, the game tells you what to do and there is little option to do it differently, only by not doing it do you change the course of the game. For instance you can either choose to save a shopkeeper or not, you can choose to help a dying man or not, help a woman in distress or not etc. There are a few occasions where branches in the plot might appear and for a main character to die, but the plot will still follow the same course in the end. After you have played through once however then there is no real reason to want to play through again, the identity of the killer never changes and it is unlikely you would have as much emotional investment in the ending you achieve a second time though.
So without any real burden on the player in terms of puzzles, strategy or actual thinking then the emphasis is solely on the game's plot to make this a unique experience. And it does to some extent, although the first few hours are painfully slow, around the two hour mark it does start to become interesting. The mystery around the Origami killer does become one which you become genuinely intrigued by, you do start to become interested in the characters and its this that drives you through chapters. However, it falls apart in the last half an hour. Once the identity of the killer is revealed then you feel cheated, whilst the killers motives for their serial killing exploits are explained, alot of other plot threads cease to make any logical sense. It is though the writer decided to abandon the carefully scripted story and go for a reveal with the most shock value, even if it costs the story it's integrity.
Overall this is a game which as a player is rather dull to playthrough, whilst it does keep you interested with a fairly decent plot, the final reveal lets it down. The whole experience comes across as an interesting experiment into interactive storytelling, but one that is vastly over-hyped and overrated. At around 8 hours long this is best experienced as a rental.
Rating: 2.0 - Poor
Product Release: Heavy Rain (EU, 02/26/10)
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