Review by Big Bob
It has stumbles, but Heavy Rain is a memorable experience unlike anything I've played.
I'm a big "Games are art" guy. I love games that prioritize writing and characterization, and try to tell their stories in a way that can't be done in books or movies. I mean, I love shooting guys as much as everyone else, but considering how much it's already done in the game industry, something different is highly appreciated.
Heavy Rain is that game that stands out. It takes huge risks in terms of its presentation and production, and I'm thankful for it. I tend to support indie or smaller-scale games because it's much easier for them to do something new and interesting. As a game's budget increases, the more it tries to be "safe" in order to sell as many copies as possible to make up for the development costs. However, Heavy Rain is a big-budget PS3 game that took years to make. Whether or not you like Heavy Rain, you have to applaud the development team for the massive balls necessary to make a project like this.
The basic story is the tale of a kidnapped child, and his father's quest to rescue him. Ethan Mars has to go to hell and back to save his son, while the FBI, a journalist, and a detective work their asses off in order to save this boy. Rather than solve the problems with standard video game third-person shooting, platforming, or role-playing, Heavy Rain plays more like an interactive movie. The game regularly throws Quick-Time Events at you as its own way of challenging the player. QTEs are basically button prompts that the player has to press within a second. There are action scenes that throw tons of these at the player over and over, and your ultimate success depends on how many you passed.
However, unlike a movie, Heavy Rain is heavily dictated by choices the player makes. Several points in the game give the player a critical decision that will affect how the rest of the game plays out. Sometimes it's in the form of a puzzle, where the player must figure out the best course of action. Other times, there is no "best course of action", and the only way to progress is to pick an option and see how things happen. As a result, the game avoids a lot of cliches you see in stories, because every decision the player makes has consequences. The main characters can even die, and the story will go on without them.
As for the story itself, it's a murder mystery. Everyone is a suspect, and part of the fun is trying to figure out who the culprit is before the final act. The story is filled with twists and turns, and plot points meant to throw the player off. Not only that, but the atmosphere is dark and depressing, leaving a huge impact on the player. There are moments in the game that are ridiculously hard to watch, and even harder to play through. Heavy Rain is one of the few games to make me feel sick to my stomach, and oddly enough, I loved it for that. The story is dark and emotional, which is a lot more than you can say about most games.
However, as much as I like the game, I can't let it off the hook for its flaws, many of which are significant. For one, the story is filled with plot holes and fridge logic. You'll play through the game normally, not noticing anything out of the ordinary, but later you'll realize that something just doesn't make sense, and the game offers no valid explanation. Some plot points are thrown in there without consequence, and only detract from the story rather than add to it. Aside from storyline issues, Heavy Rain has some of the worst walking controls I've ever experienced in video games. The only thing worse are the over the shoulder sections in Metroid: Other M. You'll find yourself constantly stumbling over scenery, walking in circles, bumping into invisible walls, and generally being a pain. The camera isn't much better. For a game that relies on button prompts, the camera sure makes a lot of them hard to see, as well as dialogue options. And finally, while the technology in this game is impressive, the character models still fall into that "Uncanny Valley" that makes them look like robots with flesh. The sub-par voice acting doesn't help either.
So that's my opinion on Heavy Rain. It's definitely not a game I can recommend to anyone, and it has too many flaws for me to call it a must-play. But if storytelling and game design are things that are important to you, I definitely suggest you pick the game up. Even a single playthrough will give you an experience that's unforgettable. If that's not enough to convince you: this game has naked boobs.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Heavy Rain (US, 02/23/10)
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