Review by Ryan Harrison
I wish it would rain down...down on me...
From the creative mind of David Cage and first published on the PlayStation 3 courtesy of his development company Quantic Dream in 2010, Heavy Rain is Cage's next major interactive drama video game following on from 2005's Fahrenheit. In much the same manner, Heavy Rain involves progressing your way through a story seen through the eyes of multiple main characters, with the events that unfold and ultimate conclusion all depending on the choices you make and how you perform certain tasks.
The game tells a dark, and intriguing story of a mysterious serial murderer known as the "Origami Killer", a term coined on account of leaving an origami figure in the hands of a series of young boys whom he kidnaps, drowns, and leaves their corpses to be discovered a few days after they are first reported missing. However, despite their best efforts, the police force have been unable to catch the killer or even find their true identity.
The game's opening also acquaints the player with one of the game's four playable characters – and most central to the story – loving husband and father Ethan Mars. Good-looking, clean-cut, trim figure with a dream home, well-paid architect job, beautiful wife and with two young and big-hearted sons, from having it all, Ethan's life and well-being suddenly begin to crumble following a tragedy that suddenly strikes while shopping in the mall with his family. Two years later, Ethan is living in a dank suburban townhouse, estranged from his wife, Grace, and suffers a strained relationship with his youngest son, Shaun. While with Shaun in the park, Ethan blacks out, and when he comes back round, Shaun is nowhere to be found. From here, it's a race against time to find Shaun before it's too late, and the Origami Killer claims another victim.
In addition to Ethan, you'll also spend considerable chunks of your playing time in control of three other characters: Scott Shelby, a private detective hired by the victims' families to investigate their deaths; Norman Jayden, an FBI agent specialising in forensics working with the police to aid in tracking down the Origami Killer; and Madison Paige, a photographer and journalist suffering from chronic insomnia, who also has her own reasons for trying to identify the Origami Killer. Between each main chapter of the story, you'll be continually switching between characters.
The plot of Heavy Rain is a very dynamic and well-told one that will appeal to fans of mystery and crime stories, and is the game's selling feature. As with most interactive adventure games, the way that the story unfolds all comes down to which decisions and actions you get your characters to take at key parts. However, what is so unique about this game is that whatever happens, the story will continue with future events changing accordingly. If you make any "mistakes" (or, perhaps more appropriately, fail to complete tasks or do so improperly), they may come back to haunt you later, with your overall performance dictating whether the ending will be a happy, or a tragic one.
The gameplay involves exploring your surroundings, and talking to others or interacting with objects with the use of on-screen prompts. Now these prompts can get your character to do just about anything; you may have to press/hold the action buttons on your PS3 controller, move the right analog stick in a particular pattern, or even shake the controller for some quick movement-based actions. For example, in the opening scene, you can get Ethan to rise from his bed by slowly moving the right analog stick up, open his wardrobe by moving the stick up and rotating it clockwise (in a similar manner to grabbing and pulling a handle), or brush his teeth by rapid shaking the controller up, down and side-to-side, much like if holding a toothbrush.
The controls are quite simple, and all you'll have to really familiarise yourself with are the actions needed depending on the prompt – the game will usually remind you, and early on the odd simple mistake will not cost you in the long run – so you'll have to remember which prompt means which action – whether it's a slow or quick movement, rapidly tapping a button, holding one or more buttons down, or pressing a sequence of buttons quickly. With R2 and the left analog stick you'll get the character to walk in the specified on-screen direction and change camera angles with L1. There's the occasional positional adjustment I found myself have a little trouble with when trying to get a prompt to appear, though otherwise the controls should not really give you any major difficulties. Another handy feature is being able to hold L2 and pressing one of the action buttons (Circle, Cross, Triangle or Square) to hear a character's thoughts, which often act as useful hints to inform you of what to do, or where to go next.
Complementing the game's superb story, the game's presentation is outstanding. Of course, being on the PlayStation 3 you'd expect lifelike and well-defined graphics, and Heavy Rain is not short of these. The opening scene shows the sunlight beaming through Ethan's bedroom and casts slanting shadows from his bed and furniture, and the light and shadow effects look incredibly realistic. When you get a close-up of Ethan, his skin, eyes and facial stubble show a level of detail and high definition that shows off the PS3's graphical prowess very well.
The cinematic sequences are also done very well, and the opening credits that run after the prologue chapter showing several different people staring glumly at the camera, rainwater trickling down their faces, in a downpour while everyday life goes on around them, for me is a terrific and fitting set-up. Both the core characters, and other NPCs have great designs, most of whom were also digitally modelled and motion-captured by real life actors. Their expressions and body movements are animated splendidly, and the main protagonists in particular stand out as easily memorable, and identifiable characters. I liked, in particular, how Ethan remains recognisable, yet evidently transformed and a shell of his former self following the tragedy that befalls him early on in the story.
The music of the game is also beautifully composed and fitting; mostly emotional and sombre piano-based background themes that give a foreboding feeling early on, and in a lot of scenes, accompany the air of sadness that plague the characters. While this kind of music is mostly what you'll hear, there is a little bit of variety, such as the brass and violin-based theme that begins to get quicker and more frantic while searching for Ethan's child in the mall, or an adventurous theme repeatedly coming from the TV while Shaun is watching.
There's a terrific sense of ambience in the many different locations in which the game takes place, too; from bustling crowds in the mall, the heavy patter of rain on the ground in the run-down urban neighbourhoods, pencils scratching and cameras clicking in a police press conference, or raindrops hitting the window and a woman's uneasy breathing while speaking to her in her dimly-lit motel room. Not to mention, the voice acting in Heavy Rain is also mostly well-done, and while maybe the child characters' voice-overs may stand out as a little less polished than those of the adult characters, it's forgivable.
Heavy Rain is a game that is pretty easy to play through and beat, with a beginning-to-end playthrough taking somewhere in the region of around 6–9 hours, though it has its share of additional things to come back for after a single playthrough. Not only are there a variety of endings to a chapter or the game as a whole depending on the choices you make while playing, they often come with trophies to earn and add to your PSN profile; and since you can return to any previous chapter you've cleared, you may also opt to pick and choose which part of the story to revisit – and for anyone with a liking for clearing their games one-hundred percent, the added dialogue and storylines can easily more than double the aforementioned figure. The game also features some additional bonus content that include behind-the-scenes footage and concept art, and an extra DLC episode if you're keen to get more out of it, making for a pretty fulfilling package overall.
The efforts that went into the four-year-long development process appear to have paid off very nicely, but that isn't to say that Heavy Rain is not without some issues. This is a game that is very much a case of 'what you make of it comes down to your own personal taste'. To me personally, the only issue I really had was the occasional bit of slack control and inputs that were made unnecessarily difficult – like the choice of a response to a line of dialogue constantly swirling around the character's head and jittering so much that it became almost illegible.
I have also heard of some who have complained about plot holes or inconsistencies – they weren't too apparent to me personally as I took the whole thing at face value, but it has been a noted issue among a number of critics, so depending on how seriously you take your mystery/crime stories, consider this a word of caution before playing. Perhaps the relatively little amount of input involved and pace of the story could also possibly be a bit off-putting to some, too; this is not the kind of game for you if you prefer games that are heavier on action; the inputs involves here are mostly simple and occasional, as this game is more focused on story-telling.
For what it is, Heavy Rain is a very well done and presented story – and would at least be worth a rental because, as mentioned, it is not for everybody. I found that it didn't have much challenge and the story was quite linear, and had it beaten first time round, over the course of a single weekend. The added extras and amount of trophies available to encourage you to return to previously cleared chapters will give you your money's worth if you enjoy the game and do decide to make it a permanent part of your collection, and thankfully the PS3 version goes for a low asking price, particularly now as it has recently been enhanced and re-released for the PS4. If you like gripping and atmospheric stories and something different from your traditional kind of modern video game, you should definitely take a look at Heavy Rain, and see what your answer to its one big question:
How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Heavy Rain (EU, 02/26/10)
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