Title: Heavy Rain
System(s): PlayStation 3
Release Date: February, 23, 2010
Publisher (Developer): Sony Computer Entertainment (Quantic Dream)
ESRB Rating: Mature for blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language and use of drugs.
Pros: Emotion inducing storytelling and some of the best visuals in a game to date.
Cons: Control scheme not for everybody, some character animations can seem robotic at times and voice acting has some accent cracking.
Overall Score: Two thumbs Up, 95 out of 100, a solid A, * * * * 1/2
Heavy Rain is a game that challenges the limits of valley between reality and video games.
The simplest choice can drastically alter the outcome and amazing plot crafting can force you to question just how moral of a decision you would really make in a time of crisis.
Looks Like Rain
At it’s core, Heavy Rain is a self-defined interactive drama. Conventional video game character controls are thrown to the wayside in favor of walking with the L2 button and a series of quick-time button presses that have you completing the most trivial of everyday tasks, all-the-while still keeping you interacting with the game rather merely watching a scene unfold.
You won’t be hitting X to jump on a ledge but will instead rotate a quarter-circle with the analog stick slowly to kiss your wife. It’s not a control scheme that will grab everyone, though I have to respect their choice as it does add an extra element urgency when times get rough.
I did find the reliance of accurate button presses and Sixaxis movements to be frustrating at times, especially when I felt I had pressed the correct combination and the system misread the motions causing an unwanted outcome. Because of this, I recommend even the most seasoned of players to choose the Moderate or Casual difficulty setting if they don’t mind sacrificing extreme challenge for a more controlled story.
Where Heavy Rain is still a video game, however, is in it’s visual fidelity and voice acting.
The wet and dreary town and its inhabitants are gorgeously realized in a virtual capacity. The likeness between character and actor is creepily real and, well, uncanny (see the Heavy Rain photo gallery). Yet, when it comes to physical interactions and speech, the characters don’t quite have the look and feel of the real people the designers worked so hard to portray.
The voice acting is done really well (kids actually sound like kids) but, again, there’s very little things that if you listen hard enough for will stand out, such as English accent breaks (especially in the kids) in American voices.
Quantic Dreams influences for plot shine through (the 2005 movie Crash to name one) with an unfolding story of four people and how their lives are interconnected and affected by the serial murders of the Origami Killer: Ethan Mars, a beat-up-by-life single father desperate to find his son, Madison Paige, a journalist looking for a big story, Norman Jayden, an FBI agent sent to find the truth and Scott Shelby, a burdened private investigator trying to find justice. Each character is periodically controlled throughout the story unraveling events through different eyes.
Embrace the Rain
I grew attached to these characters in ways I hadn’t expected to. As I made little decisions, I started to realize I was building up the morality of these characters and, when the time came to make the bigger, more moral reflective decisions (how far would Ethan go to save his son) I found myself reacting without hesitation (there is no question how far I would go to save my son). Decisions like whether or not to teach Ethan’s son to juggle or drink a beer and shoot hoops alone, fighting with the lead local detective over the use of excessive force or putting a bullet in a suspect’s head.
I found myself fused into these characters (of course, my friends had drastically different experiences).
The final piece of Heavy Rain is in the music (composed by Normand Corbeil) that does a standout job to help solidify the atmosphere. From the emotional string-pulling of Ethan Mar’s theme to the urgency of Looking for Shaun, the composition is something video game music enthusiasts should really give a listen to.
Stay In the Rain
For its faults in control scheme, voice acting, and somewhat unrealized visual prowess, none of it matters.
Heavy Rain won’t be remembered as the project that validated video games as art or changed the future of game design but, instead, will be remembered as a stepping stone in the direction of the validation of video games being something that can handle mature subject matters and invoke raw human emotions.
After all, at the end of the rainfall, all you will remember is how it made you feel.