Heavy Rain is not the easiest video game sell. It's a dreary adventure gameplay about depressed people, origami and a serial killer. And there's rain ... lots and lots of rain. This is not the uplifting game of the year. You will not be inspired by Sony's newest adventure game. Instead you get a gritty murder mystery that will have you guessing all the way to the end. This is a game that asks you a simple question: Are you willing to suffer the consequences for your actions?
Heavy Rain follows several different storylines which are all happening at the same time. At the center of the story is a serial murderer known as the Origami Killer. Not much is known about this killer, but over the last three years he's been kidnapping children and hiding their bodies in plain sight. The Origami Killer has struck again, this time capturing the son of a very depressed man named Ethan. Over the past two years Ethan has suffered a number of personal tragedies, including the loss of his eldest son, his job and his marriage. This is a man who is determined to not lose yet another thing he loves and is on a mission to rescue him before it's too late.
Across town there's a private investigator looking for the mysterious serial killer. He's been investigating these murders for a number of years now and spends much of his time tracking down the families and looking for any hot leads. He teams up with an unlikely ally, a victimized mother looking for payback. He's a big cop and she's a thin woman, but together they may be able to get close enough to crack this case.
But don't think that these two freelance cops are the only people investigating the trail. In yet another story we play Norman Jayden, a rookie FBI agent who comes to town to solve the Origami Killer case. Although he's new on the scene, he's able to catch up by using brand new portable computer technology. Unlike all of the other characters trying to locate Ethan's boy, Agent Jayden has a pair of sunglasses called ARI. When he puts the glasses on he can quickly comb through the FBI's archives, cross reference DNA evidence, identify fingerprints and much, much more.
The final storyline involves a mysterious woman who checks into the same hotel as Ethan. The two become close friends, although it's probably not for the reasons either of them would like. Madison decides to help a sympathetic Ethan, although it seems like that only involves her fixing his wounds and making sure he doesn't lose too much blood from his injuries. Before long she finds herself caught up in the mystery, running missions to try and track down the real killer.
Although the game is largely played the same no matter who you're controlling, each character has enough unique qualities which gives the impression of diversity. When you control Agent Jayden you are tasked with gathering evidence and then trying to piece it all together. The private eye's missions often involve you interrogating suspects and convincing bad guys to talk. There are even a couple of interesting "flashback" missions that feel more like a traditional 3D platformer.
Perhaps the most emotionally jarring of the stories is the one involving Ethan. There's no question that the story of a man about to lose everything is the most compelling of the four characters, but there's a certain urgency that is only felt when he's on screen. His missions involve him playing a game, much like the sort of thing you might find in one of the countless Saw movies. Ethan is given a series of missions that he needs to complete in order to learn the address of his kidnapped boy. These missions involve everything from cutting put of his hand off to killing a man he has never met before. If he does it, he will get a clue. If he declines, then he may never see his child again.
This sets up the most intriguing aspect of Heavy Rain. This is not some linear story where you occasionally hit the button; you are in full control over the fate of each character. You can choose not to kill the pitiful drug dealer if you want, but that may mean that the game ends with a dead child. Of course, not everything is that cut and dry, often times you'll be asked to make small choices and then live with the consequences. Should you drink orange juice or a beer? Should you let your kid stay up all night watching TV or should he do his homework? Will you let others in or push them away? Will you do what it takes to save an innocent kid?These decisions add up and change the game in substantial ways. Although the game is tightly scripted, you have incredible control over how it plays out. The idea is for you to be able to play through it a number of different times and have a fresh experience. The reason this is so effective is because even the smallest decision is rewarded with comment or action. Something as simple as not making your child do his homework will come back into play when he's depressed that his teacher yelled at him. These nods help reinforce the personal experience, it's easy to get caught up in these people's lives when you're largely in control of their actions.
One thing I wasn't expecting from Heavy Rain was how emotional it would be. I knew it was going to be moody with a heavy dose of dreary atmosphere, but I became wrapped up in each of these stories. There are moments where the game pushes you to make a very tough moral choice, and I wasn't always ready for the consequences. You learn early on that every choice has a consequence, but you never know when that boot is going to drop. You'll be forced to quickly decide between life and death, yet in the front of your mind you will have to weigh the potential risk. It's a lot more nerve racking than I was expecting. There was one scene in particular where I had to pause the game and step away from the TV. I was both shaken up and a little shell shocked, surprised at how emotionally invested I was in the well-being of these characters.
There's a reason I bring up all of the lurid details about the story and game structure first, because that's definitely the selling point of Heavy Rain. This is a game entirely about the narrative, giving you a murder mystery to solve and enough suspense along the way to keep you permanently on the edge of your seat. To keep the stunning presentation and make sure the game is so tightly paced, the game makers decided to make a few controversial gameplay decisions.
In essence, you are rarely controlling any one of the main characters. There are times when you walk around and investigate, but much of the game involves you repeating simple button presses in order to make them interact with the world. At first the game feels like Dragon's Lair or any other game full of quick-time events, you do what it tells you to do and everybody stays safe. But don't be fooled by what sounds like painfully simplistic gameplay, because there's a surprising amount of depth found in the decidedly bizarre control scheme.
Every action in Heavy Rain is mapped to some sort of button press or analog stick movement. You can open the fridge by performing a quarter-circle with the left stick. Bending down to pick up a note is nothing more than pushing down on the analog stick. And you will be able to pick up that log by holding the square button. On top of those standard commands, you will also be asked to shake the control and use the Sixaxis motion controls is clever ways. Climbing up a large hill or doing something dangerous will often require you to hold several buttons down at once, making it far more difficult on the user.
Of course, sometimes the game goes into what looks like a full-motion video sequence, an action video where all you're doing is pushing the correct buttons. But don't worry about missing a button and immediately dying, because these sequences are not as linear as you might think. Let's say you're in the middle of a one on one fight, you can miss a few buttons and be just fine, the fight will simply play out in a different way. What's really cool about this is that you can see the same fight multiple ways, each with a different outcome. I may have only been pushing buttons here and there, but I definitely felt like I was in control of what was going on.
For some this style of gameplay may be a turn off, so much so that they won't let the amazing story develop and capture their hearts. Heavy Rain is definitely not for everybody, I can guarantee that some of my friends are going to loathe the slow-paced experience. But I found the gameplay to be riveting, no matter how simple it sounds on paper. The events in Heavy Rain are so tense and exciting that I often forgot about the gameplay, instead focusing on how to get out of each sticky situation. And it's not like you don't play as the character. You walk around, go up stairs and talk to people. Heck, you push buttons and make people bleed. If that's not the very definition of a video game, then I don't know what is.Oddly enough, it's the little things that are the most rewarding. Sure the fighting is fun, but I was more amused by all of the strange things you could do that you normally don't see in an M-rated game. When was the last time you saved a woman from committing suicide and then immediately changed a baby's diaper? Or what about making breakfast? Putting out the dishes? I could list dozens of mundane activities you do throughout the course of the game. And even though they sound stupid when I say them one after another, I was intrigued at doing things I normally would never do in a video game.
This is a game about the presentation, so it's not surprising that the game looks phenomenal. From the realistic settings (including stunning interiors and exteriors) to the crazy-realistic character models to the way everybody expresses themselves, the game is hard to top. The soundtrack and voice acting is also strong, providing moody atmospheres and a lot of compelling characters. Although the game has a few minor graphic problems, the presentation is one of the best I've seen on the PlayStation 3.
Unfortunately, because this game relies so heavily on the presentation, there is that extra bit of scrutiny on imperfections. Heavy Rain is far from perfect, some characters don't look right, there is inconsistent voice acting and a few of the pretend accents drove me up the wall. It's also worth noting that the uncanny valley rule is in full effect here, while some characters look great, there are others that are a mess. Thankfully the four main characters all look amazing; I wish the same could be said for the supporting cast. Still, none of these issues break the illusion. The game still manages to work, even if it's a little rough around the edges.
This is not the kind of game you casually pick up and play every so often, this is a game that demands you stick around for the ending. In fact, I was so enthralled in the game that I went through the entire story in one eight hour sitting. I was sucked into the story and couldn't wait to see what happened next, which is not always the case when it comes to video game writing. Best of all, by the time I was done, I had enough reasons to go back through the game a second time just to see what would have happened had I played it differently. Heavy Rain may not have replay in the traditional sense, but I guarantee that you will get your money's worth simply by playing the story several different times.
Gamers who have been keeping tabs on the four year development cycle of this game will definitely be pleased with the final product. While the gameplay takes a little getting used to there is some inconsistent voice acting, I couldn't put down this crime thriller. And even after I had beaten the game, I was still thinking of ways I could have done things differently, jotting down ideas for my next run through. Heavy Rain is an incredible game that will consume you if you let it, but that involves putting aside all of the preconceived notions you have about what a video game is.