Developer - Quantic Dream
Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
Single player story mode
Supports 7.1 PCM multichannel surround sound
Have you ever enjoyed something so much you found it difficult to describe? Did the experience leave you overwhelmed beyond comprehension? Did you find the pressure and the pacing of the incident so intense that all that remains is the question: “what just happened?” If you answered yes to any of those questions then you have prepared yourself for Sony's interactive drama videogame Heavy Rain, developed by Quantic Dream and released exclusively for the PS3.
Despite a 720p native resolution, Heavy Rain is graphically stunning. The environments are mature and offer a real world setting that enhances the prevailing adult theme of the game. Every frame is rendered to reinforce the emotionally charged and frantic pacing. I found the grittiness of the scenes to be cinematic, not unlike the movies Sev7n or Silence of the Lambs. The transition from cutscenes to gameplay is seamless and flawless to the standard of games like Uncharted 2.
Quantic Dream has painstakingly produced Heavy Rain’s environments with the quality of detail that make them truly spectacular; from a graffiti marred wall in a rundown part of town to the arching transformers in a disused power substation, the characters exist in a world that is harsh and unyielding. And those characters that are found in all these areas, they are just as gritty as their environment as they are thrust into the conflicts posed by the circumstances in their hunt for the Origami Killer. The graphic elements of the game enforce the subtle emotion like no other game has before.
From the thunder of the rain in the opening title, Quantic Dream has gone to great lengths to produce a sound track and sound effects that drive the visuals and the gameplay. Every decibel, note, and timbre heighten the vividness of the experience. These aspects of the game really pull you further into the experience. Sadly this attention to detail is not true of the script and voice acting.
My one criticism of the game/experience, which is related to the audio, is the flawed dialogue that I find hinders an excellent plot. Some sentences are just odd and others are simplistic and cliché. Even though the dialogue advances the story it fails to deliver as effectively as some of my favorites releases of late, such as Uncharted 2 and Mass Effect 2. The barely adequate dialogue is where Heavy Rain misses the mark. I found the voice acting to be stilted and wooden. Though Ethan and Madison are voiced well enough, the voice characterization of Jayden and Shelby is flat and shallow. Scott Shelby, the ex-cop/private eye, at times seems uninterested and distracted to the point of boredom to the extent that he reacts to life and death scenarios with the same degree of concern as he would when making an omelet.
How do you prepare for the unexpected? A key to preparation is awareness of previous events, rehearsal, and practice. Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain thrusts you into an experience like no other you have experienced before. The ‘game’ is ground breaking in terms of gameplay, mechanics, and story arc. Quantic Dream has pushed the envelope, torn through it, and redefined the boundaries of what is considered a videogame.
“How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?” That is the defining question of Heavy Rain and the dilemma faced by the distressed father, Ethan Mars, when his son, Shawn, goes missing and is thought to be the latest victim of the mysterious Origami Killer. Ethan is bombarded with moral and ethical choices, as he vows to do what ever he can to rescue his son from the clutches of a serial killer.
I am not entirely sure how to describe my experience playing Heavy Rain. It almost defies description. Yes, I had a controller in my hand; yes I put a disc in my PS3, but after that it gets a little murky. I can’t help but feel that is what the Quantic Dream’s founder and CEO, and Heavy Rain director, David Cage, wanted us to feel.
There are certain facts about Heavy Rain that are clear. You are a participant/player in the hunt for a serial killer, and you are destined to be thrust in to situations where you will be forced to make choices. It is at his point that this ‘game/interactive drama’ tears down the conventional walls of the videogame genre. Many games have offered the player the same types of choices that Heavy Rain offers, but none have placed so much weight on the outcome of the decisions made as a result of these choices. From brushing your teeth to deciding whether to shoot and kill a drug dealer, every moral decision has repercussions for you later in the game. For the first time in my gaming experience, we players truly control our own destiny in the game.
Quantic Dream offers a sophisticated and unsettling murder mystery that allows you to play as one of the four leading characters. Chapters switch from the distraught and troubled father Ethan, to a warm hearted ‘Columbo-like’ private detective named Scott Shelby, to a substance addicted FBI agent named Jayden, to a street smart insomniac female journalist named Madison. If I spelled out the events as Heavy Rain unfolds it would spoil the thrill of playing. I will try to explain how the game plays in an effort to illustrate the this most ambitious and ground-breaking addition to the video game genre.
To say that the interaction within the drama consists of a series of quick-time-events (QTEs) is not a true characterization of the gameplay. Yes, moving the right control stick up as the tormented father Nathan shaves, or moving it up and around as the savvy journalist Madison tends to Nathan’s wounds, or button-mashing the ‘X’ button as Scott Shelby, the ex-cop/private eye, pummels a bad guy, feel like QTE actions, but it is so much more. For the first time the inclusion of the mechanics of the SIXAXIS Controller is truly warranted. Entire chapters may not be available because your actions and choices caused the plot to veer down another plot branch. It is even possible for key characters to die, preventing that character from providing any additional contribution to the story. There is no die, reload/respawn aspect to this game. No matter how well you button-mash or manipulate the control sticks; you will progress and the game story will evolve and adapt as a result of your actions. No matter what happens as you play-through Heavy Rain, the plot will adapt and the story will become a very personal combination of your own actions and experiences.
With seventeen confirmed endings, and an additional five speculated endings, there is more than enough reason to replay Heavy rain again and again. Many players will need to explore each chapter and all of the choice variations to play the game to the fullest. *Spoiler Alert* To illustrate this aspect I offer the following example: in the Chapter Fugitive if you are successful in making your escape from police, the chapter Wise Guy is not available. Conversely if you are arrested in the chapter Fugitive, the chapter Detox is not available. If there was ever a game developed with multiple play-throughs in mind then Heavy Rain is it!
Continue to Page 2