Since the initial tech demo revealed back when the PS3’s hype train had just begun, Heavy Rain had a lot to live up to. Some could say it was expected due to the game being developed by the same studio that brought Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit, an ambitious cinematic experience that fell short from a gameplay perspective. Despite developer and marketing claims that bill the game under the genre “interactive drama”, what the game feels like is an evolution of a genre that’s been mostly forgotten for over a decade, the Adventure Game.
Let’s get it out of the way that the graphics were, and remain, one of the most appealing aspects of the game. From the first tech demo to the game’s release, the game’s major selling point is its cinematic presentation, complete with lifelike models and facial animations. Surprisingly, the game actually succeeds in that area for the most part. While there are definite times where the lighting and camera angles cause the graphics to scream “uncanny valley”, presentation makes for a very believable and impressive display. The sound is also generally good as well, outside some hit-or-miss voice actors. Some of the voice actors sounded as though English was their second language. However, a well-crafted orchestral score brings the overall sound quality up. Also worth noting is that the gameplay cues take a definitive backseat to the aesthetic nuances of the game. It’s done very well, however, and keeps the gamer on-point while still making for an absolutely beautiful game.
This leads to the most talked about part of the game, for better or worse. When simplified to its most basic gameplay elements, Heavy Rain boils down to a series of quick-time events with no real set control scheme other than movement (which is odd in of itself). If the very sound of that immediately turns you off, then there’s little else I can do for you. I was also a little apprehensive of the thought myself, until I remembered the classic point and click adventure games of the past. These games were held in very high regard despite a general lack of a control scheme thanks to excellent writing, puzzles, and general art direction. Heavy Rain falls into this boat, and while it’s a fine boat to be in, not everyone will enjoy it.
One of great things about the gaming medium compared to movies and TV is that it doesn’t cost millions of dollars to shoot an alternate scene or a different ending. Heavy Rain’s greatest accomplishment is how the story molds to the decisions the player makes throughout the story. Characters can die and plans can go awry, and the story will advance based upon this. More important than increasing the length of the game itself, it gives the player a narrative that is unique to their playing style, and that feeling is something that can’t be achieved with any other artistic medium.
One of the pluses of a game without a set control scheme is that it makes the difficulty curve almost non-existent. It does take a bit to come to grips with the movement scenes (which use old school tank controls) and what the different button indicators mean. The sum keeps players immersed in the experience while keeping a very open U.I. Also, there is a “thoughts” menu that brings up different topics your character can narrate his or her thoughts on, which gives the player a bit of guidance in case they don’t know what to do. Finally, a nice touch is how the different decisions will shake and fade in and out more or less depending on the character’s state of mind.
If you think less of Heavy Rain for having interactivity largely rooted in quick-time events, there’s nothing I can write here to make the game sound more appealing. However, if you come into this with a longing for the adventure games of decades past, or simply want to have a video game experience that hasn’t really been done before, then this game hits right on the mark. I, personally, pray that this will lead to a revival of the genre, and think that this game could very well reignite interest in a line of games that were very close to extinction.