Developer – Quantic Dream
Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date – 24 February 2010
Heavy Rain is ambitious project brought to us by Paris based video game development studio, Quantic Dream, who developed the cult classic Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit. Improving on the unique control system and gameplay from Indigo Prophecy they add motion control (via the six axis or move controller) to the mix with much improved graphics and motion capture. While it is still a game, and shares many familiar gaming elements, it is best seen as an interactive drama. You are making frequent decisions controlling and directing your experience in a way that has rarely been done in video games.
I probably had a different sort of experience playing this game than most people since I already had the main plot point revealed to me unintentionally (the identity of the killer). It was still a fun experience but I could imagine it would’ve been much more exciting if I went into it fresh, as I could clearly see the ways the developer tries to cheaply confuse and surprise the player. Despite this I still blasted through the game in two sittings, around 10 hours in total, which is something I rarely do. I was definitely drawn into the story and couldn’t put it down like a good movie or TV series.
The story itself surrounds a series of murders in the US, in the state of Philadelphia, where for the past couple years someone has drowned kids in rainwater during the notoriously rainy fall season. It is a thriller story of the kidnap and murder kind with horror elements comparable to a mix between the movies Saw and Seven. You play as a four characters a FBI agent, one of the victim’s father, a journalist and a private investigator all working to solve the case. This sort of premise fits very well for a game as you switch from scene to scene between these people not having to worry about the in betweens while getting a highly crafted experience.
One aspect of the game that people should know, and I don’t remember being talked much about around release, are the survival horror elements of the game. If you can’t handle these sort of situations in movies you will definitely not be able to handle it in the game as you actually have to do the actions directly via button presses. While you aren’t going to see anything too gruesome the implied pain and suffering can be hard to handle. One example is the clichéd how far can you go situation where your faith is tested by having to chop off a finger. While you can choose to not do most of these trials there are some you are forced to do.
Like I said before the game play is unconventional with the way you move your character the hardest thing to get a grip on. To move you have to hold down R2 and move the left stick which gives you a larger than normal turning radius but the game is designed to not need pixel perfect movement. Left stick by itself controls your head and the right stick is used for interacting with objects. For example to open a door you do a half circle with the right stick or flick in a direction to turn on a light. When it comes to conversations you’ll see floating words above you with a corresponding button press and there are some cool effects when you have to make a quick decision. For action scenes you have to follow the on-screen prompts but don’t have to hit it correctly to continue as it adapts on the fly. I liked the way all this is handled giving me a unique experience expanding on the QTE element that is present in so many games. I didn’t find myself wanting to have more direct control as it was so expertly crafted keeping me trigger ready and engaged as the plot unfolds.
The only downside of the game is the English voice acting which is very poor and has been infamously ridiculed since them. But don’t let that deter you from the game as I find it part of the charm reminding me it is a French perspective on American culture. It is also strange (but deliberate) in the look of the world including items ranging from typewriters, a crazy sci-fi device used for investigations by the FBI agent mixed with mundane normal objects.
I finished the game with everyone alive and some scenes missed out because of the decisions I made. To see ever scene and ending you would have to play through the game multiple times which is probably why it was suggested, by lead designer David Cage, that you play the game just once. But if you are curious you can go back to each chapter and see how situations might play out differently. This is the type of game you have to experience and have in your collection as it is so unique in vision successfully melding video games and film. Why bother playing another shooter when you have the chance to play a game that expands the medium and serve as an example for the capabilities of story telling in video games.