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First Impressions: Heavy Rain
by Linford Butler
Having lived in Britain since my birth, I’ve seen almost every possible sort of rain there is to see. I’ve seen rain which falls straight down, and rain which comes down at a slant. I’ve seen rain which looks like someone’s tipped the combined contents of the Lake District on top of the world. I’ve seen light showers, torrential downpours, acid rain. Rain which looks like snow, but isn’t. Rain which you’d be forgiven for thinking was actually hail, as it hurts so much when it hits you. I’m practically a professor on precipitation.

Last Thursday, however, I met my match in the face of a new and never-before-seen foe; a kind of rain which I had never seen before. Obtaining a key to Quantic Dream’s much-anticipated Heavy Rain, I took a step into the gaming unknown, about to experience a new type of game which most consider to be a turning point in the way we experience gaming and storylines.

Actually, to call Heavy Rain merely ‘anticipated’ would be verging on the brink of impertinence. Whether hyped for the game beyond belief, or sceptical of whether it really can pull all of the tricks out of its fantastic-looking sleeve, everyone is waiting, breath sufficiently baited, on Heavy Rain’s release to prove their point right and everyone else’s wrong. From the looks of things, though, the sceptics won’t have a huge amount to go on.

Loading up the demo, the first thing which initially hits you is the extremely dark, almost macabre atmosphere. On immediate bootup, the rain is present, and - as the title suggests - it is heavy and persistent throughout. The environments are creepy, too – the entirety of the demo seems to take place in environments which most would consider sleazy and questionable, and would avoid like a bullet. It’s a system which works well to immediately set the tone and the semblance of the experience; one which keeps the player on the edge of their seat, wondering what happens next, rather than allowing them to become at ease.

Developing realistic characters in games has been notoriously hard for developers over the years, with each different developer’s attempts yielding varying levels of success. Heavy Rain is certainly destined to join the hall of fame concerning character profiles; each character’s dialogue feels realistic and deep, and everything down to the facial expressions and body language seem true-to-life. Heavy Rain’s overall player experience is more like watching a well-acted, well-scripted movie than playing a game – it has the very same feel that you have an idea of what’ll happen at the beginning, but your thoughts can be proven wrong or destroyed through a huge plot twist. It’s very well done.

Heavy Rain is extremely adult – that’s immediately evident as soon as you start the game. The few situations which you play through during the demo are certain to leave concerned parents disputing the suitability of the game for younger players. Between visiting a prostitute and investigating the latest in a series of (apparently mindless) homicides, you’ll have a violent fight with a woman-beating, sex-buying thug; reduce a woman to tears; experience heavy language and look at someone’s cold, dead body. It certainly isn’t Cooking Mama.

Though much of Heavy Rain will shock you – though shock you in a way which makes you think ‘wow, this really is good’ - possibly the most impressive aspect of what you experience from the demo are the visuals. They really are startlingly wonderful. Doing a wonderful job of making the character’s astoundingly realistic, and making the environments immersive and believable, Heavy Rain’s graphical prowess makes up for what it might be slightly lacking in action-packed gameplay.

The gameplay, in fact, is far from action packed. The entire thing seems to be based purely upon quick-time events and multiple-choice sections. However, what the system does, it does extremely well. The different choices you make can have a quite decisive impact on the outcome of the situation you’re in; choosing one option instead of another could make the difference between having someone throw you out and having them offer a cup of tea and a custard cream. Though not entirely choc-a-block full of liveliness and combat-based engagement, the demo does include a little something in the way of action; taking control of private detective Scott Shelby, you visit a Lauren Winters, only to find her unhelpful and off-hand. However, after an aggressive-looking man enters Lauren’s room and screams ring out, you knock down the door, and a fist-fight ensues. This fist-fight takes the form of various button presses and quick-time-events, which if missed can mean a serious injury for Scott and game-over. Though exciting for a moment, Heavy Rain isn’t really an action game – the gist of it lends itself more to a slow-paced, search and investigate style of gameplay, instead of action.

In terms of what Heavy Rain sets out to do – that is, make a game based upon strong game writing and human emotion – it certainly meets the mark. Visually, Heavy Rain has impact and is stunning; and in terms of the way decisions change the outcome of set-pieces, it is impressive. However, whether Heavy Rain’s slow-paced, very different style of gameplay can sway a gaming generation tripping on gunning, bullet-time and ammunition crates is yet to be seen. However, from what I’ve played – I certainly think it has the potential.


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- Linford Butler

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