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Review: Heavy Rain
by Greg Mengel
Game Information

Basic information
Heavy Rain
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: February 2010

PlayStation 3

Interactive Story (IS)

BBFC: 15
PEGI: 18
USK: 16
The tyres slid as Ethan Mars slowed his car to a halt; the road he drove was slick due to a downpour of almost torrential rain. He was now parked in the middle of an overpass, alone. Below him ran a highway, busy with the sights and sounds of dozens of speeding cars. He jumped when the GPS on the dashboard began to speak. "You have reached your destination. Are you ready to show your courage in order to save your son? Listen carefully. Take the highway and drive against the traffic for five miles. If you haven't reached your destination in five minutes, you will have failed." It cut off. Ethan shook his head. I don't want to die. Not here. Not like this. I'd kill a bunch of innocent people! What gives me the right to play God, even to save my son?! Looking at the highway running under the overpass, Ethan felt his his heart pounding like a drum. I've got to do it. For Shaun's sake. He held his eyes shut. The rain continued to land pitter-patter on his windshield. I have no choice. Opening his eyes, Ethan put the car into gear and drove down the off ramp, placing himself directly in the path of the waves of traffic below.

This is just one of many memorable scenes found in the much-anticipated interactive adventure title from Quantic Dream, Heavy Rain; a game built on a foundation of story and human psychology rather than on action alone. It's a game about people, and their reactions to a series of events that unfurl when they are thrust into the web of intrigue surrounding the elusive Origami Killer.

If it could be about one thing and one thing only, Heavy Rain would be a game about good, solid plot. At its heart, that's what it is - a game that tells a story about how different human beings react to a single series of events. The stage is set like this: four characters find themselves caught up in the case of the Origami Killer, a serial murderer causing fear and panic in an unnamed city on the east coast of the United States. Nobody knows his motives, but the killer's method of murder is clear - four days after being kidnapped, boys between the ages of nine and thirteen are found drowned, their bodies abandoned next to railroad tracks at various points around the city. Each victim is found with a piece of origami clenched in their right hand, and an orchid placed on their chest. After months of searching, the police are far from finding a suspect when a new victim disappears - Shaun Mars. As they race against the clock, each of the four main characters in Heavy Rain are emotionally, physically, and psychologically tested as they attempt to find the Origami Killer and save Shaun before it is too late.

As stated above, Heavy Rain revolves around the events witnessed by its four main characters: Ethan Mars, Scott Shelby, Norman Jayden, and Madison Paige, all of whom find themselves intimately involved in the events surrounding the case of the Origami Killer. Each of them has their own unique back story. Ethan is a divorced architect who lost his oldest son, Jason, two years prior to the events of the main plot, and has had major psychological trouble recovering from that loss. Though he struggles to answer whether or not he is to blame for the death of Jason, he tries desperately to be a good father for Shaun, his second son. Scott is a retired police officer who now works as a private detective in his spare time. An affectionate and likable man, he has been hired by the families of the Origami Killer's victims to bring the murderer to justice. Norman is an FBI agent, sent to aid the local police office by his superiors in Washington. He is completely dedicated to discovering the killer's identity. One of Norman's gadgets obtained from the FBI gives him an advantage investigating the case: a pair of glasses that allow him to see the "augmented reality" of a crime scene through an "Added Reality Interface," commonly referred to as ARI. Unfortunately, Norman suffers from a debilitating addiction to the fictional drug triptocaine, which comes in a small blue vial and is snorted similarly to cocaine. Lastly, Madison Paige is a successful photojournalist who finds herself caught up in the events following Shaun's kidnapping. She suffers from acute insomnia, and, when she does sleep, often has the kind of nightmares that make insomnia look appealing. As the story unfolds, each player delves deeply into the conspiracy of the Origami Killer, compiling evidence and undergoing experiences that will ultimately decide whether or not Shaun lives and the culprit is found.

The most interesting aspect of Heavy Rain is how its rare breed of interactive gameplay works to engage its players psychologically and emotionally. In the prologue (which acts as a tutorial), the player has control over not only how Ethan wakes up, brushes his teeth, and goes through his normal morning routine, but also over more emotionally motivated choices, like whether or not he kisses his wife and tells her he loves her, or which son he decides to play with first in the yard. All four characters are given hundreds of actions with these kind of emotional implications to choose from, the majority of which the player can choose either to follow or ignore. That makes deciding on any action difficult, as most choices have consequences that could (and very often do) effect the long-term plot of the game. To make deciding on one of those choices more exciting, most decisions must be made in a fraction of a second before the option is taken away and the character makes a decision on his own, without player control. This can be maddening, but it will drive you to the edge of your seat.

This style of gameplay ends up working for two reasons: the emotional nature of decisions will make you care about your characters, and the need to constantly watch the screen to catch and make split-second choices will keep you on your toes. I found the latter to be especially true during particularly exciting scenes, like fights, escapes, and chases, when a half second was all the time I had to dodge the sweeping cut of a katana, leap over a railing before being tackled by twelve sprinting policemen, or weave through a barrage of incoming vehicles while driving against the grain in freeway traffic. Those scenes are made of the same style of thrilling fun that we've gotten used experiencing a century of movie magic (there were more than a few fight sequences that could have be pulled directly from old action movies like Die Hard or Indiana Jones).

From a production standpoint, Heavy Rain lived up to almost every expectation presented before it. Aesthetically, its setting is dark, beautiful, and, perhaps most importantly, entirely believable. Walking through the city, I felt like I had been transported to a place where the landmarks and culture of Boston met the never ending precipitation of Seattle, or any city in Britain. As those are all real locations that I'm over 99% sure exist in the world today (I'm giving one percent in case of some conspiracy like the one from the Truman Show), it was extremely easy to suspend my disbelief while exploring the make-believe city in Heavy Rain that borrowed heavily from all of them. Such a strongly believable setting made it easy to believe and get completely immersed in the game's plot.

As good as the game's visual and environmental aesthetics are, its soundtrack is even better. Composer Normand Corbeil combines traditional noir brass (that lonely sax, wailing in a damp alley on a full moon night), with the haunting scores of the Clint Mansell Orchestra (à la Requiem for a Dream), to create a sound that perfectly sums up Heavy Rain's dark, melancholic world. Take a minute to listen to these clips, and you'll get an idea of what I mean. Imagine those sounds mixed in with Heavy Rain's engaging gameplay and believable setting, and you may begin to get a sense of the overall feeling that Heavy Rain offers. The voice acting in the game is generally very good, though there are a few points where it gets unbelievable, and awkward (like during any scene with children).

A single playthrough of Heavy Rain should take you between seven and eight hours, after which you'll probably want to immediately go back to a previous parts of the story, just to see how the game would have played out if you had done something differently. Luckily for us, Quantic has made replaying an extremely easy affair by keeping track of every chapter of the game as if it were a checkpoint. That means that you can pick the game up from the beginning of any chapter in your first playthrough and start from there. Not only that, but you can also choose whether or not you want to save your progression from that checkpoint as you play it for the second time. If you decide you do want to save your progression, then all subsequent chapter checkpoints will be resaved as you reach them, so that they follow whatever new decisions you make. This may seem confusing to read, but it allows for players to see all of the different causes and effects of their actions without replaying the game from its beginning every time they want to see the effects of a single different choice.

One feature of the game worth noting is its extras section. As you complete the game, your decisions can unlock bonuses which can be viewed from the main menu. These bonuses are images and videos that give players a glimpse of Heavy Rain's development, mostly in the form of concept art (some of the best I've ever seen) and documentaries. This is an amazing feature for anyone who is interested in game design, as it gives you a valuable, detailed inside look into the creation of the game that you just played that you don't have to look up online. You can just play a scene, then navigate on over to the extras section to see how they made it, all from the same couch. Along with bonuses, you can look at your collection of Heavy Rain trophies (which come in the form of different origami figures), and browse any available Heavy Rain downloadable content, which will come in the form of new scenes entitled Heavy Rain Chronicles, the first of which, The Taxidermist, is already available (as of March 4) for a small fee.

The one problem I had with Heavy Rain was its apparent love for crashing, freezing, unsynching its audio, and generally annoying the hell out of me with rampant bugs. These problems were all easy to fix (just eject the disk, give the tired, asthmatic console thirty seconds to breathe, clean and reinsert said disk, sacrifice a small animal to the god of Playstation karma, and enjoy), but not before they broke the flow of the game. In a game like this, flow is important. Still, these pestering annoyances were the only negative aspects that I noticed, and they were not nearly serious enough to make the game "bad" in any way. They just periodically made me want to throw my Playstation 3 out of a window at passing children.

Out of all adjectives, the one I think most suits this game is special. It is unlike any other blockbuster game currently on the market. If the gods of gaming are listening to my pleas, then they know that I'd like them to use the high acclaim of Heavy Rain as a jumping off point towards making the "interactive story" (IS) a popular genre in the gaming medium in general. I want to play many more games that use this style - good interactive story built on a foundation of the testing of emotional and psychological human responses. This IS style of game design could be especially fun for games with plots revolving around any influential historical figures or events. Imagine Heavy Rain's gameplay set in the time of Julius Caesar, adapted for a game in which the actions of your characters decide whether or not Caesar, and/or the Roman Republic, live or die. The history nerd in me is geeking out over just the thought of it. That's part of the beauty of Heavy Rain - not only is it immensely fun on its own, but its ingenuity also inspires people to think creatively about gaming (and that's a good thing).

Simply put, Heavy Rain is an experience that must be tried by anyone who loves games, film, or engaging stories in general, as it has the best of all three in one package. At seven hours of play time, it is (ironically) the perfect game for a rainy day. Its sights, sounds, and story have the power to transport you to a gripping, psychologically-engaging dark noir world for about the same amount of time it would take you to go to school or work. I strongly encourage anyone who is doubtful about Heavy Rain to give it a chance. Not only do I wager that you will find some personal meaning from its setting, art, and story - I'm also willing to bet that you'll have a lot of fun in the process.

And if that doesn't swing you, there's always the interactive sex scene. But don't buy the game for that. That would just be creepy.



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- Greg Mengel

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