I read about this game long before ever giving it a try. As someone who had kept up on the reviews and trailers, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. Quantic Dream thanks you for supporting Interactive Drama, and that is a good way of phrasing it as Heavy Rain has just enough elements to classify it as a game, while truthfully being more of an experience than a contest of you versus console.
The game starts out slowly – very slowly, I will admit. I had a tough time getting into it, having tried to get through the intro over a few different nights, but just finding the storyline and the somewhat unwieldy control scheme to be more boring than I had expected.
Throughout the game you take control of a specific character. The movement scheme sort of bugs me in that you point your character in a direction and hold a specific button to make him walk forward. This rather odd, tank-like control scheme for basic movement harkens back to the annoying days of Silent Hill and Resident evil where you feel slow and clumsy more often than not. However, there is a lot more to the game’s controls than this as you use your controller in a variety of ways to interact with your environment as well as completing tasks. How you go about completing these, and the decisions you make along the way, shape a story that really finds its stride after the first hour or so and becomes one of the more memorable endings I can recall in gaming.
Graphics – 8:
When Heavy Rain came out, it possessed arguably the best character models I had seen to date. A couple of years have passed and other games have caught up since, but for the most part it all looks really sharp. I never had problems with slowdown, or characters who tore fragments through environmental walls, things like that. I was also impressed with the use of reflections in things like mirrors. I have read several articles in the past about how a lot of graphics engines do not handle reflection well (one developer even went so far as to say that is the reason a lot of mirrors in games are busted out or at angles where you wouldn’t be able to ‘see’ a reflection).
Sound & Music – 9:
The voice acting was really solid overall, and that is a big deal. Sound and graphics are probably more important in a game like this than others, because your level of immersion really dictates whether a title like this is a success or not. There is a ton of spoken dialog here, and the principle actors do an excellent job of delivering their lines. The music also deserves some note as there are a lot of times the music is used to excellent effect to underscore moments of tension.
Controls – 7:
I touched on these above. The movement controls really should have been better. That said, the controls for interacting with your environment and completing puzzles and tasks are usually very good. This is where the game element comes into play, because while much of the time you are simply walking around, watching the story unfold and sometimes given some choices in how to talk to someone or interact with something, many of Heavy Rain’s more impactful moments come in the form of these mini-games where you have to input commands in a certain way in order to succeed, and most of the time these work very well.
Intangibles – 8:
The game itself is not terribly long – I beat it in nine or ten hours. However, there is a high amount of replay value to be had here. There are several different endings and the chapters can branch out in a variety of ways depending on your choices and how you perform during the event phases. The game will continue on, even should you fail a task (and maybe even getting a primary character killed) – and the storyline is affected accordingly.
Overall – 8:
I am not going to lie – I almost gave up on this game during the first hour or so. The story elements were dull, the controls were not terribly intuitive and there was this odd feeling that I just was not accomplishing anything. However, once you get past that initial learning curve, the dark story becomes far more interesting and you really start to care about the characters during this adventure of theirs. It is a very different kind of gaming experience, but it is one that I wound up enjoying quite a bit by the time I was done.
As an aside? Not recommended for kids. There are a lot of games out there that are rated ‘M’ that are probably borderline depending on the age/maturity of the child. Heavy Rain sports a fair amount of blood and violence, nudity and sexual content and was one I told my son ‘no’ to when he asked about playing it.