Not many video game developers have taken a stab at interactive movies since the days of Dragon's Lair and Space Ace. With better technology came the ability to increase interactivity, and that's just what they did. This is what makes a quicktime-driven game like Heavy Rain so interesting. It goes completely against the grain and tries to bring the industry full circle in the process, but does this whodunit do it?
The core story in Heavy Rain revolves around the origami killer--a psychopath that has been murdering children, leaving an orchid on their chest and a folded piece of paper in their cold hand. It's a problem, and the story is told from several different perspectives with each person having their own motivation for bringing the murderer to justice. There's an FBI agent fighting drug addiction, a private investigator, a mysterious woman, and Ethan Mars, a father on a quest to save his son from becoming the next victim.
Red herrings are all over the place--leading you to believe that just about anyone can be the killer. The hints and clues are strung along like a bread crumb trail, yet interwoven in such a way that your mind is always on its toes. It's a nimble story with a predetermined path that includes a little wiggle room. Lead characters can die, but it never alters the main story arc. Instead, a variety of cinema sequences are utilized at the end to tie up loose strings.
There is one major plot hole that really hurts the story if you notice it. Whether you spot it or not, Heavy Rain still includes one of the better tales to grace games in recent memory. Like any good murder mystery, once you've solved it, you'll want to go back and see if the clues were there all the way through. Ultimately, the motivation for the killer doesn't quite add up, but the ride getting there is well worth taking.
Heavy Rain is fairly linear, yet there are slightly divergent paths to take. It's split into dozens of perfectly bite-sized chapters, and frequent checkpoints keep the progress coming, but you cannot freely roam through the world. You tackle each chapter in a predetermined sequence with the ability to go back and replay any chapter with or without saving enabled. For a game with multiple outcomes in many scenarios, this is a godsend.
While you would think that a crime-solving game would be overrun with puzzle solving and fetch quests, it's kept to a minimum here. The same goes for any sort of twitch or skill-based play. It's all about inputting commands when they come up on-screen or scavenging areas for clues.
The game has a definitive beginning, middle, and end with the middle consisting of Ethan completing a series of tests. The end is where things branch off in different directions, making multiple play-throughs a necessity. This definitely helps bolster its already healthy completion time. Though there are multiple difficulty settings, we recommend playing on the hardest right out of the gate.
Being led by the hand isn't a bad thing if you're being taken to a great place, and that's exactly what Heavy Rain does. Despite its restrictive design it's unpredictable, and minus an extremely slow start, the pacing makes it difficult to put down. There is little in the way of extras, and not surprisingly, no extra modes. It’s all about replaying the campaign to see all the possible outcomes.
Evaluating the gameplay in Heavy Rain is interesting because there are certainly some purists who will argue that there isn’t much of it. It’s true that the interaction is kept to a minimum, but what is here plays like few other games.
You can walk freely around the environments and prompts will pop up alerting you that something is there to check out. In these times you’re required to hold a button to walk using the analog stick to steer. Calling it clunky is putting it mildly. You’ll find yourself constantly trying to re-orient the character to face the right direction, or otherwise wrestling with the fixed camera angles. Luckily, the strain placed on these controls is minimal.
You’ll also be tasked with using special glasses to recover clues from crime scenes, and then entering a virtual world called the ARI to investigate them and draw conclusions that lead you to your next objective. Neither requires much thought or skill.
You’ll spend 80 percent of your time playing through interactive cinemas or sitting back and watching them. The developers have gone far beyond the Simon Says sequences seen in many other games. Some actions require a gentle analog stick nudge, and others ask you to hold multiple buttons in a sequence. The latter can feel like Twister for your fingers with up to five inputs at once.
What’s most impressive is how many of the inputs either replicate the actual movement you’d perform in real life, or present the same mental challenges in doing so. Best of all, there’s not much failure to be had. If you miss a couple commands it will alter the scene slightly, but you can always get it together in time to complete the sequence. Aside from some commands that are difficult to see, Heavy Rain truly takes the quicktime event to a new, better place.
The epic moments fall down like, well, the rain. Boss fights, huge brawls, escapes, and much more will keep your fingers nimble and your mind guessing. Button mashing is used when it should be as are intricate command sequences. The time allotted for each input is cleverly governed by how quickly you need to react in the situation. It all adds up to a game that seemingly offers little interaction feel very interactive.
The problem is that you’re often asked to perform mundane actions that do not add to the game in any appreciable way. Opening up a fridge, setting a table, shaving, and other banal activities are fine at first as you discover how the developers have represented them in button and stick commands or shakes of the SixAxis. By the middle of the game, you realize they’ve only been included to limit the downtime and make sure Heavy Rain is more game than movie.
The final gameplay component is the cleverly implemented hint system. Basically a menu that allows you to explore each character’s thoughts, these tips can help a great deal when you’re at a loss for what to do.
The engine powering Heavy Rain’s visuals has some brawn. It can push tons of polygons on-screen while providing an excellent level of detail. Split screen is used to ratchet up the intensity, the animation is great, and the locale variety keeps things stimulating. Issues include screen tearing that can get in the way of the more poignant moments, character models that look a little scary, and some camera hiccups, yet at some points it borders on photorealism.
The voice acting is all over the place. In some scenes it’s great, and in others, it sounds like English is a second language. The writing doesn’t help. The script can get far too wordy and characters sometimes react in unrealistic ways. The music is outstanding, with a dynamic soundtrack worthy of a blockbuster flick.
It’s hard to discern if Heavy Rain is the next step in video games or the next evolution of movies since it straddles the line between the two. Yet, somehow a direct descendent of one of the original arcade classics feels completely fresh in 2010. No matter how much interactivity you demand from your games, Heavy Rain’s story will get its hooks into you, and if this hobby is truly interactive entertainment, then mission accomplished.