Join Date: Nov 2010
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Please Rate This Review: Heavy Rain
HIGH Use of facial expressions to convey an emotional storyline
LOW Some questionable game design choices
WTF Some plot-holes
HR would be better defined as a convergence of two ill-fated genres: the interactive movie and the adventure game; to its manifest advantage it provides more than enough improvements to both. While it trades adventure’s staple puzzles for QTE-laden action sequences and does away with item inventories, it does manage to get a much tighter focus on storytelling and character development (often times a “less-than-stellar” characteristic of even modern adventure games, due to pacing issues and uni-dimensional leads); as for interactive movies, it’s by far the most dynamic experience ever done in the field, due to its adequate replay value, easy controls and overall good cinematic direction and sensibility (apart from some aspects to be explored further down), meshed with addictive pacing and fantastic (imo) character design.
Ever since first clips had come about, the beginning sequence had always seemed to me the most enticing, and I was thus very eager to sit down and try it. Not just the “lost child” premise, but the bit that came before, which ends up having tutorial purposes (not to Shenmue and Fahrenheit fans of course), but presents nonetheless a far undertapped scenario, the familial, so to speak, rummaging. Just like the first character we get to play with, we wake up into this world, which isn’t yet filled with the titular heavy rain, and presents us in morning glory one of the most unique and dazzling sequences in videogames. Akin to Ryo Hazuki’s first delvings in Hazuki manor, you’re free to explore your house; while the level of environment interaction is not on par with Shenmue’s (but then again, no game is and probably will ever be), it’s still far and beyond the scope of usual adventure and action/adventure games.
From the start it behaves less like a videogame than most. Many complained about character control; that seems to me a non-issue. I found it in fact very familiar to Shenmue’s control, with a non-analog button to go forward (but in this case, pression-sensitive) and an analog to look around. If there is sometimes a bit of control confusion that is presented by the camera which sits usually not behind you in 3rd-person fashion but is usually more dynamic, akin to the adventure genre. I support this decision though, because due to the game’s nature of indoors settings and cinematic approach, the dynamic camera suits it best and, coupled with the control scheme, allows for non-videogame architecture to be used, and thus more realism. What I mean by this is, unlike most videogames where room/city architecture is suited for 3rd person cameras, with room to walk around with no objects near (so you don’t get stuck), in HR there’s a more realistic architectural disposition, with more realistic rooms. Think for instance of Shenmue’s almost “race-track” streets or sort of void Kowloon appartments, or GTA’s stripped down feel of interiors, and you get the point, I reckon.
Still, many objects can be interacted with and many chairs and tables to sit or lean on, particularly in HR’s dynamic conversations.
The QTEs are of course a big part of it, but they feel for the most part organic with the controller (and thus with yourself). Sometimes you make mistakes because of what you thought you had to do isn’t what you end up doing, but this proves itself an interesting piece of design, just like in Far Cry 2, the fact that you’re not always in control.
Keeping up with what I thought was one of the best characteristics of Fahrenheit, HR uses several characters to tell the same story. This helps keep things dynamic and fresh, as most scenarios are usually in unique locations, keeping things constantly different and exciting. Despite the gloomy look of the heavy rains the visuals keep fresh and original, a valid gift from adventure games (without the need for token international metropolises à la Broken Sword).
The four main leads are extremely well designed. Although the detective and criminologist are a sort of cliché of their professions (the detective even drives a vintage style car), they amaze above all by the realism with which they’re portrayed. This, I think, comes from the game’s unique euro-sensibilities, something which has been gradually lost since the 90s. This would be matter for a complete dissertation, but the fact is, like japanese and american games are, for the most part, different, so are european (through their many game-developing countries) different; that is, when they’re not trying to immitate the more profitable (apparently) american sensibilities.
In fact, and despite the game being clearly set in America, I found myself taking full advantage of being able to play the euroversion (mainland only, I’m guessing), and my first time through was played in German, despite not knowing one bit. I know, crazy, and I have been on medication lately, but it just seemed so much more in sync with german drama/cop shows like Cobra Alert that I just couldn’t resist. The fact that the town was not heavily localized also helped, as the more gloomy bits seem just out of former eastern Germany; everything, I don’t know, the characters, the clothes, the rain, the lack of non-white characters? (Mad Jack seemed almost like a more tipical depiction of black people in japanese games; a sharp contrast from the funk-clichéd but endearing character from Fahrenheit)… it did help that the german dub seemed to be one of the best, with good voice actors, and none of the “french actors playing american” problems that hampered the english dub.
Apart from the four leads and some other characters (the store owner, the killer’s mother (how often do you see a character like THAT in a videogame?!), lt. Blake…) there’s a big difference to the level of detail in other characters, being bland and sometimes (as is often the case in games) repetitive. Although this might be something that wouldn’t stand out if the leads weren’t so defined…
Another thing that obviously stands out are the imposing themes exploited. Love and loss, parenting, sacrifice, even drug abuse and illness… obviously the dramatic scope is wide and usually well oriented. If everything is not to everyone’s taste, I think we have to agree that the simple inclusion of themes like these in a videogame is worthy of merit by itself; any psychoanalist will tell you that much more than being fragged by an alien invader, losing a child is the greatest pain that can be inflicted.
The soundtrack is also much better-than-average by videogame standards; it does suffer on one thing, which is length. The themes are short, although due to the also short nature of the game, they don’t get dramatically repetitive.
Where the game suffers most is, I think, not in the overly-dramatic sequences, which after all are very fresh for the genre, but the rate and quality of cinema nods, which end up dettaching from the experience (after all, you forget about the game, and remember the movie it is hommaging). 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Se7en… can you spot them all? Tarantino picks this off right because his movies are “comedical”, and it suits its pacing. In the field of self-designated “interactive drama”, it just can’t be played out like that. Cage seemed to have wanted to put a lot of stuff in. Perhaps the thing that is missing in videogames is the position of Editor.
A lot of plotholes have been pointed out as well, but again, this seems to me like complaints from people who want to be spoonfed everything and not willing to think or interpret things by themselves. It may seem convoluted at times, but everything can make sense when you understand that these are not your average unidimensional, superactionhero characters.
On a final note, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the unlockable art pictures. They’re a beautiful insight into the locales of the game and it’s a dear shame that they didn’t put it out as an artbook in a special edition (which, for what it was, was incredibly disappointing).
As an adept of both “non-game games” and adventure games, Heavy Rain suits me in every way. As a PS3 exclusive I’d deem it almost mandatory to try an original experience that is easy to get into and provides a sort of experience seldom given in the medium (and definitely not with this polish).
Personally, I can’t wait to see what QD pull next.
Disclosures: the game was played on an european PS3 slim on normal difficulty, in a total of about 10 hours for the first playthrough.
Parents: this game is not suitable for children, due to the presence of violence, drug abuse, nudity and mature themes.
Deaf or hearing impaired: The game has subtitles and was dubbed in many languages, but depends on some audible cues.