Preview: Heavy Rain: The best graphics ever
PS3-exclusive thriller Heavy Rain has the best graphics we've ever seen, and promises to innovate stale adventure game conventions.
When describing a game like Heavy Rain, you've got to start with your most immediate impressions: the graphics. Heavy Rain's visuals look so phenomenal, so realistic, so lavish, that they probably qualify as the most impressive graphics ever produced for a video game. And the game hasn't been released yet! Even the title screen looks sensationally realistic. Upon loading the game, you're greeted with a close-up shot of a terrified (and unnamed) woman who glances nervously around the screen. You can see the detail in every pore on her face, every gleam and twitch of her eyes, and every bead of sweat that trickles down her forehead. It looks truly magnificent, and it's all in real-time - no pre-rendered visual fakery here! Part of this magic lies in the details: the developers actually motion-capture eye movements for their virtual actors, lending an air of unnerving realism.
But as good as the title screen looks, the in-game visuals are vastly better. During a top-secret E3 session, the developers showed off a short scenario from Heavy Rain, cautioning the journalists in attendance not to "draw too many conclusions" about the actual plot and characters in the final game. Consider this an interactive example of the gameplay style and tone of Heavy Rain, but not an actual scene from the finished game - the developers are intent on keeping the storyline firmly under lock and key.
In the Mouth of Madness
Heavy Rain is an adventure thriller from the developers of Indigo Prophecy, an influential murder thriller released for the PC, PS2, and Xbox. Like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain has an extremely cinematic presentation. As in a traditional film, the camera angles and movements help relate subtle information, from unease to outright terror. But Heavy Rain makes some key advances to Indigo Prophecy's uneven gameplay style.
All we know is what we saw. We watched as an unnamed female journalist sped through a "heavy" rainstorm on a motorbike, zipping between cars on the freeway and chatting on the phone about a potential serial killer in the area. Upon arriving in a nearby neighborhood, players assume control of the journalist as she walks to a suspicious house that (may) hide a rumored killer. In Heavy Rain, developer Quantic Dream is throwing away everything you thought you knew about "controls." When you need to walk forward, you hold R2; this reduces confusion when the camera direction changes and, like a racing game, should keep you on-track. The left analog stick controls your character's head and influences your walking direction. When you want to interact with the environment - knocking on a door, for example - you move the right analog stick. And when you need to choose between several interactive options -- knocking on a door versus ringing the doorbell, for example - you physically tilt the DualShock 3 controller to highlight your selection.
The controls are certainly...different. But what do the changes really mean for the player? The controls allow players to perform multiple actions at once - walking and interacting with nearby objects, for one. And because the controls rely upon the Sixaxis motion sensor embedded in the DualShock 3, the barrier to entry looks to be greatly reduced. There are no arcane button combinations or complicated third-person aiming reticules in Heavy Rain. Instead, you'll occasionally tap a button, hold another, or gesture with the controller to perform your desired action.
Back to the demo. After ringing the doorbell, knocking, and calling out, our intrepid journalist is greeted with eerie silence - nobody's home. Walking around to the back of the house, our journalist protagonist (unwisely) decides it's time to break in and score some incriminating photos of the alleged serial killer. Though her actions are foolhardy, she's riddled with doubt, a fact reflected in Heavy Rain's "internal dialogue" concept. At any point, you can listen to your character's doubts, insecurities, and rationalizations about the current situation. These moments of waffling help bond you to the character, but they can also provide important clues.