Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3)

Genre: Adventure Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Developer: Quantic Dream Players: 1

By Keith B (2nd Mar 2010)

Heavy Rain may be a gripping, interactive tale of despair and anguish, but crippling audio issues and a lack of actual gaming mean it's far from perfect.

When a developer like Quantic Dream comes along and tries to forge new ground in the search for success in the realm of gaming, you have to pay attention, and give credit where it’s due. In that respect, Heavy Rain is certainly an achievement, and often it’s an emotionally gripping experience, but as a video game, it’s not quite as flash. Think of it more like an interactive movie, where you get to hit a few buttons but ultimately don't change whatever has to be done in any given scene. This battle between game and movie is fought right through every facet of it, becoming a constant conflict between brilliance and mediocrity.

Players assume control of four primary characters, flicking between set pieces for each as the main story unfolds. The Origami Killer has struck again, with his eighth victim missing and certainly on the way to a watery end – placing victims in storm drains and letting them die as the water level rises is the modus operandi of the killer. A grieving father must run a gauntlet in search for his missing son, a gumshoe detective combs the city looking for clues, an FBI investigator analyses crime scenes looking for anything to help the case, and an insomniac photojournalist gets herself tangled unwittingly into the mess.

Heavy Rain ultimately uses point and click adventures from bygone days as its influence, with the only real difference being the control system. Players must still find items in the locality to interact with, relying on the story to keep players from noticing the fact that they’re actually not really playing all that much, just steering the cast through the various locations.

In terms of storytelling, Heavy Rain is an achievement. Across almost 50 segments handled in six chapters, the player will become engaged in all manner of craziness, from self mutilation to kinky stripping. The whole point of the exercise is to make you feel like you’re part of the game, so when you have to strip down and dance for a scumbag club owner, you’re meant to feel degraded, or when you achieve something good, you, too, are meant to feel that success as your own. Each strand of the tale is believable and genuinely interesting, and as the plot and story thickens and uncertainty flows through it, moving forward becomes an addictive thing.

The decisions you make are the crux of the game, and are often thrown at you quickly and continually. Do you shoot the guy or wait and see what he does? Do you wield the blade or ignore the demand? The choices are what suck the player in and by making them so frequent – and often so difficult to make – momentum is carried throughout.

Unfortunately, having a thrilling story and narrative isn’t all that’s needed, because players need to interact with the world, and move through it, and often it’s a frustrating experience. It also doesn’t help that often the player feels more of a spectator, because twiddling a thumbstick doesn’t always equate to a wonderful gaming experience.

The control system has the same Jekyll and Hyde persona as the rest of the game. On the one hand the use of the right thumbstick to interact with items and objects is fairly intuitive, and the most is made of the Dual Shock controller, with gamers having to use it like a steering wheel, or shake it violently for other actions.

On the other hand, navigating through the game world is incredibly frustrating, due to the movement system being terrible. Holding down a shoulder button to walk sounds okay, but in practice makes little sense. The only way I could get myself to use it was to imagine it like an accelerator on a car, which really isn’t the best thing to do when the character is walking slowly around a motel room. Fortunately the fixed cameras are never really a problem, thanks to a feature that allows you change perspective at the click of a button.

In order to achieve a sense of success through your small victories, it is absolutely essential that you become completely immersed in the experience. It takes some time to really pick up speed, and often slows the pace right down (how about an interactive section making scrambled eggs? It’s here), so in order for you to ignore the sometimes-slow pacing and clumsy controls, you have to feel like you’re part of the story. It failed because of some awful audio issues.

Visually, this is a work of art, with locations that are believable, and characters that feel real. Unfortunately, about halfway through the playthrough, the audio started dropping out. Voice lines would load late, thereby throwing off the lip synch and delaying conversations. The awful truth is that in a game where you must pay attention throughout, losing audio lines is unacceptable. Let me give an example. One of the characters had a career previous to the one he has when we play, and for most of the game, the player doesn’t know what it is. At one point, the player meets an old friend, and the friend says “Hey, so are you still with ...”. Cue audio drop out. “No, I moved on years ago” he replies, but I didn’t know what he moved on from. By the end of the game, his previous career is part of identifying one hell of a major plot point, so that loss of one or two words was a crippling problem.

What’s worse for Heavy Rain is that as the game progressed, the issue became more and more noticeable. By the end I could barely get through a conversation without the audio spluttering to a halt. Loading screens started to freeze requiring saintly patience to resist turning off the console to restart. All of this was a terrible shame because Heavy Rain’s storyline is absolutely brilliant.

Ultimately, the technical issues tainted the experience beyond what I’m prepared to take, which is a terrible shame considering the level of effort that has been put in to craft an engaging and thrilling storyline. Offering a multitude of endings is redundant if I don’t want to go back and play through the game again, and I had a strong desire to see this work. In a way, I still enjoyed my time with it and can definitely see myself returning to any similar games that come along, and with smoother controls and no technical issues, there is every chance that future titles could become masterpieces. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain isn’t there because of technical handicaps, but it has all the potential in the world.

I really regret that I had to write the piece like I did, when technical issues - that may not be experienced by everyone - have to take centre stage. Should a patch be released that fixes the audio issues – and not the 226mb one that was available on the day of release (and could very well be part of the problem) – then Heavy Rain would certainly be a must play. If you take your gaming seriously, then you deserve to experience this gripping story. When it’s fixed.

Single Play
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Multi Play

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  • colmwarner (Mar 10th at 10:14 PM)

    Pity it's let itself down, but by all accounts, your technical experiences with it are far from unique.

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