Heavy Rain – PS3 review

Review by Johnus Maximus

Heavy Rain - PS3 box artHow far would you be prepared to go to save the life of someone you love? This is the theme of Heavy Rain, a crime thriller that follows the lives of four individuals affected by a serial killer, and which successfully blurs the medium of film and video game.

Developed by Quantic Dream and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Heavy Rain is released on February 26th exclusively for Playstation 3 and is an essential purchase for any discerning gamer.

To begin with, I must mention that during the course of this review I will do the utmost to protect you from any plot spoilers. While this may make some of my descriptions of the characters and situations vague, I feel it is only fair that as a potential player your experience is not sullied and that you approach this stunning title with the barest preconceptions.

You may not be familiar with the work of David Cage and Quantic Dream, but the concept of an interactive film game is not unique – Dragons Lair, Shenmue and Night Trap all preceded the much revered Farenheit. However, it seems to be a genre with few contenders, and I have to admit that the concept of an entire game controlled by controller gestures and quick time events was not immediately compelling to me (but it’s nice to be proven wrong from time to time).

As with any game, Heavy Rain treats the player to a gentle sequence of events in which you learn how to interact with the world. Holding down the R2 button makes you walk in whichever way you are looking, to turn your head you use the left stick. Your character is given visual cues when approaching or looking at objects that can be interacted with, for example – pushing the right stick one way to open a wardrobe and another to dress yourself, shaking the controller up and down and left to right to brush your teeth. It’s all very trivial, but it does a great job of getting you orientated.

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Ethan Mars, played by Pascal Langdale

As well as controlling the varied choices of physical actions, you are also privy to the thoughts of the character you’re controlling. Holding down the L2 button visualises a cloud of ideas swirling around the characters head, allowing you further insight into their emotional state at the push of the circle, square, triangle or cross.

Dialogue options are also available using the same buttons, usually one or two word structures that progress the scene. Both the dialogue and the thoughts smoothly glide around the player when their emotional state is calm, but jitter frantically when fear or anger is clouding their judgement.

Within a short space of time you’ll come to appreciate that the main character, Ethan Mars, is a devoted husband and father with a very normal life. The admonishment from your wife as you lay the finest crockery down on a table too fast or having to choose which one of his children to wing around first is as tough as his decisions seem in the opening hour. Soon after, tragedy strikes and an event takes place that changes his family forever.

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Norman Jayden, played by Leon Ockenden

Unless you’re a horrifically jaded and cynical individual, the first few hours of Heavy Rain will touch you more deeply than any game has done before. You’ll be positively reeling in the events that lead up to the introduction of the main plotline – the hunt for the identity of the Origami killer, and the bleak chance that his latest victim can be saved from certain death.

Over the course of approximately ten hours of game play, the action switches between Ethan and three other main characters. Norman Jayden is an FBI profiler with a troubling addiction and some high-tech crime scene analysis tools. Scott Shelby is a private detective, hired by the families of the Origami Killers previous victims to try and track down the lunatic responsible for the death of their sons. Madison Paige is an insomniac reporter, who also becomes involved in the investigation.

These are the main players, each one gives a credible performance that lends weight to the emotional impact of the story. Despite the non-linear nature of the game, the scripting and direction works so well that you will truly believe that the outcome you have worked towards is the “proper” outcome of the game, despite there being varying options.

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Scott Shelby, played by Sam Douglas

A lot of motion capture work was done to ensure that physical and facial expressions were authentic, so much so that watching one of the bonus footage reels it is uncanny just how alike the virtual characters are to their actors. There are many supplemental characters along the way, some of whom could have done with a little more care so as to look less robotic, but mostly they read their lines and take their cues with aplomb.

There is a contradictory feeling of empowerment and helplessness when making choices in this game. Sometimes you can prejudge that one action will lead to another, and this gives you a sense of controlling the plot, of playing a game. Then there are times when you are forced to take actions with no real hunch as to how they will affect the story. These moments help fuel both the tension and the notion that you’re watching the events unfold as you would in a film.

I mentioned previously that the story unfolds over approximately ten hours, which does leave Heavy Rain open to criticism and also may dissuade some people from buying. I can wholly endorse that if you play this game to completion, you will have experienced one of the finest examples of great storytelling and acting in a video game. Replayability is an option, with three separate save files you can to replay the entire story from scratch, or selecting any chapter and enter the story at that point. This allows you to make different choices, and you can continue the game and follow them to fruition should you wish.

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Madison Paige, played by Jacqui Ainsley and voiced by Judi Beecher

It’s inevitable at some point in the review that a comparison is drawn between the game and related works of film. I’d say that the tone of Heavy Rain sits somewhere between Seven and The Fugitive. The constant rain, the grimy environments and the disturbing nature of the case makes for a dark, atmospheric and creepy feeling, but there is also an uplifting tale of redemption to behold.

If you don’t own a Playstation 3, this may be the time to take the plunge. While Heavy Rain does not have the longevity of other games, it is a great example of quality over quantity. Sony have gone out on a limb to back the development of a gaming experience like this, but the true measure of success – will people buy it? – that choice now lies firmly in your hands.

Heavy Rain scores our maximum five stars.

Five stars