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by Ethos

Heavy Rain Review – How Far Will You Go?

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Heavy Rain boxartLIKED:

-Fantastic, gritty mystery drama told from multiple angles

-Character-driven, emotional drama told from multiple angles

-The ability to alter the story dramatically, and the emotional weight your decisions carry

-Control scheme that makes the actions on-screen feel like an extension of the player

DISLIKED:

-Some awful voice acting

-Lacking facial animations

-Walking

Heavy Rain is a difficult game to review.

This is because it’s almost a stretch to classify Heavy Rain as a “videogame.” These days, videogames are often referred to as “interactive films,” but Heavy Rain takes this concept to the extreme – it’s literally a ten-hour long movie. Thankfully, Heavy Rain is a pretty damned awesome movie – and its interactive nature makes it an experience you can’t quite find anywhere else.

Heavy RainGAMEPLAY

There isn’t much to say here. Heavy Rain features literally no gameplay conventions or mechanics that can be critiqued. The gameplay is the story – they’re one and the same. You’re just there to enjoy the ride, direct the characters, make important decisions, and occasionally engage in a quick-time event.

It’s a good thing, then, that the control scheme is so tightly done. Heavy Rain succeeds fantastically in making the events on-screen feel like a natural extension of yourself. For example, a very early part of the game requires you to shave. You perform this task by nudging the right control stick in the indicated directions. However, if you do it too quickly, poor Ethan will cut himself with the razor. In another example, a character’s hands are bound. How do you bust out? Shake the DualShock up and down. After a while, it becomes intuitive what controller actions are required for certain things. It feels so natural, in fact, that you’ll find yourself wincing in pain during some of the game’s more macabre moments. However, this review is spoiler free – so go play yourself if you want to know what I mean.

My sole gripe is that the simple task of walking in Heavy Rain tends to be something of a bitch. No, seriously: the walking mechanics are just bad. You walk by holding down R2 and steering with the control stick. This wouldn’t be too horrible if the control stick inputs weren’t such a crapshoot. Painfully often, you’ll find yourself walking in the complete wrong direction, missing tight corners, and other such disorientating nuisances. It’s just a very weird control scheme, and one has to wonder what possible advantages Quantic Dream thought it would have.

Hers does too.

STORYLINE

Heavy Rain is an incredibly well-written, suspenseful, and tightly-paced thriller. The scriptwriting is fantastic, with nary a sloppy sentence to be found. The world is deliciously moody and atmospheric – sure, rain is pretty much the cheapest atmosphere buff in the books, but because of its context and importance to the plot, it really, really works in Heavy Rain – more so than anywhere else. Rain is always falling, and it’s beautiful to see.

Heavy Rain tells the story of four people and their respective struggles in the mysterious case of the Origami Killer. The killer is a psychopath who drowns his victims in rainwater, and adorns their bodies with an Orchid flower and (naturally) an origami figure. Ethan Mars is a desperate father trying to save the life of his one remaining son. Madison Paige is an insomniac journalist who meets Ethan by chance. Scott Shelby is a private investigator, looking into the case of the Origami Killer on his own. Norman Jayden is a triptocaine-addicted FBI profiler, sent to aid the police in their official investigation. The four separate narratives are weaved together perfectly to form the story as a whole.

The cast is one of Heavy Rain’s strongest points. Some characters are weaker than others, yes, but they all serve a purpose in the story, and they have strong, believable personalities. My only disappointment was in the female lead, Madison Paige. She’s a strong character, yes, but by the end of the game, I felt like I still didn’t know enough about her. Ethan Mars, on the other hand, is an extremely strong and well-developed lead protagonist – you’ll feel emotionally connected to him, and his desperate quest to save his son.

scott shelbyA lot of recent games have been about “choices,” but no game executes this concept like Heavy Ran does. Sure, it may not have the cross-game world-changing decisions that, say, Mass Effect does – but I guarantee you, few other games out there will make you doubt yourself and your actions the way Heavy Rain will. This review is spoiler-free, so I can’t go into details, but I will say this: I always thought the tagline “How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love” was cheesy and melodramatic – until I played the game. Then it made sense. While playing Heavy Rain, you’ll feel like a part of the story – and you’ll feel the weight of your actions.

But Heavy Rain’s narrative isn’t perfect. In fact, it has a few rather glaring errors that keep the game from garnering that coveted perfect score. (A perfect score on Riddlethos IS coveted, right…?) My main complaint, ironically enough, is with the voice acting.

I say “ironically” because most of Heavy Rain’s voicework is quite strong. The four main characters are all very well acted, and the actors are all refreshingly new to the medium of videogames. There are no Yuri Lowenthals or Nolan Norths to be found, which helps set Heavy Rain apart, and lend it a more believable, movie-like persona.

However, Heavy Rain contrasts these strong performances with some absolutely god-damned awful performances. And, when trying to tell a story as deep and involved as Heavy Rain’s is, you cannot afford that. You just can’t. It’s okay to have a few “mehs” here and there, but Heavy Rain has entire (very pivotal) scenes ruined by voice acting that belongs to some shitty anime dub. For example, there’s not a single acceptable child actor in the entire game. Not one. Nobody expects a child character’s voice acting to be fantastic, but in Heavy Rain, it’s downright painful. And since some of the game’s most important scenes revolve around children, this is unforgivable. Also, many of the game’s characters sound like they’re either trying to imitate or speak through some sort of accent. It’s really noticeable, somewhat obnoxious, and always annoying. At the end of the day, Heavy Rain is still a well-acted game – but that’s why the parts that aren’t are so offensive.

Also, the game’s plot does teeter out near the end. Or at least, it did for me. You can get multiple endings in Heavy Rain, and mine had to have been the worst. Play it and judge for yourself, but in a nutshell: Heavy Rain spends a little too much time building up the tension, and proceeds to break it in a rather hurried, anti-climactic fashion.

Norman JaydenGRAPHICS

Heavy Rain is a pretty game. But it’s not as pretty as was promised. Remember during this year’s CES when that rep from Sony said that “graphically, [Heavy Rain] blows Uncharted 2 out of the water”? Yeah, it doesn’t.

Still, it’s a pretty game. Environments are moody, evocative, and covered in some very well-done rain/water effects. In fact, the water is some of the best I’ve seen, rivaled only by the illustrious Uncharted 2. Character models are extremely well-detailed, and in fact, Heavy Rain may rival Uncharted 2 in this regard. Animations for the characters are also very well-done, for the most part, but this brings me to my next complaint: Heavy Rain’s facial animations are very lacking. I really wish Quantic Dream would have taken the time to tighten them up a bit, because the effect of certain scenes is dampened by facial animations that lack any noticeable emotion. Again: not really a mistake that such a story-driven experience can afford to make.

SOUND

I’ve already gone over the voice acting, so there isn’t much more to say here. I suppose I can give a shout-out to the game’s soundtrack, which is very solid, though not exactly memorable. Heavy Rain is saturated with somber piano melodies, which fit the mood very well. Aside from that, there are some bombastic orchestral cues for the more high-energy sequences, and not a whole lot else. It’s more or less what we’ve come to expect from a high-profile Western release. But it is very good.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Heavy Rain is an easy recommendation to any gamer patient enough to sit back and enjoy a good yarn. It’s an emotional, character-driven experience that makes a damn good argument for videogames as a legitimate and unique form of storytelling. The game has a few imperfections that stand out, but none of them are deal-breakers. It’s one of the most unique gaming experiences in recent memory, and it’s thoroughly engaging from start to finish. Here’s hoping it doesn’t take Quantic Dream five years to release another game.

Heavy Rain - 9.0/10

It’s Coming, It’s Coming

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

The new theme week I mean. I have to design a banner. And given the nature of the theme week, it’s a little, uh… difficult?

Let’s just say it’s hard to graphically interpret the theme of the week.

See, now I have you all psyched out and thinking this week’s going to be a big deal, when really, it’s not.

Ahem. Anyway. Until I grind this mofo out, enjoy my awesome/overstaying Heavy Rain banner.

It is awesome, right?

Impressions: Heavy Rain

Monday, March 1st, 2010

heavy-rain-1Heavy Rain is one hell of a ride.

I couldn’t think of a better way to start, because Heavy Rain is somewhat… unique. That being the case, it’s hard to discuss it and/or critique it through traditional methods. As you all know, there is very little actual “gameplay” in Heavy Rain. It’s one big interactive movie that you control through contextual button-presses and quick time-ish events.
That may sound utterly unappealing, but Heavy Rain is never dull -  it just requires a more open-minded player who is ready to experience a deep and involving storyline. Those who seek ball-to-the-walls action need not apply.

So, what is it that makes Heavy Rain so much fun to play? The storyline and the characters, and the way that you, as a player, affect how things unfold. Heavy Rain is a first-rate thriller that mixes gritty detective drama with more personal, human themes that run deep. Four separate story threads are woven together seamlessly to create a cinematic and emotional adventure that you won’t be able to tear yourself away from.

Caution – minor spoilers may follow. (And I promise they are indeed minor.)

This guy's life sucks.

This guy's life sucks.

Heavy Rain opens very slowly, introducing you to the character Ethan Mars and his family. You literally spend the first two hours or so performing mostly mundane tasks, such as setting dinner tables, helping your son with homework, and reheating pizza in the microwave. As dull as this sounds, you’ll soon realize how important this leisurely introduction is to connecting us with Ethan Mars and his trials throughout the course of the game. And this is true for all similarly “normal” or slow portions of the game – it’s all for the sake of developing a strong cast of characters, and Heavy Rain succeeds brilliantly in this regard.

But you certainly don’t spend all of your time in Heavy Rain nuking leftovers. There are more intense scenarios to be experienced. For example, there are fight scenes which can end in a variety of different ways, depending on your performance. There are detective sequence that see you piecing together clues left behind by the enigmatic Origami Killer. There are sequences that will make you perform decidedly painful or disturbing tasks – such as crawling through a maze laced with broken glass.

Hers does too.

Hers does too.

And yes, a lot of these scenarios are laced together through quick-time events. However, these are far, far more forgivable than they are in, say, God of War. (See Ethos’ Sunday Soapbox below). For one, most actions in the game aren’t done through “quick-time.” Slower, more deliberate actions require more deliberate contextual actions, simply requiring you to hold down certain buttons or clicking the control stick in the right direction. So, to call Heavy Rain “QTE, The Game” isn’t an accurate statement any way you slice it. The actual quicktime events feel appropriately integrated and fun, instead of random and out-of-place. Also, when you miss a cue in one of Heavy Rain’s QTEs, you aren’t presented with a messy death animation and a loading screen. Instead, the events play out differently depending on how well you follow the button prompts. Heavy Rain’s control scheme succeeds brilliantly in making you, the player, feel immersed in the role of each character. Certain sequences will, for lack of a better term, make you feel their pain. Literally.

Heavy Rain is not a game to be missed, so long as you’re the type who can enjoy a slightly higher-concept, story-driven adventure. I’ll be completing the game and reviewing it with my full thoughts soon.

WEEK EXTENSION NOTICE

Monday, March 1st, 2010

heavy-rain-1Loyal readers,

Let it henceforth be known that Riddlethos.com’s Heavy Rain week will be extended by ONE (1) day. A new theme week will debut Tuesday.

I will NOT let Andogo outshine me on the Heavy Rain about-writing this week.

I will not.

Thank you, that is all. Heavy Rain impressions coming later.

Sunday Soapbox: Accepted Idiocy

Monday, March 1st, 2010

If you all keep up with the best feature on the entire site, Scatter Storming, you’ll know that I just (basically) started and finished the God of War Collection version of God of War 2 over the past few days. I’m not going to revisit my impressions, but know that they were generally quite positive.

god-of-war-collection-funI give that warning because the issues I have with the God of War series rattle me to my core as a gamer. God of War 2 ups the ante with better puzzles, better environments while maintaining its deep combat, but then beats the player over the head with absolutely inane mechanics. I understand that there needs to be a visual response to prove that Kratos is a badass, but holding the R1 button to watch a short treasure chest opening animation sets the mood without the necessity to button-mash just to open most of the doors. Hastening the inevitable arrival of arthritis to my hands really doesn’t make me feel like Kratos is really strong, but just cramps my hand and makes me really annoyed. There isn’t a single thing about the mechanic that adds anything to the experience. It’s not thematically relevant, it doesn’t require skill, it doesn’t require choice, it doesn’t add depth to the story or mood, it’s just flat out annoying as shit. I’m aware that the timing is a factor in some time-based puzzles, but there are better ways – that the game actually employs on occasion – to add an intense finale to such a type of puzzle.

god-of-war-collection-colossusIf that’s not bad enough, the series decides to maintain its absolutely idiotic quick-time event mechanic. It needs to go, no question. Especially because the second game actually has better boss fights that require some thinking to defeat, so there’s more to them than just slashing away on easy mode. That should be the sort of trial and error that large battles require: educated guesses on how to find a clever way to the boss’ weak spot. Definitely NOT missing a quick button press or mash resulting in instant death and a rematch. After using skill and deductive thinking to defeat an enemy, it is counter intuitive to rest the outcome on a semi-randomly generated quick-time event. Darksiders got it right when after a well-fought battle, you were treated to a God of War-esque brutal kill animation, except that it was a reward. You were able to actually watch the kill play out and feel like you earned it, not be too focused on goddamn mother fucking quick time events to appreciate the awesomeness of the sequence.

The strange thing is that God of War seems to be praised for popularizing this “technique”. Chris Roper of IGN’s review of the second game mentions the switch to the circle button instead of R1 for opening doors, but doesn’t cite either as a detriment to the gameplay, and there isn’t even a cautionary mention in the closing comments or subscore summaries. Just because the rest of the game is really well put together does not excuse such asinine mechanics. I will go as far to say that it is the anti-gaming mechanic.

Well that’s it for my first Sunday Soapbox. It’s fun to let my already annoyingly strong opinions loose!

Hey! Look! Listen!

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

HLLfinal

I’m baaaaaack!

Or, HLL is back, I should say. I feel like it’s been weeks since I sat down and wrote one of these things… and that’s probably because it has been. We did have the debut of the Audio Edition last Tuesday, if you recall (I’m sure it’s impossible to forget, as much as you’d probably like to) but HeyLookListen started as a written column, and those will never go away.

Now, will we see more audio editions in the future? Well, I can’t give any specifics at the moment (largely because I don’t know them myself) but I think it’s safe to say that you haven’t heard the last of HLL.

Get it? Heard the last? I’m implying that, y’know… there’ll be more audio editions.

Anyway. Let’s get on with it.

SamusMetroid: Other M Demoed, Dated

Nice. I’ve always been a strange breed of Metroid fan, but a fan nonetheless. I really love Metroid Prime 1+2, but I never did get into 3. I played Super Metroid all the way up to Ridley’s lair, and then for some reason, stopped playing forever. And that’s the extent of my Metroid experience.

We haven’t heard shit about Other M for almost a solid year until now, and it’s looking like a day one purchase for me. The concept intrigued me when it was first unveiled, and after reading through the slew of impressions now floating around the interwebs, I’m all but sold. For once, it looks like Nintendo is doing something very, very different, and that alone is enough to interest me.

For your convenience, I’ve provided links to gushy, fanboyish impressions from IGN (in which Matt Casamassina literally quotes all the dialog from the demo) as well as slightly more objective impressions from Kotaku. Both, however, seem to love the game. Other M has been confirmed for a June 27 release date in North America. Can’t wait.

And who knows, maybe I’ll finish up Prime 3 for posterity’s sake before then.

mediaMario Galaxy 2 Demoed, Dated

Hey, this headline is the same as the last one… except it’s Mario Galaxy 2 instead of Metroid.

I suppose I could have mentioned the fact that the Nintendo Media Summit just took place. Hence these two announcements. I’ve really never had much interest in Mario games of any kind, but Galaxy 2 is looking pretty sweet. For a Mario game. And that’s my educated opinion, after watching the trailer and not reading these Kotaku impressions I’m about to link you to. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve also provided the newest trailer for the game below.

Oh, and uh… here’s the boxart.

UR MI AY...? Whut? "UR MR GAY" was so much more straightforward.

UR MI AY...? Whut? "UR MR GAY" was so much more straightforward.

ffxiiiFinal Fantasy XIII is an 18 GB Install on 360

That’s between all three discs, naturally. Ve3tro.com was nice enough to provide exact sizes for all three discs:

  • Disc 1: 5.9GB
  • Disc 2: 5.8GB
  • Disc 3: 6.6GB

18.3 GB in total. Of course, it’s entirely optional to install. And it’s worth noting that the PS3 version sizes in at about 38 GB, so it literally more than twice the size of its 360 counterpart. And it’s all on one disc, too! Oh, the beauty of Blu-Ray.

heavy-rain-1New Line Optioned Heavy Rain Film

And, in fact, it’s technically still an “option,” as it were. Waaay back in 2006/2007, New Line Cinema (y’know, the people who distributed the Lord of the Rings movies) filed a “Short Form Option” for Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain. All this really means is that they have the option to make one, should such a thing be feasible. It has no financial contracts therein. The filing was discovered by internet sleuth Superannuation.

So really, this is nothing at all to get worked up about, just an interesting bit of trivia. And also a reminder that development on Heavy Rain really did start a looong time ago… now that I think about it, I do seem to remember the game being shown off before the PS3 had even been released. It’s been a long time coming.

On that note, I apologize for the complete lack of Heavy Rain-related content on Riddlethos this week. It’s been a little difficult, getting back from 8 days in Toronto and readjusting to normalcy. But I promise to have something written and posted before this week ends. Look for it!

Scatter Storming. Issue #021

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

ss021Hello! Welcome to a very belated issue of Scatter Storming! While some of the lateness is indeed due to laziness/Olympics, I was also working on the new look for the series. I’m actually a fan and I think it might stick around for longer than 10 issues, but we’ll see. For this new “magazine” series, I’ve opted out of titles because it didn’t seem to fit, although I am required to make the cover after I write the issue for it to work, and therefore this blurb is the last thing to go in. It’s all new around here! Anyway, let’s dig in!

God of War 2 -
After watching Riddles play a healthy chunk of the game while in Toronto, I decided to pick up God of War 2 where I left off…practically at the beginning. I’m a little further than where Riddles got to, and I’ve been able to fill in the gaps made when just observing from those times when I went to make food or take a pee break or whatever. The point is that I can easily say that I like God of War 2 more than 1. The locations are more interesting, it looks better, and it’s just a generally more polished experience. However, the series is still not much more than “pretty good” to me. It’s fun and epic, and the combat is polished and surprisingly deep, but there’s not much personality otherwise. Sure, Kratos is a badass and kills everyone he sees, but despite his tragic past, I feel no connection to him. I like the idea of playing as a sort of anti-hero, but Kratos comes across as one-dimensional to me. The CGI cut-scenes are a treat to watch, and the series certainly knows epic like the back of its hand, but there’s nothing really in the way of mood or personality. Add that to continuously annoying quick-time events and absolutely pointless button-mashing required to open many doors, I just can’t bring myself to call the games fantastic, incredible, or anything past “pretty good”. I’m glad I bought the collection, and I’m glad I’m quickly on my way to beating both titles, and I’ll buy God of War 3 and very likely like it quite a bit, but unless the end of God of War 2 gives me the most amazing 5 hours of gaming I’ve ever experienced, I expect my view on the adored series to remain the same.

I WANT MOAR GAMEZ 2 PLAY! -
Seriously, I’ve resorted to the type of “English” that makes me want to hurl babies off of cliffs. That’s how badly it frustrates me that Final Fantasy XIII comes out right after this ridiculously long break from work. It’s obviously not that bad. I have God of War 2, Magna Carta 2, Final Fantasy VI, Folklore, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, and Brutal Legend all in my collection waiting to be beaten. Wow, that’s actually a sizable list. What the hell am I complaining about? I must seem like a spoiled asshole. I better do something quickly to make me look good!

You all get free pizza! -
With extra cheese and chocolate covered pepperoni!

Okay, I lied -
No pizza for any of you. But at least I distracted you all from whatever I was trying to distract you from!

That’s it! My pride in this new cover look is enough to distract me from my depression created from Riddles’ departure. …for now…

Blah, Back in TN

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

It’s true.

My apologies for the delay of Scatter Storming. It looks like Ethos was just so depressed at my departure that he couldn’t bring himself to do anything Riddlethos-related, which I suppose I can understand.

Anyway, I wish I was here to provide some Heavy Rain impressions – seeing that it is, after all, Heavy Rain Week – but I’ve yet to play it since I’ve arrived home. I’m about to go play for an hour or so now, but then I must leave for WORK.

Stupid work. Stupid TN. Stupid vacation being over. Stupid, stupid STUPID.

On a random, shameful note, I’m approximately 97% certain that I just got swindled by a magazine peddler. Don’t ask for details, because they’re literally too embarrassing to divulge. My only excuse is that I was barely awake.

(Stupid magazine peddlers.)

Hee-haww

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

You’ll get a belated Scatter Storming tomorrow.
For now, I’ve got knives in my eyes, I’m going home sick.
brick_photo

Save Data Should Never Be Locked (#Heavy Rain)

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
Thanks PS3Blog.net for the image and for their list of locked PS3 saves.

Thanks PS3Blog.net for the image and for their list of locked PS3 saves.

As you’re all well aware, it’s Heavy Rain week. It’s another week I’ll be soloing, since I’m more interested in the game than Ethos is – hence why I went to buy it today while Ethos did not.

As the title implies, things haven’t quite gone according to plan. It began when I went to buy it this afternoon. I walked to what seems to be the only GameStop in Toronto (they’re a bit behind on the EB/GameStop switch) with the intent of buying it so I could play it immediately – despite having it reserved back in TN.

Right before I walked in, some sketchy-looking fuck with a rat’s nest on his head and a backpack full of games stepped up to the register and said he wanted to trade a few games for credit. Whilst I stood and waited, I heard him ask, seemingly on a whim: “do you guys have any copies of Heavy Rain left?” And to my dismay, the GameStop clerk answered: “yeah, we have one non-pre-order copy we’re selling.”

I wasn’t happy, needless to say – I asked again to make absolutely sure they had no other copies to sell. The clerk said “no,” and that next time I should pre-order. I replied that I did, in fact, have it pre-ordered- back in the states. They didn’t care.

Although, the dude who was stealing my copy did say I could come over to his place. As long as I “stayed out of his pot.” (I quote.) I politely declined.

Anyway. As fate would have it, a store across the street called Sonic Boom had a solitary copy hidden away, which I found and snagged. Along with $100+ worth of other shit. (Hey, it was an awesome store.)

SO. After coming home, performing the 5GB install, going back out, getting some wings, and coming back home, I finally started playing Heavy Rain.

(Not sure why I keep referring to Ethan’s house as “home,” but we’re going to let that slide for now.)

As certain reviews have stated, the opening to Heavy Rain is slow. Really, really slow. You spend the entirety of it performing mundane tasks such as brushing your teeth, setting tables, and reheating pizza in the microwave. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it – it’s clear that the slow opening is needed to establish whatever dark murder mystery Heavy Rain has in store for me – but it certainly requires a bit of perseverance.

So after playing for about an hour and half (and, incidentally, finally reaching a part that seemed semi-interesting) I decided I’d better check to ensure that I could transfer my save to a USB key before I played any further.

And guess what? Like Dragon Age, and a few other random PS3 titles, Heavy Rain’s save data is locked. Why is it locked? Why is the save data for ANY game locked, ever, for any reason?

Hell if I know. But of course, the one game I buy in Canada won’t let me take my progress back to TN. I’d love to give you proper Heavy Rain impressions right now, but thanks to Quantic Dream and their draconian save-locking ways, I can’t. Because I can’t play any further. Because I have to go back to TN tomorrow.