-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
-Some awful voice acting
-Lacking facial animations
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
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.