Basically no-one in Heavy Rain uses an umbrella, even though, as its title suggests, its raining all the fucking time. Though thats not really particularly important, on the other hand Heavy Rain may be. It’s a flagship title that doesnt fall into an easily labelled box. Depending on how it does it could even be taken as an example of how computer games are growing as an entertainment medium.
Heavy Rain is primarily interesting in the way it stretches what we consider a game to be. While the term game is extremely broad when it comes to computer games there is a basic framework that we expect games to adhere to. Heavy Rain largely ignores this framework, instead following a framework closer to that of a movie or novel. Yet, it almost certainly cant be categorised as an interactive movie/novel as these things already exist and are nowhere near as interactive as Heavy Rain. The game labels itself as interactive drama, which sounds similar the things listed in the previous sentence, but in play turns out to be very different.
To quickly get it out of the way I’ll breifly address two of the least important, but most talked about, elements of the game. Yes, the graphic’s are very nice, particularly the facial textures. There are some areas, clothes spring to mind, where the graphics are still good but nowhere near as awesome as the faces. However other games have awesome graphics and while theyre nice I wonder how necessary they really are. The second thing is the voice acting, which has been somewhat lambasted across the vast, pointless plains of the internet. I think people are exaggerating. Most of the main characters voice actors are competent to good, most major “NPC’s” are equally well voiced (with some grating exceptions such as Lauren who sounds mildly retarded). However the voice acting for all children in the game is fucking shocking, so much so that it fostered in me a longing to see said children die. Luckily quite a few of them do.
Now to get back to discussing the interesting stuff. As I alluded to in the second paragraph Heavy Rain doesnt feel like a normal game. From the control system to the presentation it tries to immerse you fully into the character you are playing. To a large extent it succeeds in doing this. However, perhaps ironically, the major impediment to this is the fact that you’re expecting Heavy Rain to be a videogame. So while the game expects you (and I think, in terms of narrative rewards you) to make decisions based on what your interpretation of the character will or should do; the fact that you are consciously playing “a computer game” sometimes compromises the “narrative integrity” of these choices. There were certainly moments in the game where I made decisions because I Mick wanted to see or do something as opposed to whether they made sense for the character to do. Looking back I sort of regret doing so.
While the control system works subtley to immerse you in the character it is at times not particularly smooth and at other times overly demanding. Particulalry in the later stages of the game you’ll need to be on the ball (or perhaps just properly awake) in order to insure the story goes in the direction you want. However these minor irritations are more than compensated by the sense of immsersion the controls generate. The micromanagement nature of the control system really brings you into the action and makes actions I’d simply shrug at in other games actively disturbing in this one.
Which is where I think the real entertainment lies in Heavy Rain. It adroitly combines film based storytelling with computer game based interaction and leverages the resulting product to ellicit powerful responses in the player. While some of the pathos in the game struck me as off-key (possibly because I dislike children and have exactly zero paternal instincts) there were some moments that generated genuine emotional responses, across a nice spectrum of emotion at that.
Aside from the unique way it engages with the player Heavy Rain is also a decent, if perhaps not great, murder mystery. The mystery itself is interesting and has some nice twists. The characters are all pretty interesting, even the minor ones. The only thing I found annoying was that three quarters of the characters you play start in media res and the game doesnt do a great job of filling you in on who exactly they are. Perhaps thats something that will be addressed in the DLC.
The game is a decent length, clocking in at around ten to twelve hours. It also, in theory, has a decent amount of replay value. But playing through it again feels sort of like “cheating”. I remember reading a bit of an interview where the games creator said he simply wanted people to play through it once and take that play experience as their version of Heavy Rain. Which I found laughable at the time, but after playing the game I can certainly see where he’s coming from. The second impediment to multiple playthroughs is that I feel the second time through a lot of the novel but unimportant elements would grate and I wonder just how different you can make the story.
If you are interested in the game then I strongly suggest you download the demo and give it a go. If the demo doesnt sell you on it then I’d suggest renting or borrowing it as opposed to buying it. If you do play it I’d suggest trying to set aside a few large chunks of playtime for it as it isnt a game suitable for “episodic” play. Playing it in small chunks feels a lot like continuously pausing a movie and ruins the momentum and flow of the game.
Listening to: The National - Patterns of Fairytales