For a game I’ve been dying to play all year, I’ve taken my sweet time to get around to it. For starters, I’ve only had a PlayStation 3 since September. Even then, that’s given me months to pick this game up. I’ve come very close to buying it on my own many times, but have consistently passed on it for ‘safer’ games, like Uncharted and God of War.
Thankfully, my girlfriend righted this wrong I set months ago by giving this to me as a Christmas present. Having played it to completion, I’m mad at myself for not having played this game earlier. Heavy Rain is one of the most refreshing and unique games I’ve ever played.
Heavy Rain is an adventure game that stands out for two reasons: its controls and its story. While gameplay mechanics generally aren’t the focal point of any adventure game, Heavy Rain takes a modern gameplay mechanic popularized by Shenmue and God of War and takes it to another level. In Heavy Rain, the ‘quick time event’ mechanic (QTE) is used to control virtually everything but walking.
A game about timed button presses doesn’t sound very fun, but this isn’t Dragon’s Lair. Instead, this system is used to allow players to execute a ton of unique actions, depending on the context of the situation. This can be anything from an analog stick rotation to open the fridge, to a quick button press to throw a punch, to completing an awkward series of button and analog stick inputs to complete a difficult task. All of the game’s quick time events have been smartly designed to make you feel like you’re controlling the action of your character. Some may be turned off by how the game starts out by having you control your character as he brushes his teeth and sets plates on a table for a birthday party, but I found the actions and the context behind the actions unique. If controlling how your character shaves his face sounds boring, believe me, it gets way better.
The only thing that really bothers me control-wise is character movement. Even after beating the game, character movement always felt like I was controlling a tank rather than a human. Instead of controlling your character like you would in any other third person game, you have to hold down R2 to make your character walk forward and use the left stick to steer. It feels sort of like the original Resident Evil in a way. Since the right analog stick is used for much in Quick Time Events, having a dual analog stick solution to movement wouldn’t work, either. Still, it’s going to turn people off that aren’t willing to see past it.
One other element (besides walking) that can take you out of the experience is the voice acting. For Americans, everyone seems to have a French accent. Some of the adults hide it better than others, but the kids aren’t even close to sounding American. This is clearly a symptom of a French developer hiring French voice actors to put on fake American accents and speak English. I’ve been trying to not let it get to me, but it can be distracting at times.
Where Heavy Rain truly shines is in the story department. The story of Heavy Rain revolves around a serial killer that kidnaps boys and drowns them in large puddles of rain. You take the role of one of four protagonists, depending on what part of the story you’re in; all of which have unique stories that weave in and out of each other. The character that has grabbed me the most is that of Ethan Mars, who starts out as a happy family man until something bad happens.
It’s really hard to talk about the story of this game without spoiling it, so I will try my best not to ruin it for anyone. In any case, the story of Ethan Mars is not something you’re used to seeing in a video game. How often do you play the role of a divorced man, struggling to cope with domestic tragedy? I love the fact that this game’s revolves around many mature concepts that virtually every other game before it has stayed clear of. To put it into perspective, the story in Heavy Rain plays out more like a movie than anything you’d ever see in a game. To finally see this level of maturity in games is amazing to me and I’d love to play more ‘truly mature’ games like this.
When this game is firing on all cylinders, it’s magical. There are key points in the story where the game puts wants to you feel a certain level of tension, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t dig deep under your skin. Very early on, the game puts you in a situation that would horrify you as a parent. In that one moment, the story, the story progression and all of the gameplay mechanics work in unison to immerse you into that role.
There are a number of moments like this throughout the game, many of which are tied to major consequences. You won’t be able to see all of the consequences in one play-through, but you can go back to any scene after you’ve completed it to see the different available outcomes. Unlike other games, where oftentimes the ‘wrong’ path will lead to a fail state, paths in Heavy Rain are all treated as equal. Regardless of the consequence, the story keeps going naturally.
Heavy Rain is not for everyone. As an adventure game with an initially-awkward control scheme, it’s going to put some people off. Beyond that, I can see a number of gamers shunning this game for not modeling itself after a summer blockbuster action flick. In spite of that, kudos to Sony for giving a financially-risky game like Heavy Rain a shot. What you do get here, if you give it a chance, is a video game experience that is as mature in subject matter as any movie or prime-time drama. At this point in time, I’m willing to overlook some of the game’s shortcomings because it’s doing other things I’ve never experienced in a game before and does most of them really well. I may be late to the party, but now that I’ve completed Heavy Rain, I’d say it was one of my favourite games of 2010.