I want to start off by saying that I have been following the developement of Heavy Rain ever since the casting trailer was released in 2006. I had played Indigo Prophecy (Farenheit) from Quantic Dream and was really looking forward to what they would bring to the table next.
Heavy Rain is a game like no other. You take the role of 4 different characters all with very different backgrounds but all looking at trying to catch the famous Origami Killer. The main selling point of this game is that you take the decisions and you have to live with the consequences of these decisions. Basically you mold the story with the actions you take with all the characters you play as. There are no "game over" situations. If one of your character dies, the story continues without this character. If all the characters die, the story ends and you will have experienced one of the many possible endings to this story. I think most N4G readers know all this stuff anyway so I'll go right away with the review.
Graphics: This is one of the best looking game ever made. Obviously the fact that it's not very complex in terms of physics, the developpers could put more efforts in making the different visual effects absolutely realistic. The character models are really well made, almost photorealistic. Although the animations when the player is in control look stiff, overall they did a good job during the QTE (more on the quick time events later) sequences with the motion capture. I also was absolutely stunned by the realism when surrounded by a crowd. Every individual had a unique look and unique animation. It really gave a sense of life to those scenes. There is a little bit of screen tearing but it doesn't really affect the gameplay and the appreciation towards the look of the game.
Audio: This game is story driven, so it was really important to make sure that the music and voice acting was of movie quality. Sadly there are a few inconsistencies in that departement. I really have nothing to say about the music. I was once told that if you can't hear it, it's a good thing, it means that it really suits the mood to the action going on in the game. My problem is with the voice acting. Most actors in the English version do a great job but some characters seem completely lifeless. The one that comes to mind is the FBI agent Norman Jayden. The voice acting for that character is absolutely terrible. When I compare him with the other characters, the gap is too big and makes the game less believable.
Gameplay: The main controversy surrounding Heavy Rain was in its controls. It's hard to find a control scheme that will allow you to change a baby's diaper, dance at a club, apply make up and fight goons. The best way possible according to Quantic Dream was via button prompts that were contextual to the different situations. You can walk around by pressing R2 and the left stick determines the direction of where you walk. If there is anything in your surroundings that you can interact with, you will see an arrow pointing to it. You use the right stick to interact with the different elements. When facing different situations like mentionned above, it will trigger a QTE sequence. Those QTEs are very contextual, in the event where you have to apply make up, you have to do it slowly. You can also be asked to press a button as fast as possible, you also will have to press a certain button repeatedly really fast. Finally and the coolest aspect of the controls, is that sometimes you will be required to press more than one button at a time. While this might look easy, it can definitely become challenging (Try pressing O then X then L1 then triangle). Also if you're not familiar with the PS3 controller, there are three different levels of difficulty. This can allow casual gamers to enjoy the game as well. Although the level of interactivity is limited because of the way the controls are set up, it was really the only possible way to make this game work.
The story of this game is very interesting and the way it unfolds, really kept me going for many consecutive hours. It was hard to put the controller down. Some decisions were really tough to make and really got me thinking about what I would do if I was in the character's shoes. In that sense, Heavy Rain really was able to acheive something that not many games can. I cared about these characters, and really wanted Ethan to find his son and find who the Origami Killer was. Another cool aspect of this game is the fact that you can play the game again and see the consequences if you take different decisions. It adds a little bit of replay value but it's not different enough to make it a new experience.
Although the overall experience was positive for me, there are definitely things that are frustrating about this game. My main problem is the fact that there are too many filler scenes. Most of the scenes will play out the same way no matter what you do or have decisions with little to no impact on the story. The actions you take are basically simply there to stretch the playtime of the game, and could have simply been cutscenes. Speaking of the playtime, 8 hours is about the time it took me to finish this title. It's in the norm of most single player experiences but with so much filler, it could have been cut down to much less than that.
To wrap it up, I wish developers will look at Heavy Rain and see it as an opportunity to develop games that are very story driven and allow the player to mold the story through its actions. I can't wait for someone to come up with a sandbox experience similar to Heavy Rain, where you are confronted to either meet a witness or go to diner with your girlfriend, and finally wind up with a car accident... Sales at retail for Heavy Rain will determine if we can expect growth in that genre.