Video games have always been viewed as a lesser form of entertainment. When most people think about video games, the first things that come to mind are jocks sitting round killing people with guns or kids and housewives playing tennis with a small white rectangle. Heavy Rain is here to try to change that opinion. There haven’t been many games that offer the rich character based storytelling and emotional involvement that Heavy Rain has. Even though the story is flawed in places, it doesn’t distract from the fact that Heavy Rain’s story will toy with ever emotion you have as a human being.
The story centers on Ethan Mars, whose son has been kidnapped by the Origami killer and will be found dead in five days time unless Ethan or any of the other characters can find him. As well as Ethan, there are three other characters you will play as during the course of the game. Scott Shelby is a private detective, who has been hired to find the killer by the families of the Origami Killer’s eight other victims, Madison Page is an insomniac photographer who can only fall asleep at motels and Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler who has been drafted in by the police department to help with the case. While each of these characters has their own story, the overall plot arc is to find the killer and save Ethan Mars’s son. It’s very impressive how the developers have been able to incorporate so many sub plots into the overall plot arc and have them pass into each other. One of my main problems with the game though, is that there are many plot holes. There is a lot of evidence that the police have failed to notice, even though the investigation has been running for three years, there is one case of misdirection, towards the end of the game, that is very farfetched. Overall, the story is consistent, offering you heart pounding action sequences and tense situations to confront. Many other reviewers have said that it is like playing through a film but it’s more akin to a serial drama or miniseries on the television.
Usually when reviewing video games you will talk about the voice acting but for Heavy Rain it is acceptable to talk about the acting itself. Each of the main characters are preformed perfect with very believable and natural performances though out. The supporting cast is hit or miss but overall they are very believable as well, even though their stories are not as fleshed out as the main characters. The most impressive aspect of the characters is how much you will care about them. This game is all about choices and for some of those choices you will find yourself pausing the game and really thinking about what path you want to take, not for yourself but for the character. By the end of the game you will care that Ethan finds his son and you will want revenge on whoever the killer is for putting him through this ordeal. If you don’t then congratulations, you’re dead inside. In the later part of the game any of the main characters can die, unlike other games though the story keeps going. If a character does die, you will feel remorse for them and will want to try playing that scene through again to see if you can save them but you shouldn’t. Your first play through of this game is the most important moment of your gaming life. You will bond with these characters, learn their flaws and inconsistencies, everyone will have a different opinion of each of them because of the choices you make in the game. It’s all well and good replaying the game to see what the different outcomes are but don’t do it on your first play through, as that will alter your initial story and ruin your impression of them. This has been noted as being a flaw in the game, as when replaying it your opinions of the characters will change but this isn’t the case. The first play through is the one that you will stick in your mind, as this is the one that will have the most emotional impact on you. When replaying, you’re not altering your opinion on the characters, as that opinion has already been made, you’re just seeing what the other outcomes would be if played differently.
Reading those paragraphs back it does sound like this could be a review for a new film but it’s a video game review, so let’s talk about the game aspects. The gameplay in Heavy Rain is a series of quicktime events, where you will press buttons on your controller when prompted to do so. These can range from stopping a car that you are driving down a speeding motorway from crashing, to the very mundane such as carrying the shopping into the kitchen. It is amazing though, how this system actually makes you feel like you are moving the character. There’s a sequence early on in the game where a character needs to climb a small hill to search for evidence. You will press a button then another button them let go of the first button and press a third button while holding down the second button and repeat until you are at the top. This sequence really shows how involved the control system makes you feel with these characters. However, when your character is in a sequence that involves them walking around the controls take a hit. You use the left analogue stick to move your head and then press R2 to make your character walk in that direction, sound simple, it’s not. Many times, you will find yourself spinning on the spot or not going in the right direction you want to be. This factor of the game really does detract from the overall experience especially in sequences where you are running away from someone. The camera can also be problematic at some points but all you usually need to do is switch to the other camera angle.
Heavy Rain’s presentation is both its greatest strength and weakness. You will experience a fair amount of glitches especially screen tearing or in some serious cases the game will freeze. This doesn’t overshadow the fact that Heavy Rain is one of the most realistic games ever made. From the character models small facial twitches to the scale and beauty of some of the locations, everything in this game is an absolute joy to behold. The amount of detail in every aspect of the graphics is eye watering to the extent that you will be able to make out the pours on characters faces. This aesthetic needs to be seen to be believed, the rain effects alone make this game one of the most visually stunning ever seen. The whole game has a very noir feel to it with light being used very intelligently to create an atmosphere of depression that complements the characters. Even when in brightly lit areas, the noir theme that runs through the game is present because of the changing camera angles and colour pallet. Sound is used to its full advantage with a fully orchestrated soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in a big budget Hollywood movie. You will experience earth-shattering scores of music that will charge your emotions as well as terrify you. No other game has such an emotionally involved soundtrack and it always reflects the action that is happening in the scene brilliantly.
Everything in this game is there to reinforce what the developers set out to do, to make a game that revolves around the story. They set out to make a game that will emotionally involve you in the story while making you emphasize with the characters. Not only does this game fully succeed in that aspect but it goes further than that by actually making the player put themselves into the characters, making the choices you make for them more personal than any game that has come before. From the amount of sheer visual splendor to the involving design scheme, everything you do in this game will stay with you forever. It’s not a perfect game by far, the plot points will make some people feel detached from the story as well as the annoying movement system but it doesn’t distract from the fact that by the end of this game you will truly care about the outcomes of each of these characters. To those people that still want to say that video games are a lesser form of entertainment, Heavy Rain is here to prove to you that games can be just as emotional involving as anything else in the entertainment industry.