Heavy Rain is an interactive, psychological drama created by French video game developer, Quantic Dream, released exclusively on the Playstation 3. It's the company's third game and the second in their line of interactive dramas, preceded by Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit) and succeeded by the 2013 title, Beyond: Two Souls. It follows the stories of four playable characters who are all involved in the investigation and pursuit of a Philadelphia serial killer named, The Origami Killer, who's victims are always young boys who're kidnapped and found drowned, with an origami figure in their hand and an orchid on their chest. The four playable characters include:
⇢ Ethan Mars: an architect with a wife and two sons.
⇢ Scott Shelby: a former police officer and marine who suffers from asthma. He is currently working as a private investigator conducting an investigation into the Origami Killer.
⇢ Norman Jayden: an FBI profiler sent from Washington to support the police force with their investigation into the Origami Killer. Jayden possesses a set of experimental augmented reality glasses that allow him to rapidly investigate crime scenes and analyse evidence. He is also struggling with an addiction to the drug triptocaine.
⇢ Madison Paige: a young photojournalist living alone in the city. Suffering from chronic insomnia and nightmares, she occasionally checks into motels, as they are the only place she can properly sleep. She eventually finds herself involved in the latest Origami Killer case, conducting her own investigations. She also becomes a good friend of Ethan's.
Heavy Rain begins with the introduction of Ethan Mars, a married architect and father of two, who proves to be the main protagonist throughout the story. The opening scene considers itself as a "tutorial" level, so to speak, as we're introduced to how gameplay works and what we can expect throughout. Ethan awakes in his bedroom to find a note from his wife, Grace, informing him she'll pick up the boys from school and then be home to prepare for the tenth birthday of their eldest son, Jason. From here, players take control of Ethan and utilise the right analogue stick on the controller for basic actions, presented over objects by an arrow, indicating in which direction or manner to move the stick. Movements such as walking is activated by using the R2 button. From the start, it's obvious that Heavy Rain, like Indigo Prophecy, isn't like normal video games where movements are with the left analogue stick and actions are either X or A (Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively).
During the opening scene, players are shown a bit of linearity where Ethan, through activating his thoughts which serve as hints and direction, suggests that he ought to take a shower before going downstairs. Should players try to go downstairs without having a shower, Ethan will stop and the camera will focus on the bathroom, blocking progress until the required action is complete. As Ethan enters the bathroom, players are shown some additional, optional actions that add to the realism and overall gameplay, including shaving, brushing his teeth, and looking at himself in the mirror. It's here where players are shown their first glimpse of the maturity in the game, where the camera zooms out to a full body capture of Ethan naked, showing his behind. It's not done in a pornographical or sexual sense, but to illustrate that as one bathes naked, one is shown doing so. Overall, I questioned if it was even necessary, considering we all know everyone showers naked and we all know what a bare butt looks like, but Quantic Dream is a French company, and we all know how open and crass the French are when it comes to nudity and the likes.
From here, players are able to further continue the scene by performing simple, yet mundane tasks around the house, most of which are beneficial as they further demonstrate the gameplay in Heavy Rain, such as quick-time events illustrated in Ethan's work on an architectural design for a client and using the motion in the Playstation 3 controller to shake the carton of orange juice. It's all done in a very realistic and non-obvious manner, which is something I really appreciated.
Not soon after the events of the tutorial, we're shown one of many foreshadowing elements in the introductory scene, where Ethan's youngest, Shaun, discovers the family bird has died. Having claimed it was his fault, Ethan reassures him by saying, "Sometimes, certain things have to happen, even if we don't want them to." In the next scene, after an unmentioned, but probably brief amount of time, the family is at the local shopping mall, which is packed with people and lots of activity. Ethan's wife, Grace, takes Shaun into a shoe department store and in the meantime, Jason wanders off without Ethan's noticing. As Ethan frantically searches the mall for him, he finds him outside, across the street from the mall looking at advertisements. Jason hears his father calling him and proceeds to inadvertently run across the street--Ethan notices an oncoming vehicle, manned by a woman on a cell phone, and charges toward Jason, tackling him to the ground. However, Jason is killed by the impact and Ethan is knocked unconscious, later revealed to have become comatose. This sets in motion the dramatic events that would later take place.
The game is divided into several scenes, each centring on one of the four playable characters. The choices the player makes or the actions performed or not performed will affect later scenes in the game. For instance, any of the playable characters can die or become detained somehow in almost any scene they're involved in--but instead of receiving an immediate "game over," the game continues on without them. The game will progress to a number of different endings depending on the sum of the player's performance even if all the characters become incapacitated in some manner.
Within all the scenes, the player can hold down a button to see what thoughts are going through the character's mind, and trigger them to hear an internal monologue on the thought, which proves to serve as helpful hints or direction should one be stumped. Some scenes impose a timer on the player, requiring them to complete the necessary actions in time to avoid the death or incapacity of that character. In other scenes, the player does not have full control of the character but must instead be prepared to respond to these icons in the manner of quick time events, such as during a hand-to-hand fight or while driving frantically on the wrong side of the road; the player does not receive a game over if these events are completed incorrectly, but may possibly alter how future scenes play out.
Additionally, the game includes a difficulty level functionality that the user can change through the menu at any point during the game. While adjusting the level will not alter the storyline of the game directly, a higher difficulty will influence the prompts, for example, requiring more inputs during sequences in order to avoid a failed action.
Heavy Rain was originally announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2006, where David Cage (CEO of QD) presented a technology demonstration simply titled, The Casting. The demo showcased a complex virtual actor, highlighting a number of expressions and motion-captured animations. Cage also used the demo to showcase various technical features of the game engine, all embedded in a brief, virtual story.
From a technological standpoint, notable features of The Casting included full body and facial motion capture, real-time tears and wrinkles on the face, advanced skin shaders as well as rendering features such as depth of field and spherical harmonics. With the technology, animations such as pupil dilation, tongue, eyes, and finger movements, and dynamic hair. Overall, the demonstration was enticing and innovative, and we knew we were in for something really immersing when the technology would be implemented into a video game. In 2008, we were finally presented with a new demonstration titled "The Taxidermist", which showcased the in-game engine and quick time event gameplay elements, as found in QD's previous title.
Heavy Rain is a remarkable experience that's immersing, gripping, and overall incredibly deep and moving. It's not for everyone, though, considering that it isn't an action game, so there won't be cover-based shootouts or anything of the sort. It's an interactive drama that takes you on a realistic and believable adventure. According to David Cage, Heavy Rain isn't meant to be played more than once, despite there being a trophy to experience all the endings: “I would like people to play it once…because that’s life. Life you can only play once...I would like people to have this experience that way.” He goes on to say, "I'm fine with [reloading to avoid a bad result], but the right way to enjoy Heavy Rain is really to make one thing because it's going to be your story. It's going to be unique to you. It's really the story you decided to write...I think playing it several times is also a way to kill the magic of it." It doesn't help much in the way of replay value, but overall, there's no denying that anyone who takes the time to experience it will not be disappointed.