Reviewed: March 12, 2010
Released: February 23, 2010
Adventure games are the "missing link" in the evolution of video games. With all of the intense action and FPS titles dominating the market most of us forget that it all got started more than 30 years ago with text-adventures like Zork; one of the first games I ever played on a TRS-80. And with the advent of video cards and more powerful computers we were able to experience graphical adventures like Kings Quest and a host of other adventure titles mostly coming from publishers like Sierra Online and LucasArts.
Over the past decade consoles have replaced the PC as the primary game delivery system and adventure games have all but dried up, most coming from European developers and receiving very little attention in the media or on retail shelves. A few have reached the spotlight; games like Myst, Sybiera, The Longest Journey, and Indigo Prophecy, and some of these have even made the transition to console. It’s been nearly five years since Quantic Dream dazzled us with Indigo Prophecy on the PC, Xbox, and PS2, and now they are back to change the face of adventure gaming for a whole new generation on the PS3.
Heavy Rain is a bold step forward in interactive cinema, so bold that it may actually evolve into its own genre as I hesitate to even classify this as your standard action-adventure title. Sure, you walk around looking for items and engage in endless conversation topics with a cast of unique characters; all staples of the adventure genre, but you do so in such a way that at no time do you feel you are playing a game. You are totally immersed in the story and you totally become the character you are playing.
Heavy Rain tells the story of several characters, all caught up in the web of intrigue surrounding a rash of serial child murders from a man known only as the Origami Killer. Characters include a loving father trying to find his missing son, a portly detective investigating the murders, a female reporter writing a story about the murders, and a young hotshot FBI agent called in to consult for the local authorities. As you progress through the numerous acts and chapters of the story you will play these various characters all working toward the same goal.
When most people think of adventure games they think of lengthy dialogue trees, lots of pixel hunting to find objects on the screen, and perhaps some clumsy navigation controls for walking around. Heavy Rain only falls victim to the latter with movement controls that are as unwieldy as a Resident Evil game. You actually walk by holding down the R2 trigger, almost like a throttle, then steer with the analog stick. Your direction can easily be tripped up by objects in the room or even sudden camera angle changes.
As for the other pitfalls, there are no real hidden objects lurking in the gorgeous backgrounds of Heavy Rain. Items are fairly obvious; especially if you are playing the FBI agent with the cool CSI shades that can ID tire tracks, bloodstains and random bits of DNA. For everyone else without the high-tech shades, you simply walk near an object that can be used and a button prompt appears.
Then we have the dialogue. Thousands of lines of fantastic dialogue all performed by a cast of carefully chosen and wonderful actors. In many adventure games I simply dread knowing that I will have to wade through endless conversation trees, exhausting all topics before moving on, but Heavy Rain does it quite differently. Rather than picking exactly what you want to say you pick an attitude or an emotion and your character will say something appropriate and the other person responds. It creates a very natural and improvisational flow to each encounter and allows you to steer the conversation with some often-unexpected results. Characters also have an inner monologue, allowing you to pop-up a menu of ideas that swirl around their head and give you tips on what to do next.
And then we have those infamous QTE’s. I supposed my first “quick time event” was playing Dragon’s Lair back in the 80’s but they ultimately evolved into a popular gaming convention in games like Shenmue, God of War, Indigo Prophecy, and countless others. It’s getting hard to find any game that doesn’t have some sort of button-mashing sequence buried in it somewhere, but Heavy Rain takes it to a whole new level by making most of the game one giant QTE, but at an elevated level.
First off, the on-screen action is often directly keyed into the analog movement of the controls so if you move a stick slowly the action on the screen unfolds at that same speed. This adds a certain level of immersive control and finesse to the gameplay. When things get more frantic, like in a fight sequence, you’ll have to quickly match button presses and stick movements and even some SIXAXIS controller shakes to successfully complete the event.
But unlike most other games that use QTE’s, there is no real failure in Heavy Rain. Sure, you can win a trophy for nailing all the QTE’s in the game, but there is also a level of acceptable failure. In an early fight sequence with an angry boyfriend you are allowed to miss several button presses and still win the fight, but with a slightly different result, like a black eye. If you miss too many buttons the boyfriend wins the fight with yet another outcome. Most games use QTE’s as a pass/fail test, but Heavy Rain actually uses them to steer the narrative through seemingly endless parallel paths through a complex multiverse.
That’s not to say you cannot die in Heavy Rain. It is quite possible to have one or more characters get killed and if that happens you will miss out on any of their future chapters. While the ultimate story and climax never changes, there are several possible outcomes to Heavy Rain and countless paths to arrive at those endings with all sorts of subtle narrative nuances, ultimately turning this 8-hour adventure into something you can play over and over again, and there are numerous trophies to encourage doing so. Plus, their is future downloadable content on the way including a Taxidermist chapter that should be available at the time of this review to extend your time with Heavy Rain.
In addition to QTE’s you also have these challenging button combos that I compare to a game of Twister for your fingers. They involve holding down a series of buttons in sequence, so to nimbly step through a web of electrical wires you might have to press X, then circle, then L1, then L2, then square, keeping each button held down until the sequence completes. And finally, you have the rapid-tap input where you furiously tap the indicated button to fill up the shaded box within the time limit. For those of you with limited dexterity or no tolerance for QTE’s, you can change up the difficulty for the game increasing timers and your margin for error.
The SIXAXIS motion control is put to admirable use, mostly for rapid shakes or a swift jerk to the left or right, but you also get to use the controller as a steering wheel for an exciting car and motorcycle sequence and as a balance controller to walk a beam. For those with a DualShock 3, you’ll also get plenty of relative rumble feedback. I can only imagine how this game would play if they do an update for Sony's upcoming motion controllers.
The presentation for Heavy Rain is nearly flawless with some stunning mo-cap work, not only for overall character movement and subtle character traits and idle animations, but also in the detailed facial capture and lip-synch. You can even unlock and watch some of the behind-the-scenes footage in the Extras menu. Admittedly, most of the design focus went into the characters and the backgrounds become mere artistic set dressing. They look good, just not as good as the people inhabiting them. A virtual director captures all the action and storytelling from just the right camera angle, but often you might need a new perspective, so tapping L1 will give you an alternate angle on the scene that just may offer up some new clues.
As previously mentioned, the voice acting is excellent for the most part. There are a few clumsy line deliveries and it seems that only a few people can properly pronounce the word “origami”. The sound effects are amazing, especially the falling rain, which if played on a surround system will have you believing its actually raining outside. The score is perfectly suited for the game with emotionally driving moments that kick in to suspense and action sequences. It’s all presented with a technically proficient Dolby Digital and uncompressed DTS mix.
I encourage everyone to go into Heavy Rain with the same mindset you would if you were watching a movie or reading a good mystery novel. This is interactive entertainment and goes way beyond any typical gaming genre we are used to, even surpassing the adventure genre it claims to be. Heavy Rain blurs the lines of digital entertainment with an emotional and engaging story that is sure to appeal to the broadest scope of gamer. I highly recommend.