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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Games | [ssba]

Heavy Rain—PS3

Heavy Rain was released in late February this year to massive critical acclaim and sales of well over a milllion copies—boosted in part by the simultaneous release of the pricedropped PS3 Slim. It touts itself as the first modern “interactive movie”, something that many games have been striving for (to some extent) since the format was created.

Heavy Rain is the third game from French studio Quantic Dream, and was introduced to the gaming public with a tech demo demonstrating the tremendous amount of facial detail able to be represented by the in-game engine. The game uses a unique control scheme wherein movements of the control stick and presses of buttons correspond to on-screen action. This has been done before—most notably in Fahrenheit, Quantic Dream’s second game—but Heavy Rain manages to dodge most of the jankiness you often run into in quick-time events through the use of a difficulty level that exclusively deals with player input. It’s a lot easier for an action sequence to be compelling when you’re not having to focus on remembering a series of flashing lights.

So does it succeed? Well, yes and no. To this day, I can probably only think of fewer than ten games that reach anywhere near the narrative complexity (and maturity) of a trade paperback—and I’d be reluctant to include Heavy Rain in this canon. Even though the story itself is on par with a better-than-average Cold Case episode, the way in which it is presented to you adds a much needed layer of maturity which pulls the game above its subject matter.

The game’s real triumph is in fostering emotional investment through the use of the mundane. This is really what makes Heavy Rain stand out from the crowd, and is sure to set the bar for imitators for years to come. Few (if any) games with a multi-million dollar budget would be brave enough to include an unskippable half-hour segment documenting A Dad’s Life. The use of this downtime gives a much-needed personal element to the hunt for your slowly drowning son, and at a few points I found myself reacting a certain way in a situation not because it’s what I’d do, but rather what my character would do. To this extent, Heavy Rain is a success.

As much of a landmark Heavy Rain is in craft, there are some very real issues which hold it back from its true potential. The most pressing concerns are sadly the most obvious ones. The quality of the voice acting ranges from the very good to abysmal. Being that the game is set in Philadelphia, I’d have thought it’d make sense to have the main roles of the game played by Philadelphia natives. Oddly enough, the voice actor of Ethan Mars (the game’s primary protagonist) is British, and there are several instances with a severe case of bad-fake-accent. I’m all for childhood scenes, and I understand that children aren’t great (or in fact, usually used) as voice actors, but surely there must have been better choices than the ones they ended up using.

It might seem like I’m picking nits here, but when a game’s promoting itself as the most immersive experience since actually doing things (and has a budget of well over $20 million) I’d like to have thought Quantic Dream would have sprung for native voice actors. Gamebreaking crashes, in combination with a punishing save system, don’t help with your immersion either—although these have apparently been getting better with ongoing updates.

Don’t let any of this hold you back from playing it. It definitely is some sort of landmark in game design, even if it’s not sure exactly what yet. If you’re thinking of sinking $100-plus on it though, you might want to consider this quote from David Cage, co-CEO of Quantic Dream:

“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.”

With just over 20 hours of straight gameplay and ‘three-day’ status at most videostores, Heavy Rain comes as a highly recommended rental.


About the Author ()

Lewis has been playing videogames since his family's PC Direct "workstation" in early 1996. He spends his spare time reading political blogs, working and welcoming complaints and suggestions.

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