Quantic Dream's David Cage walked us through a playable version of the developer's shrouded in mystery PlayStation 3 game Heavy Rain at Games Convention. The roughly twenty minute demo featured scenes shown in the teaser trailer from SCEE's keynote. But before we actually got to take a look at the game, Cage prepped us on the team's design philosophy. Heavy Rain, he told us, was an adventure game devoid of traditional "interactivity" — shooting, driving, fighting — with a story driven by a player's actions. Those choices, he said, would have a tangible impact on the outcome. He compared Heavy Rain's story structure to a rubber band, one that can be deformed and stretched by your choices in-game. Cage told us that what we were about to see would help us remain spoiler-free — our demo was a standalone scenario, not integral to the game's actual story. After wrapping up his excited sales pitch — and showing us the "best looking menu of the show" featuring motion captured eyes — we began our first look at Heavy Rain.Heavy Rain's main character, the woman seen in the first teaser, arrived via motorcycle at her destination, a taxidermist's residence/workshop. Based on a conversation she had on the ride in, we learn that she's an investigative journalist on the hunt for the Origami Killer. In the demo, she visits the house of Leland White, a suspect in an unidentified murder case. Standing outside in the pouring rain, we got our first taste of Heavy Rain's non-traditional control scheme. Cage lamented the use of an analog stick to control a character in 3D space, in relation to an ever changing camera angle, explaining Quantic Dream's implementation. Similar to the method of moving your character in the developer's own Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain uses a racing game inspired layout. You'll use the R2 button as an accelerator to move forward, steering her head and shoulders to guide her with the left analog stick. This gave her movement through the space a much more fluid feel, with no jittering or awkward ambling. (We'll talk more about Heavy Rain's control scheme in another post, because of its rather unique implementation, and focus more on the action here.) After attempting to go through the front door, getting no response, the character moved into the house, through an open kitchen window. Transitioning through the demo level's highly detailed environments, we didn't see any loading, as Cage says the game will stream data from the disc and hide load times elegantly.
The kitchen environment floored us with the game's attention to detail. Everything in the game looked natural, lifelike, with high resolution wallpaper textures and softly casted shadows. With almost no HUD — you'll only see contextual cues to interact with objects and complete "Quick Time Events" — there's little in Heavy Rain to remind you that you're playing a video game. The near photorealistic environments and characters certainly help. The main character continued her investigation indoors, finding clues in the fireplace and garage. During these moments, the game dropped hints about how the environment will behave. For example, while in the garage, surveying a blood stain on the floor, she attempted to raise the garage door, which had been locked from the outside. Flipping a switch, the door raised, then became stuck. Similarly, when walking upstairs, floorboards creaked. Both were important environmental factors that played out later. While the main character was idle, mentally processing some evidence she'd unearthed, the game seemed to take control of the camera. Cutting and panning across the room, showing off realistic reflective surfaces on a series of picture frames, focusing on the numerous mounted heads in the taxidermist's house. The changing view lent the game more of a cinematic feel and the cuts were surprisingly well edited on the fly.
After the protagonist went upstairs, uncovering the corpses of a half-dozen women — all taxidermically preserved in a variety of sensual poses and situations — the owner of the house came home. The game's camera then went split screen, giving us a view of the killer and the heroine. After listening to her internal thoughts, something the player can do at branches in the game's story, she was determined to get the hell out. As she crept downstairs, avoiding the creaking floorboard with a QTE and out of the garage, we had a constant camera view of the taxidermist (who occupied about a third of the screen), making for an incredibly tense escape. Cage then showed us a different version of that scene, picking up the moment the killer returned home. After failing to stay quiet, the killer found the main character hiding in a wardrobe. This kicked off a much more action oriented series of events, with numerous Dragon's Lair-style reflex focused button presses. In between these Quick Time Events the Quantic Dream rep was in control of the character, whose animation changed to a more panicked style. She was clutching walls and taking missteps down stairs, conveying fear through animation and facial expression. The QTEs, not something I'm particularly fond of, mind you, looked to be implemented well. They were graphically designed well too, with a clean black and white button hovering above the object she was interacting with (or avoiding). That means that as the knife was being swiped at her, the button graphic followed the arc of the killer's stab. It was a nice touch. This particular scenario, Cage said, was indicative of what will be included in the final game, estimating that some 50 or 60 would be included when the Heavy Rain shipped. Each would offer multiple outcomes, scenarios that could be replayed to allow for new perspectives on the story. To say that we were impressed by Heavy Rain would be an understatement. Quantic Dream is certainly sitting on something unique with the game, with what appears to be a balanced blend of gameplay and cinematic storytelling. It also happens to be the second best game we've seen at Games Convention, graphically. Keep your eyes peeled for the demo — no, we don't know when that's coming — because we suspect it will look exactly like what we saw at Leipzig. And you'll probably think it's amazing, too.