Would Quantic Dream's cast of characters be depressed over the results of our Heavy Rain Frankenreview?
We've been entranced with Heavy Rain since the very first screenshots Quantic Dream shuffled our way, and as the meaning behind those rain-dappled faces become clearer, so did our fascination. Now the game is about to be released, the demo is available to download, and the assembled game reviewers have released their opinions of this long-awaited PS3 exclusive.
And we've taken those findings and folded them up into a little origami swan, just for you.
Quantic Dream would have you believe that Heavy Rain is not a videogame. The studio has long-standing fantasies of being in the film industry, to the point where its last game, Fahrenheit, completely masqueraded as a movie. Director David Cage even put himself in the game, sitting in a director's chair in the middle of a "movie studio." Arrogant, perhaps, but you have to admire the team's conviction. Heavy Rain takes what Fahrenheit started one step further, producing what Quantic Dream calls an "interactive movie." Of course, most gamers will realize that what Quantic Dream has done isn't all that new. This PlayStation 3 exclusive is more of a game than it would like you to believe, evoking memories of old point-and-click adventure games, albeit with a little more Hollywood flair.
Cynics have labelled Heavy Rain one giant QTE, but doing so does a disservice to the integration, variety and tactility of the button cues. Near enough every single action taken is instigated and controlled by you, and while matching stick movements and trigger presses to real life actions is always going to be abstract, Quantic Dream find a way to keep you involved. More problematic is general navigation, which can be extremely clunky as camera angles shift and your character swivels on the spot, unsure of which way to turn.
Take a hypothetical situation in which your unarmed character is being chased by a man with a gun. You might typically start with a sort of "on-rails" bit where you're running away; during this interlude you might have to hit a series of sudden button prompts to let you evade obstacles in your path, and you might get a split second choice of routes to take: up a set of stairs, or into an open doorway. You opt for the room, and after barricading the door, you're suddenly returned to full player control. You've got a limited amount of time to act: you could run over to the window and try to open it; you can dash to the phone on a nearby desk and call for help; or you could try to hide inside a cupboard. The first two choices would probably require simple, one-off actions, while the latter would force you to press and hold a series of buttons in sequence, simultaneously. This kind of challenge frequently crops up throughout Heavy Rain, usually during highly stressful moments, and it ultimately resembles a kind of hand-held version of Twister. The hardest of these tests will leave you with both hands contorted into a painful knot, mirroring the struggle of your on-screen counterpart. It sounds a bit daft, but it works extremely well.
Not all of the stumbling blocks in Heavy Rain's story spring from replaying chapters. While the plot is remarkably cohesive given the game's ambitions, cracks appear in a few areas. One seemingly major thread is unceremoniously dropped about halfway through, and several of the side characters feel more like stock archetypes than believable people. The voice acting can be tough to bear at times, too – especially when no one can consistently pronounce "origami." But for every instance where the game's composition falters, there are dozens where it gracefully glides on uninterrupted.
Heavy Rain . . . is uncompromising in the events it depicts. A character who is shot is not a mere avatar on the ground who will soon disappear. Instead they pour with blood in a grim realistic style that's unlikely to satisfy the blood lust of pubescent Call of Duty players. This is a game that features vulgar scenes of self-inflicted torture and mutilation. It isn't pretty. You may only need to press a few buttons to make these things happen but you are left in no doubt of the consequences. There is nothing casual about the violence in this game. The game also sticks two fingers up at the ignorant media, such as the choir of hate fuelled hypocrites that infest Fox News - those that would preach ignorance about computer games and play on people's fears and prejudices.
Heavy Rain is a strong effort by Quantic Dream. It succeeds as a game that doesn't need the constant killing and chaos that so many video games depend on to be interesting. It may ultimately be a murder mystery and an exploration about the lengths to which players might push the characters they control. But Heavy Rain is, at its frequent best, a game about emotion and subtlety, a game that doesn't condemn choices as bad but instead allows them to be different, allows them to be meaningful and allows the player to feel. This is a game for grown-ups or anyone who wants to feel like one.