Review: Heavy Rain

Ethan Mars has it all.  A beautiful wife, two boys who idolize him, and a nice house in what we can only assume is your average neighbourhood.  The writers of Heavy Rain want to make it very clear from the beginning of the game about how happy he is.

Ethan even wakes up with a smile—when was the last time you woke up with a smile on your face?

The tutorial of the game takes us through a pretty average morning for Ethan.  Gets you nice and used to the controls—some people might see the tutorial as lame, but for a game like this, it’s required learning.  It also gets across that ever-clear plot point that Ethan is a happy guy.  It also delivers us some words of wisdom—something that is valuable to each and every one of us, “Sometimes things happen.  Even if you don’t want them to.”

Where some reviewers have written here that the cheese factor is through the roof—it’s essential to the plotline.  To know one extreme, you have to know what the other tastes like.  To know sadness, you need to experience happiness.  To know hatred, you need to know what love is.  For us to truly believe that Ethan is at rock bottom, Quantic Dream needed to show us the way he was at the top.
Besides that, shit quickly hits the fan during an outing at the mall—if you know at all what Heavy Rain is about, you know what I’m talking about.

The game depicts what happens in—what can only be described in a tasteful manner.  While other games might go for a gory shot, we have to realize that we’re talking about kids here—there’s nothing awesome about seeing them hurt, whether it’s in digital form or not.  Where other games go for explicit horror, Heavy Rain goes for the implied.  And what could possibly be more horrific than seeing your son hit by a car?  Heavy Rain displays the horror that Ethan’s wife, Grace sees, without showing you at all what she saw.

Fast forward two years and we see Ethan as a much different person.  The clean-cut, happy-go-lucky guy has gone to the other end of the spectrum, and so has the game.  And you do really sympathize with Ethan.  Two years does nothing but make you come up with ways to cope—but does little to relieve the pain.

Ethan Mars has gone from this…

…to this

Heavy Rain puts you in the footsteps of four individuals, all whom operate pretty much the same way.  They’re looking for the Origami Killer for different reasons, and their paths are intertwined at some point in the storyline.  The characters themselves unfortunately are not very fleshed out.  While you may know their motivations in the investigation, they seem almost clichéd—the depressed father, still trying to make a decent life for his remaining son, the hardened private eye, the FBI agent that doesn’t always play by the rules and the reporter looking for her next big break.

The control scheme is the same regardless of who you’re playing.  One of the game’s most unique features is also what will keep it out of the hands of many gamers.  Being a long-time gamer there are times where I felt I wanted to control more of the action.  Sometimes the QTEs (that’s Quick Time Events) were frustrating, and I found myself walking in and out of rooms, and making Ethan go to the bathroom a lot.  It is something that takes A LOT of getting used to.  I immediately do not recommend this game to anyone who cannot stand QTEs.  You can control where they look, where they walk, read/hear what they’re thinking about, but ultimately, this is a game of QTEs.  I’d have to say around 60-75% QTEs.  That tutorial level?  Yeah, it’s there for a reason.  If you can’t stand that concept, then do not purchase, or even rent this game.

It might have just been my copy of the game, or the recent patch that had been released, but I soon experienced a few glitches in the game that really started to wreck the experience.  Hair that didn’t quite seem to fall into place—or one of the victims’ mothers suddenly…trying to run away from me as I asked her questions, only to return to the same place (not getting very far I see).  This is something that Quantic Dream needs to fix like, ‘yesterday.’  As I said in my review of Silent Hill Homecoming, nothing can ruin an amazing game more than glitches.   Seriously, every time I go and talk to the one chick at the motel, she like—looks at me, and then glides over to her bedside again.  If it weren’t such a piss-off, it would kind of be funny).

Glitches aside, I can attest to the fact that Heavy Rain is one of the most beautiful games on the PS3 that I’ve ever played.  Faces, hands, mo-cap, it’s clear that a lot of work has gone into them.  And no, not all of characters are hot stuff—in the game’s realistic approach to people, some of the people in Heavy Rain are downright homely.  Not that it’s all about the looks here, it’s actually nice change from games that portray everyone as some sort of supermodel.  Their movements are realistic, if not jerky.  This relates back to the control system—moving around isn’t exactly fluid, but the movement animations are done quite nicely.

Locations and backgrounds appear quite realistic as well.  The sleazy motel that you visit as Scott Shelby in the demo of the game looks pretty much how it does in the game.  In Ethan’s home, even minute things are rendered in the finest of detail.  The game, for the most part is dark and dreary, but despite that fact these are all things that the player will notice, if they take the time to look.  Even the pause screen gives off a nice water-puddle effect.   It’s something that personally hasn’t gone unnoticed.

While I haven’t played through the entire game yet, the investigative scenes I’ve encountered are not particularly hard.  Once you get a grasp of the control scheme, much of the game falls into place.  It’s not a cakewalk by any means, but it’s not difficult.  Detective Norman Jayden has a nifty set of futuristic specs that he can use to help him analyze the crime scene.  Good thing, too—or these sequences would be much more difficult.  Jayden’s glasses and glove also helps Heavy Rain maintain the tasteful nature that I spoke of earlier.  Instead of having the player examine the corpse of the child, this process is skimmed over by pointing out things that are apparent, without showing you directly.  Instead of showing you blood spatter on the victim’s thigh, the glasses pick it up, change the colour and make it all…digitized?

Unfortunately, the ARI system (Jayden’s glasses and glove) takes away from the gritty drama that Quantic Dream has tried to make.  When Jayden needs to examine the evidence, he slips on the glasses and is transported to a fantasy world where all the answers are right at his fingertips.  Police records, evidence files, pictures, satellite imagery, it’s all right there, right in the ARI system.

The only issue that there is to note is that the ARI system that Jayden uses, aside from the fact that it takes away from the realism of the game, has text that appears in bright orange.  In the initial investigation sequence, the one that was displayed in the demo, this doesn’t read well against the white lights.  A minor annoyance though—the text isn’t really important, and Jayden reads and infers upon most of what is picked up by the ARI.

Dialogue sequences are another story all together—it pretty much goes in what order you press buttons.  I tried to ask the questions in sequence of…most likely to be asked, least-likely to be asked, until my options ran out, or my time ran out.  You’ll get the answers you’re looking for if you press the right buttons.   If not, looks like you’ve got to move on.  Sometimes you don’t make a selection in time and the timer runs out and the dialogue sequence ends.  Piss someone off and you might just be looking at an action sequence.  The game is pretty good at auto-saving, so don’t expect to be able to start the section over because you flubbed a dialogue sequence and got yourself killed.  However, there are methods for ‘restarting a sequence’ if you’re not happy with how it went.

The action/fight sequences the game uses are pretty intense.  And despite what you might think—failing these action sequences isn’t the end of the world.  Sometimes it might mean the end of your character, but I have yet to experience that.  Perhaps what’s at work here is what some reviewers have complained about—it’s pretty hard for your character to die.  For instance, I missed a QTE required for Ethan to jump out of the way of an oncoming car, but he didn’t die, he just jumped out of the way regardless.

Screw up here and you might be saying goodbye to Mr. Shelby

The game is fairly forgiving when it comes to these kind of sequences–don’t expect a punch to put you out–so if you were worried about that—rest easy, you won’t be doomed.

Really, the only issue that one would have with the controls is where they appear on the screen.  In one instance, Ethan is crawling through a tunnel—the control options move around the screen as your character moves.  They move all the time, it’s up to you to sort them out.  If it’s an intense scene, the commands are blurred, vibrating, moving around quickly.  I just wish that I could ‘see’ them all, instead of having them hidden by the character.  Otherwise, it’s very-well implemented.

The replay value of the game is through the roof—just glancing through all of the trophies (that are all hidden,  by the way), looking at all of the different ways that sequences could have ended, the different things that you could have done, what might have been a eight or nine hour game can turn into a 40 hour game.  Nice stuff considering many games encourage you to play through them in 5 or less.  Granted, Heavy Rain is pretty long to begin with, especially on your first play-through.  You’ll be satisfied with how much time it takes to play through it.

What is really going to stick out for most people however is the story.  In an area where many games fall flat, Heavy Rain does quite a nice job.  Reviewers all over the net trying to stir the pot call the story trite and cliché.  I call it a damned good story for a video game.

That’s right—Heavy Rain is a video game, not a movie.

Were Heavy Rain a big-budget movie, I probably wouldn’t have watched it, because I would have expected more out of the story, more well-rounded characters, instead of the rather two-dimensional clichéd characters the game has.  The primary focus of Heavy rain is still game play, despite what Quantic Dream or other game review sites might have you believe.


Meet Blake–he’s an asshole, there’s little more to his character than that.  But it’s not all bad–cause this is a VIDEO GAME.

But for what it is, the story of Heavy Rain is exceptional.  I would like to put it on par with Silent Hill 2, even though I know I’m going to catch some hell for that.

Heavy Rain explores real emotions, something that each of us can relate to in our own way.  At some time in our lives, we will experience the happiness that Ethan Mars feels with his family.  We experience the fear that Madison Paige feels when she’s alone in her apartment and hears the slightest noise—maybe the anxiety of Norman Jayden trying to desperately hide his dark secret, while trying to get inside the head of one of the most high-profile killers of the decade?  Who among us can say that we haven’t endured the anguish of losing a loved one?  Or the fear that coincides with the disappearance of a child?
What would you do to get them back?  How far would you go to see them again?

You’ll Like:

  • Compelling storyline
  • Some of the best graphics seen on the PS3
  • Incredible soundtrack
  • Unique control experience

    You’ll Hate:

    • Unique controls definitely aren’t for everyone
    • Characters and plotline seem a little familiar, a little cliched
    • A few plot-holes that are hard to cover up.

      Conclusion:

      Hands down, Heavy Rain is one of the most unique games on the Playstation 3.  An essential part of a game is it’s control scheme–if you can get the hang of Heavy Rain’s controls and get over the fact that it is what it is, this is an experience that should not be passed up.

      Overall Rating: 8.5/10

      –jeeves86