Published on December 3rd, 2009 | by prime1
Heavy Rain – Preview
What is Heavy Rain? It’s an intriguing question for the game’s Director, Designer and Writer to ask, and one met by an even more puzzling answer. “This is a very difficult question”, says Director David Cage. ”Heavy Rain is very difficult to categorize. We call it a dark, interactive thriller. It’s the story of four characters whose lives are interlaced around the investigation of a serial killer known as the Origami Killer.”
In actual fact, the best way to view Heavy Rain probably isn’t as a videogame by conventional terms at all, and more as an interactive film where the conversations, actions and outcomes of the characters involved are all dictated by the player. “It’s not about shooting, it’s not about driving and there are no puzzles – it’s a story about love, emotion and who these characters are. “But then so was The Sims, David.
We’re not about to paint Cage’s masterpiece in the same light as Will Wright’s virtual doll house, of course. Quite the opposite. Heavy Rain is a mature, emotional, heart wrenching, pulse-pounding, nail-biting masterpiece, with its involving silver screen worthy story strung together through a variety of unique scenes. We’re promised upwards of 70 scenes in all, with the player’s actions in each dictating both the flow of the scene itself and the overall story arc of the game.
This free-flowing premise is the backbone of Heavy Rain, letting the player shape and evolve their story around the experiences they create within each scene. To get us started we’re shown ‘Hassan’s Shop’, a scene set in the convenience store workplace of a bereaved father who lost his son at the hands of the Origami Killer. We’re introduced to playable character Scott Shelby, a determined but composed private detective investigating the disappearance of another young boy, presumably the son of Heavy Rain’s ‘lead’ Ethan Mars. As Shelby browses the store, an armed robber bursts through the door demanding the cash contained within the register. At first we show cowardice, hiding in the corner of the store as we witness the stand-off between Hassan and the robber coming to a horrific end. Having ignored our robber’s demands, the crook fires a single bullet into Hassan’s neck before skulking out of the store, the horror of what just happened apparent in his facial expressions. And it’s in this area where Heavy Rain arguably excels most. Its facial animations are so advanced that they convey a sense of emotion without the need for dialogue or audio. The acting, on a visual level at least, is a huge step above anything you’ll have seen before on any console.
Having witnessed the crime, we rejoin Shelby and walk over to Hassan’s near-lifeless body, who begs with us to find the man that killed his son as he becomes swamped by a pool of his own blood, pointing us in the direction of a box filled with clues as to the killer’s whereabouts.
Of, course this could all have played out very differently. Reloading the scene, we decide to tackle the robber, through our silence is broken by a falling box of detergent, something that could have been easily avoided by catching it with the triangle button. Scene structure, it seems, won’t just be decided by a player’s moral grounds, but their reaction times as well. So it’s a good job, then, that the controls – though unconventional by today’s standards – feel intuitive, using the R2 button to walk forward, the left analogue stick to control the character’s head and general direction, and the right to interact with the environment via context sensitive actions. The face buttons and Six axis controls are reserved for quicktime events (let’s not kid ourselves, as that is ultimately what they are) which you’ll see plenty of throughout Heavy Rain. They can often be hard work too, effectively conveying the sense of urgency and panic seen in the characters on screen, as exampled excellently by the tussle between Shelby and the robber. The one or two word method in which dialogue choices are presented too, helps ramp up intensity and, given their time-sensitiveness, you’ll have to learn to think on your feet effectively if you wish to take the optimal path.
So, Heavy Rain’s another one to add to the list of Playstation 3’s recent surge in impeccable-quality, market-leading titles, and at this point we have very little doubt that Heavy Rain will deliver a masterclass in storytelling and emotion. It’s exactly what the industry needs, produced by a team mature and experienced enough to do it, and easily our most anticipated PS3 title of 2010. When it rains on PS3, it really does pour.