Published on February 25th, 2010 | by prime0
Heavy Rain – Review
Summary: Heavy Rain ascends into a twist-a-minute heart-racing thrill ride, eventually culminating in a crescendo of emotion
If you’re anything like us, chances are that you’ve been following the development of Heavy Rain fairly intently, intrigued by its unique concept and lofty promises. And for that David Cage wants to thank you; to show gratitude for your patience, for your loyalty, and for your interest in his latest masterpiece. Or, as the Trophy that unlocks upon completing Heavy Rain’s first chapter puts it, ‘for supporting Interactive Drama’. Quite.
Take particular note, then, of Cage refusing to reference Heavy Rain as a ‘game’ – and with good reason. Heavy Rain is not a conventional videogame by any stretch of the imagination, as its interactions throughout are limited to quick-time events, gestures and brief exploration sequences, and it’s a ‘game’ that you don’t so much get to play, as you do direct. But you already knew that. What you didn’t know is that from the moment you press that start button, Heavy Rain whisks you off on a voyage of peerless storytelling and heart-wrenching emotion, and on a trek through one of the most amazing experiences you’ll likely ever encounter on PS3.
A beautiful and unique adventure
But here is where we must explain the difference between what makes a great game, and a great experience.
Whichever way you look at it, Heavy Rain is not successful as a ‘game’ per se. instead, it’s exactly as Cage describes it: an ‘interactive drama’; an eight-hour motion picture set across 60-something disparate scenarios, and propelled forward by the most basic of methods. It’s neither puzzling nor rewarding – at least not at first – with the game not so much offering hints whenever a certain action is required to progress the story, but outright telling you what to do – yet it’s utterly engaging. Ironically, Heavy Rain doesn’t want to keep you waiting, as it wants to propel you on to the next act as fast as possible, to tease you with the next twist (often excruciatingly so), and to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
And it achieves that sensation with much aplomb, though the results are likely to greatly divide opinion. The story starts off incredibly slowly (unfortunately, Heavy Rain’s opening hour is the worst segment of the entire game), but as each new character gradually becomes introduced, Heavy Rain ascends into a twist-a-minute heart-racing thrill ride, eventually culminating in a crescendo of emotion as the story slowly unravels. You’ll feel a genuine sense of attachment to each of the four main characters – itself enough to keep the player glued to their seats – while the story itself is so clever and unpredictable that it remains compelling without ever descending into the realms of absurdity. Cage, it seems, has learnt from his mistakes with Fahrenheit on the PS2.
The story documents the tale of a father’s struggle to rescue his son from the hands of a serial killer, who is tasked by the murderer to pass a series of increasingly testing trials to discover his child’s location. It has no predetermined outcome – it’s a tale that you’re asked to shape yourself, with each of your actions (no matter how small) directly influencing the flow of the story. Some decisions have greater influences than most, particularly in the final third, but across each of the branching story arcs, moments of extraordinary poignancy are balanced by moments of utter elation. It’s powerful storytelling – easily the best we’ve yet seen in a game – and it’ll test your sense of morality more so than any other game will have done previously, eventually asking you to make the most difficult decision that could ever be asked of you; a decision that we genuinely had to sleep on. In that sense, Cage has achieved his goal. Heavy Rain’s meticulous storytelling, character development and world building – and the choices you make within – provoke a genuinely emotional reaction, creating a game that you’ll think about long after you finish.
But while the overall story and characterization may be second to none, it’s unfortunate that Heavy Rain’s script leaves a lot to be desired. Whether badly translated or simply badly written in the first place, Heavy Rain’s horrific dialogue and painfully overdone sequences often contend with the game’s intentions, leading to somber segments becoming too difficult to take seriously, and certain emotional moments simply feeling awkward. And not only is it poorly written, but it’s also dreadfully acted, with on-screen emotions often entirely unreflected in the actor’s voice. That only two of the four lead characters – Madison Paige and Scott Shelby – put in a decent performance is a disappointment, nay, a disaster, with the woeful voiceover work often pulling you out of the world in which Cage seeks to captivate you in.
Other problems too, such as Cage’s desperation to throw ‘interactive’ segments at the player at the earliest opportunity – to become more ‘game-y’ – can annoy more than they succeed. Being asked to tie a police captain’s tie while having a serious discussion about the whereabouts of the Origami Killer is, quite frankly, ludicrous, while Cage’s infrequent flirts with implementing more conventional gameplay often fall flat. One scene in particular, involving a character attempting tp escape from a maze, proves to be more frustrating than anything else. And let’s not mention the game’s ghastly sex scene, itself utterly irrelevant, wholly unnecessary and ultimately embarrassing, tasking the player with using the Sixaxis to kiss and take off each party’s clothes. It’s not nearly as hot or as effective as it sounds, and comes a time where it’s least expected, let alone warranted. Pointless titillation, in other words.
But that’s the bottom line with Heavy Rain: to expect the unexpected. It’s a beautiful and utterly unique adventure that surprisingly never grows tiresome, complete with a plot that stands toe-to-toe with the industry’s finest. But simultaneously, with its unexpected combination of wonky scripting and occasional clumsiness, Heavy Rain often feels like it’s dipping its toes into waters that even Cage himself doesn’t fully understand. It’s an experience deserving of being trialled by everyone at least once, but also a title that, after the initial wow factor has worn off, may be better remembered for the spectacle it could have been, rather than the flawed, yet brilliant ‘interactive drama’ it actually is.