Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Heavy Rain Review
It's a painkiller, it helps to kill the pain.
Certain game designers like Hideo Kojima, seem a bit out of place in their medium. Sure the guy makes some seriously awesome games, but towards the end of the Solid Snake saga, you got the feeling he'd rather just be making movies instead. Quantic Dream's David Cage certainly fits into that category as well although with a lot less of the game element. His latest title almost isn't even a game. Instead with Heavy Rain, you won't find yourself doing much more than helping a story unfold in different ways.
Throughout the drama, you'll find yourself stepping into the shoes of four primary characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies and role to play. You've got FBI Agent young guy, Private Investigator old guy, distraught father... guy (introduced in his underpants), and of course a pretty photographer girl (also introduced in her underpants). While the game starts off sunny and happy just prior to a child's birthday party, it doesn't take long for things to turn very, very bad. The almost constant rainfall not only relays a very somber tone throughout, but also plays a somewhat integral part in the story involving the search for a man named The Origami Killer and one father's struggle to find his son.
Actual character control is handled differently than just about every other third person game out there. To have your character walk forward, you'll hold down the R2 button and to have him turn, you'll use the left analog stick. Simple really, it's just like driving a clunky tank. Interacting with the world is done primarily with a combination of face button presses and right analog stick movements. Sometimes just a quick flick downward of the right stick will open a door, or a careful half-circle rotation will put on lipstick. Additionally, there are times you'll be asked to hold down a series of buttons or bash away at one, indicating a more difficult or strenuous action. Most of the time these actions are not required to be performed with any particular speed; you'll even alter the speed of the animation on-camera depending on how quickly you perform. Not only that, but if you mess up it isn't the end of the world, the action will just play out a little differently or you'll get to try it again. The combination of these fairly loose requirements helped placate my fear that a game based solely on what appeared to be quicktime events would become rote and infuriating.
Character models throughout the game are truly second to none. Closeups of faces reveal skin pours, realistic looking facial stubble, wrinkles and importantly, the best eyes in any video game ever. Muscles realistically stretch the skin while speaking, and while idle sometimes will even twitch randomly. This technical proficiency actually does a mild bit of disservice to the less detailed aspects of the world, causing some insignificant pieces to stick out like their own sore thumbs.
Aside from the gorgeous visuals, the other thing you should come for is the well written, branching mature mystery. Now, I'm not talking about mature as in "OMG did you see them gibs fly?!" or "Daaamn, check out them boobs!". While there is a fair amount of cursing and a bit of non-sexualized nudity, Heavy Rain deals with several subjects that will just be more meaningful if you let yourself become empathetic towards the characters, and I feel that this just can't fully happen with teenagers. There are also points in time that the four main characters can die but their deaths do not end the game, you'll just continue on as if that's how things were supposed to play out. Consequently, there are also seemingly minor decisions that take place throughout that will adjust which ending you'll receive and how scenes play out. For the completionists out there, I'm told there are 22 permutations to shoot for but I do understand why David Cage suggested playing through only once. After the first time, it just won't have the same impact as the killer will always be the same person.
The biggest issue present throughout the game has to do with voice actors. Despite the attention to detail that was put into the character models and facial animation, it seems strange to skimp on the voice acting for the English language soundtrack. Instead of hiring American voice actors, a primarily European cast brings their best American accent which generally just comes across as OK, but sometimes falling into the bad, often laughable territory. Nuances of spoken language and proper inflection is often lost upon people with English as a second language, and that is most certainly the case here. The children specifically just sound terrible and in one case, take what should be a very tense moment into Unbelievabletown. Hearing the kind of Hollywood-caliber performances that are present in games like Uncharted 2, and considering the cinematic focus of Heavy Rain, this is truly a huge disappointment and really detracts from the experience.
There are plenty of people who play games that really don't care too much about story and if that's you, don't bother playing. It's certainly not without its faults, but I feel that Quantic Dream's latest is worth a look for anyone who likes a good adventure game with a solid story. In the end, Heavy Rain is a positive evolution in the classic adventure game genre, substituting quicktime events for a text parser or point and click interface. The final story reveal may sneak up on you, or you may see it coming a mile away, but the journey is a unique experience that we haven't quite seen before.
Score: 4 out of 5
- Best looking character models in the business.
- An intriguing and twisty story, told much like a Hollywood film.
- This is adventure gaming for 2010.
- Aside from the quicktime events, maneuvering around the world can feel clunky.
- Heavy Rain is barely a game.
- Seriously Quantic, invest some money in proper voice talent.