Sunday, February 28, 2010

Heavy Rain

You've probably all heard the hype surrounding Heavy Rain. That it has the best graphics in the history of everything, ever. That it revolutionizes storytelling in games. Perhaps you've even heard that it isn't even a game.

If you've any of this then you've heard correctly. Well, mostly correctly. Heavy Rain is amazing in many ways and not so amazing in other ways. It's a game that you will either love or hate, there is very little room for like.

Let's address the hype one at a time, shall we? And I'll make it as spoiler-free as possible.

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Graphically, Heavy Rain is beautiful, for the most part. The main characters are as lifelike as anything I've ever seen. You could count the individual hairs on their heads if you had the time. I don't think graphics can get any better on consoles this generation. But I must stress that this is for the main characters only. The ancillary players look good, but not anywhere near as good as the main cast. And as good as the characters look, they animate very poorly in some spots, especially the hands. Objects are also animated poorly, paper and clothing is stiff like it's been starched when being manipulated by the characters. That's not to say that all the animation is bad, the important moments look as good as they need too.

The story of Heavy Rain is like a 2 or 3 star action-thriller movie. The plot revolves around a man trying to find his son before he is killed by the Origami Killer. You follow multiple characters, but they are all essentially doing the same thing. Ethan Mars is the father of the kidnapped boy, Norman Jayden is an FBI agent working the Origami Killer case, Scott Shelby is a PI hired by the families of the Origami Killer's previous victims, and Madison Paige is a journalist that gets sucked into the whole mess. The story could be a 3 or 4 star movie if the Madison character was changed or removed all together. The way she gets involved in the story is so contrived it's sickening.

This game earns it's M rating with violence, language, and nudity. But even if there were no bad language and no nudity and could have been rated T, I would suggest an M rating anyway. This is an adult story and some of the choices you make will shake your nerves and not in the 'zombie-dog-jumping-through-a-window' kind of way. And they aren't 'say-something-nice-or-say-something-mean' choices as encountered in Mass Effect. They are real choices that effect the outcome of the story and have devastating consequences on the characters.

The story-telling in Heavy Rain is revolutionary, if only because it's about something other than shooting bad guys or finding the princess. The characters have depth, real depth. You can understand why Ethan would do anything to save his son. You can feel how badly Agent Jayden wants to catch the Origami Killer. You get that working the same case for years has taken a toll on Shelby. They aren't just random space marines on a suicide mission to save the universe. Well, Madison is, but you can't have it all.

The great thing about the story in Heavy Rain is that it ebbs and flows with your decisions. You actions have real consequences and anyone and everyone can die. And if they do, the game compensates and keeps on going. There is no 'good' or 'bad' ending, just different endings. If you want two characters to get romantic you can, even if it makes no sense that, with hours left to save a child's life, people would be having sex. It's your call.

Not that I've played through and made every possible choice. That would be a monumental task since choices build on each other and once you've finished the game there is little motivation to play again. The story is tied up so tight at the end that there is nothing left to discover. The best movies always leave you with questions when they're over, it's why The Matrix is so great and it's sequels are so boring, they try to explain everything. Heavy Rain wants you to know everything, which is fine but it could have been so much more than it is.

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As for what it is, Heavy Rain is basically an interactive movie. Such a thing has been promised before, but it really is the best description I can give. Instead of the usual left stick moves you and right stick controls your view, the camera is fixed and moves with you. Sometimes it offers multiple angles on the screen at once to simulate a movie. Unlike every other game created in the last 20 years, you hold a button in order to move. It's awkward, but works well enough the majority of the time. You don't have direct control over a character when the action picks up anyway. Critical action scenes are elongated QTE's so if you hate those you will hate this game. You have no direct control over the character, but instead must perform the action show on screen, be it a button press or shaking the sixaxis controller to simulate struggling against a foe.

Between action scenes, you can interact with the environment and hear the thoughts bouncing around in the character's head's. While calm you can easily see the choices, but when nervous or scared the choices for thoughts and actions bounce around erratically making it hard to find exactly what you want to do. It's a simple and very effective way to simulate actually being frightened. But don't take too long to pinpoint what you want to do or the game will make a decision for you.

Heavy Rain is a game that either lives up to it's hype or it doesn't, it's all in the eye of the beholder. I suspect that 'hardcore' gamers will dislike the lack of traditional gameplay, but what the hell do they know? Not much, because Heavy Rain is one of the best stories on consoles today.

9.7 out of 10
Good stuff
Beautiful graphics
Characters with character
Bad stuff
Objects animated in 1999
Madison Paige
Why?! stuff
Holding a button to move

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