Heavy Rain

April 28th, 2010

It’s rare that a game doesn’t fit neatly into a genre these days.  First person shooters.  Real time strategy.  Beat ’em ups.  You know what I mean.  But Heavy Rain is, at least in my experience, pretty much a one off.  A sort of interactive noir psycho-murder thriller, relatively light on the interaction in some ways, but heavy on plot,  tension and drama.  Perhaps to some degree it’s the inheritor of that old point-and-click tradition, but the quality of characterisation and atmosphere, along with peculiarities of its gameplay (particularly that you never save, you just have to go wherever your decisions and mistakes take you), make it unlike anything I’ve ever played.  Whether it will prove to be an influential milestone or a curious dead-end remains to be seen.  Perhaps a bit of both, but I actually really enjoyed the experience.

So, the origami killer is drowning little boys in a rain drenched unidentified US city and you, in the four guises of a bereaved father, dishevelled PI, addict FBI profiler, and spunky journalist, must bring him to book before he kills again.  Simple.  Actual gameplay is achieved by wandering around various meticulously detailed locations and performing tasks using combinations of timed motions and button presses.  Which is a little tedious to begin with as you struggle to brush your teeth, wee, and perform other household chores, but soon becomes quite mesmeric, and eventually as you survey crime scenes, battle hoodlums, and struggle with windows in burning buildings, really quite tense.  The level of detail on the characters, not necessarily in pure graphics but in the tics of voice and motion, and the way in which you’re involved with quite banal aspects of their lives makes for strangely compelling gameplay.  Or perhaps viewing, since it feels more like a film than a game at times.  You feel like you know these people and as a result you root for them, fear for them. 

Much has been said of the game’s supposed fluidity – that it will take radically different courses depending on your choices, no two games alike and etc.  It’s something I’ve heard a lot before about various games, and have to say I’ve nearly always been disappointed in that regard.  I can’t really speak to how meaningful that is in Heavy Rain, since I’ve only played it through the once, by all accounts the variations are reasonably limited for most of the plot, then get pretty intense.  Central characters can die and there’s a huge range of endings.  Whether characters would have survived however good my button mashing was, I don’t know, but certainly the sense the game created that there was real jeopardy was powerful.  A truly new experience to realise that you can’t just nip back to your save game and get it right second time round.  A couple of times, as I held a gun on one person or another, the option to press the R1 button vibrating beside my itchy trigger finger, I really wasn’t sure what to do, and that has to be a good thing.  It’s a reasonably short game – took me about fifteen hours to run through, I think – but the level of drama is hard to match. 

Now certainly it’s not perfect.  The early sections dragged a little.  The button pressing doesn’t always really match what’s going on in any particularly intuitive way, and the six-axis stuff (where you shake the controller itself around in the manner of a wii remote) is pretty ropey on PS3.  Sometimes while plodding about the locations looking for the next clue or cupboard to open you’d become intensely aware the options were actually painfully limited.  The faces were good on the whole, but not quite up to, say, Uncharted 2 standards.  The mouths especially were odd, occasionally at times of high emotion I felt like I was watching one of those comedy sketches where an impressionist’s mouth is keyed amusingly over a photo.  Some scenes were a little incongruous – a sudden lurid shoot-out when up to that point things had all been admirably understated grated in particular.  And love seemed to blossom out of pretty much nowhere.  Hello, let me bind your wound, I love you.  But in general the plotting and characterisation was admirably convincing.  It felt like a mature game, not just ’cause it had, you know, blood and boobs, but because the dialogue, the themes, the plotting, were grown up.  Were realistic.  When it all came together, accompanied by a brilliant score, it had some seriously good moments, and overall you’ve got to applaud the adventure, guts, and innovation of the developers.  Because there aren’t anywhere near enough unique games out there.

Posted in games by Joe Abercrombie on April 28th, 2010.

16 comments so far

  • Jens says:

    Do you know the game “Fahrenheit”? It was released 5 years ago and was made by the same developers. It may not be as good as “Heavy Rain” – but it featured some of the same elements you mentioned in your review.
    The main difference may be (haven’t played “Heavy Rain” yet) that “Fahrenheit” is a “paranormal thriller” whith some problems in gameplay and plotting (especially the end), but I enjoeyed it very much.

  • ColinJ says:

    I don’t have a PS3 so I can’t get this, but it certainly looks intriguing.

    Although if you want to see something similar done in a hilariously inept, low-budget way check out DEADLY PREMONITION. It’s like if someone threw SILENT HILL and TWIN PEAKS into a blender of suckiness.

    I’m looking forward to ALAN WAKE, although I’m pissed that they canceled the PC version.

  • Jens says:

    “Fahrenheit” is also known as “Indigo Prophecy” in English-speaking countries.

  • Sam Sykes says:

    What button do you press to wee?

  • H says:

    I wish Heavy Rain would come to PC 🙁

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    A downward motion of the right stick while near a toilet. For real.

    Or are you talking about in real life?

  • Murray says:

    Hmm I can’t bring myself to buy HR – I’m still enjoying Uncharted 2 too much 🙂

    Hey Joe, are we going to get a review of Iron Man 2?
    I saw it last night and thought it was excellent, a solid

  • The Picaroony says:

    is it possible to miss the bowl? and if so do you get to clean it up or just bugger off leaving a nice peepool for the next punter?

  • Pink Ink says:

    Fahrenheit was not really prepared to enter the game market
    there were several annoying mini games in it which priced down the niveau badly also the atmosphere was not quite convincing
    As far as I know theyve been working on heavy rain for about 5? years now fixing every small bug and makin the whole thing more mature my opinion: heavy rain s gonna kick badass
    at picaroony
    (neither of it just discovering some stupid evidence)

  • Brandon says:

    I rented Heavy Rain, the week it came out. I played it and about an hour in, i turned it off andsaid to myself “Interesting, maybe i’ll play it bewteen finishing Assassins Creed 2 and some MLB the show.”

    An hour later, i found myself thinking – wonder what happens next. and i was done. i then ended up having to take it back before i had time to finish it, but i re rented it again on Wed night. I the compulsion to beat the damn thing was overwhelming. And i was satisfied with the way it played out. I also started a new game right away to try and play it diffrent. once its a PS Hit… i’ll buy it.

    By the way, ever hand out your PSN ID and do multiplayer? ;o)

  • Shadow says:

    I actually spoiled this game for my brother, suggesting he make his character jump from a certain building. Here’s how it played out:

    Character: “If I jump from here, I will surely die.”

    (Jump? Yes or No)

    Me: Just jump.

    Brother: But I really like this character.

    Me: Just do it. She won’t die.


    Character: Prolonged: AAHHHHh-hhhhh-hhhhh

    Brother: *sigh*

    Character: hhhhh-hhhh.

    (Such and such has died)

    I chuckle.

  • Pauly says:

    What many people do not realise, is that any time you make a mistake or a character dies, you can just go to the main menu and replay the chapter. I did this all the way through and got a fairly perfect ending.

    I found the game a bit of a chore to be honest. You should stop wasting your time playing the next gen equivalent of Simon Says and Get Demons Souls instead. Its the best game on the PS3 IMO.

  • Chris Wooding says:

    Heavy Rain really didn’t do it for me, as much as I wanted it to. I loved the idea and appreciate the innovation, but after a few hours of it it just ended up feeling like an excessively sophisticated Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s great how you get the big moral choices like chopping your own finger off or not, but tragically enough, my favourite bits were the character-building stuff at the start, where you’re doing your work and playing with the kids and washing dishes and stuff. Once the psycho got involved I lost interest 😉

    Fahrenheit had the same problem. Really cool atmospheric story, just not… quite… enough… gameplay. And you couldn’t pee.

    Uncharted 2 = the bestest.

  • Timo says:

    Chris, if you felt Heavy Rain was all about choices just for the sake of choices and loved Uncharted 2, I’d say go for Alan Wake asap (if you have Xbox360)! Gameplay-wise it’s very 2007, but gotta love the ambition in creating the story around a protagonist who is just a frustrated writer and a regular joe, instead of private dick or bounty hunter or secret agent or [insert your choice of typical game hero occupation]. It’s a game where the player should really slow down, stand quiet, breathe in the atmosphere. You can almost smell the forest and the mist.

  • Chris Wooding says:

    I really want to play that. However, about a month ago my XBox blew up (ironically during the sex scene in Mass Effect 2: obviously it has Puritan sensibilities) and I’ve just about had enough of Microsoft’s shoddy engineering these days, so I doubt I’ll be getting another one.

    2007 gameplay, though. That’s a recommendation rather than a turn-off 😉

  • Michael Gibbons says:

    Really enjoyed this game. My wife enjoyed it too, though only from a voyeuristic-watching-me-play-the-movie perspective. The controls in this game would have been too much for her impatient nature. I wasn’t able to beat all the puzzles, though the “Saw”-like puzzle and the “Hostel”-like puzzle were awesome and I can see where they will inspire future games down the road. Although some parts of the game dragged all-in-all it was a lot of fun. Definitely going to play it through again – need to finish God of War and Red Dead Redemption first though.

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