Heavy Rain has been put up on a very high pedestal by Sony and writer/director David Cage. There’s a long way to fall if and when it topples – as the many low scores in recent reviews have proven. For every score of 6/10 or below however, it seems that there’s a 9/10 or even 10/10 to counterbalance it. We’re a multiformat site with a proven track record of awarding both high and low scores to games on all formats, including the PS3; accusations of fearing Sony’s wrath are worthless here, as we don’t qualify for their review copies for at least another year. So what do we make of it? The PS3’s finest hour, or Cage’s Folly?
It seems almost impossible that anybody reading this doesn’t know how Heavy Rain works, so we’ll make this quick. Your input in the game consists almost entirely of QTEs. You’ll be asked to press, hold, or tap a button; push the right stick in a certain direction; or perhaps flick or shake the whole controller in a certain way. Sequences that only appear briefly and irregularly in action games such as, say, Resident Evil 4 make up an entire game here.
You take control of four different characters, switching between them depending on which ‘scene’ you’re playing. You move around the world by essentially ‘driving’ your avatar; hold down R2 and ‘steer’ with the left stick. This is a bizarre and, quite frankly, stupid control method – which often results in your character wobbling around indecisively like a neurotic drunk. This does detract somewhat from the atmosphere of gritty realism that the game is clearly going for.
The plot, you see, revolves around a serial killer who murders young boys. The whole thing is played almost constantly po – faced (understandably) but we shan’t delve much further into the plot here. Story is everything in Heavy Rain because, love it or hate it, everyone can surely agree that this is more story than game. Is that necessarily a bad thing?
Cage has been keen to push Heavy Rain as neither a videogame nor a movie (though he’s been happy to make comparisons with film), something emphasised by the title of the first trophy to be had – Interactive Drama. There are multiple endings, and which one you see depends on choices you make. The trailer tag line of ‘every choice has a consequence’ is a bit of a porky pie, but you can and will make huge differences to the story’s progression. Dialogue choices almost never make a difference; but for example, if you lose a fight or fumble an escape that character might die, and the game will carry on regardless. It’s actually impossible to die in many of these situations, but it’s to the game’s credit that this is rarely clear.
No review would be complete without praising the graphics. Yes, Heavy Rain looks amazing, and is possibly the best looking console title yet released. Animation and attention to detail are stunning. Nonetheless, there are technical issues. There’s occasional screen tearing (bad, but not terrible). In rare instances, you may notice curved objects with sharp, inexplicable edges (perverts slobbering over shower and sex scenes may be in for a nasty shock when it comes to breasts). There are also issues that impact more dramatically on your enjoyment of the game.
Once, the game crashed on us when we tried walking somewhere the script didn’t tell us to. Another time, our character became glued to an NPC walking in the opposite direction, allowing a chasing police officer to catch up and arrest us through no fault of our own (the story continued, but we reloaded the scene to do things the way we intended).
With the emphasis so heavily on drama and plot, the virtual actors need to be perfect. The character models are incredibly impressive – arguably better than those in any other game – but they’re not quite realistic enough, or emotive enough, to replace real people – especially in a storyline like this. To make things worse, some of the voice acting can be underwhelming. When one character is calling out the name of his missing son in panic and desperation, he sounds more like he’s doing his best to get the pronunciation right, and is embarrassed to be doing so in public.
Despite these problems, at its best moments – in a tense chase, a do – or – die fight, an escape under pressure – Heavy Rain is a unique, thrilling, unmissable experience. Unfortunately, at its worst moments – drying your hair, cooking some scrambled eggs, going to the toilet (no, really), laying a table, brushing your teeth – Heavy Rain is a bit, well… dull. Only some of those prosaic activities mentioned are optional.
There are dozens such highs and lows fighting each other in Heavy Rain. Overall the script is very good, though it owes more than a little to Saw; and in a few instances, you’ll get to make moral choices much more complex than that of what to do with the Little Sisters in the Bioshock games. On the other hand, the FBI agent’s high – tech sunglasses are capable of so much, they break through the limits of science and land with both feet firmly planted in the land of magic. They sit uncomfortably in what is supposed to be a realistic contemporary thriller.
Ultimately, the highs easily outweigh the lows. Just how good Heavy Rain is is entirely down to the individual, more so than with any other game. Broadly speaking, those who always moan that story gets in the way of gameplay will hate this, and those always willing to try something new will love it. If you trust our word enough (and why the hell wouldn’t you?), then if you’re at all interested after reading this review – buy it. You won’t be disappointed.