Gamersyde Preview: Heavy Rain
First announced at E3 2006, Heavy Rain is certainly one of the most anticipated titles coming on Playstation 3 next year. Even though some were disappointed by their last attempt with Fahrrenheit (aka The Indigo Prophecy in North America), many players still have high hopes concerning Quantic Dreams' new game. Today, Gamersyde is offering you a written hands-on preview of the game so you can get an idea of what to expect on Februray 24 when it's released.
After playing the game for a few hours, I can say one thing for sure, not everyone will like this game. David Cage indeed grants us with a very unique experience, something he had only scratched with the Indigo Prophecy and you can tell right from the start that the game aims at appealing to the largest possible audience. The first clue comes with the different difficulty settings available in the game (non-gamer, casual gamer and gamer), none of them particularly pointing to the hardcore gamer community. Does that mean that the game won't appeal to such players then? I don't think so. Heavy Rain is above all a game that focuses on the melancholic and depressing atmosphere of a world where most characters are haunted by the scars of the past.
The curious case of David Cage's buttons
Don't be mistaken, Heavy Rain is not an action packed blockbuster. The beginning of the game is characterized with a very slow pace that might not be everyone's cup of tea. Much like in Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy, the player will be asked to do many ordinary tasks like taking a shower, going for a walk in the garden or even playing with his own kids to name but a few. As everybody knows by now, the gameplay mechanics of the game heavily rely on the pressing of different button combinations to interact with one's environment. Some will unfairly consider it to be some kind of giant Quick Time Event while others will acknowledge that it is just a somehow regular way to trigger a mechanism in a game. Instead of simply pressing the X button to open a door or a window, here you need to use the right analog stick and mimic the necessary move to do so. QTEs still remain the main gimmick when it comes to action scenes but, while such sequences quickly became annoying and confusing in Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy, the way it is done here makes them enjoyable and really punchy. Outside of taking care of the daily chores or occasionally entering a fight, you are sometimes asked to investigate a crime scene using a nifty pair of goggles that would definitely make Minority Report's Agent Anderton green with envy. Again, it is pretty simple to play as all you have to do is scan the area looking for clues to collect but in the end, it is rather fun to play. It somehow reminds of the investigation scenes of Batman Arkham Asylum which were really easy to pick up with but fun nonetheless. In short, depending on which character you play, you will be faced with different situations making the game more varied in the end.
Now is probably a good time to remind you all that Heavy Rain will feature four playable characters, whose fate will lead them on similar paths. There is Ethan, a depressed father who has to cope with a tragic event, Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler addicted to drugs, Scott Shelby, a private detective who is after the origami killer and last, but not least, Madison Jade, a young woman we do not know much about so far. Quantic Dreams' ambition is to tell a unique story and, apart from some questionable voice acting on the part of one or two main characters, it is a solid effort and it doesn't fail to deliver a credible atmosphere. It is hard to say if the storyline will hold to its promises as the preview code only shows a small fraction of the game but the work they have achieved on the soundtrack and the music score really is worth some praises. As soon as the tension starts to build up, the music gets all hectic and stressful, conveying a sense of urgency but when things get quieter and slow down, the piano playing in the background does a lot to stress the characters' misery. The opening credits following the prolog of the game is very well done and when it is finished you're immediately overwhelmed by the game's atmosphere.
What is past is prolog
David Cage promised us that each player will be able to create his own story by making choices that will affect the way the story unfolds. While it is difficult to be sure that it will be the case basing ourselves on the 10 chapters (plus the prolog) that are available in the preview, it will be certainly be interesting how big an impact one scene can have on the rest of the story in the final game. As for what we can do in the preview build, you sure can do different things in the course of a scene but in the end, it doesn't seem to have great consequences on the story (at least not in the short term, it might show more later on in the story). It is obviously possible to replay a scene and try new options to see how different it can go but for now, it still feels like point A and B are decided right from the start and what you do is simply modify the way you are going to get from one to the other. The ending of the scene is very often similar whatever the choices you make and we hope it is mainly due to the chapters available on the preview disc.
To illustrate this point, let me walk you through one of the chapters that are available so you can be aware of the different “paths” you can take. In one of the scenes, Scott Shelby enters a gloomy hotel to question Lorraine, the mother of one the victims (who is also a prostitute) – you will probably recognize the character model that was used in the concept video that was shown the first time Heavy Rain was out in the open. Your first choice is to either bride the super to know in which apartment Lorraine lives or simply walk past him and find out for yourself. Given the fact that there are just 4 different doors you can knock at, I don't really see why you would bother with the super but maybe that's just me. Anyway, once in the right room, depending on what you choose to say, the conversation will be more or less long (and instructive). Try for example to buy some information about her dead son out of Lorraine and you will be kicked out immediately. On the other hand, if you are convincing enough, you will learn a few more things on the case. No big revelation either though, remember the story takes its time in the beginning so you can't expect to figure everything out in the first few hours, obviously.
Once Shelby is out of the apartment, he has a violent asthma attack which has you fumbling through the pockets of his overcoat to get his inhaler and use it. By the time you get your head together, a former client of Lorraine's makes his way to her apartment and forces his way in. Again, you are given two options: let him beat the crap out of her and leave or be mister nice guy and go to her rescue. It still remains to see how this will affect the course of the story. If you choose to follow the man in Lorraine's apartment, you will enter a long QTE sequence but, whatever the outcome (whether you win or lose), the man will leave the place and Lorraine will thank you. You will not get more information for helping her, at least not right away and except for a few bruises there doesn't seem to be much to be gained (well other than a clear conscience obviously). It does not mean that all the chapters always end the same without any direct consequences tough: at some point in the story, Shelby will have to choose between helping the owner of a grocery story or letting him die, which will deprive him from a clue that might be important in his investigation.
The pain passes, but the beauty remains
On a technical standpoint, the preview build was still a little buggy but it is more than probable that most of the glitches I have witnessed will be taken care of by the time the game is released. Overall, the game is a mix of great and average. The character models, the textures (like the skin for instance) and the lighting effects are among the best out there. Some scenes look incredibly realistic and the detailed environments make it all the more impressive. The motion capture does a pretty good job but it can't help emphasizing how robotic and stiff the characters sometimes look because they keep looking straight forward which can be odd at times. These are the moments when you realize you are still in a video game. The weather effects are also very well done and it is quite easy to feel all the despair that rain can bring when you see it or simply hear it. The framerate is smooth in almost all circumstances so far, only when there is a bigger crowd (like in the mall during the prolog) can you see a few drops but it will hopefully be fixed too, anyway there is no need to be worried about this just yet. Tearing is still an issue at this point though, so let's hope they can work on it so it becomes less noticeable in the final version. Overall, the game really looks good and it will probably give some a good reason to brag when friends come over for a demo. More than once have I been stunned by the excellent facial animations or the photo-realistic environments.
Heavy Rain may not be a game like any other there is still a lot to it to keep me interested, until I can complete all the available chapters of the preview build. Some will claim it is nothing more than an interactive movie, others will see it as a unique experience in the adventure genre. All in all, it will certainly not leave anybody indifferent, though I doubt it will manage to convince those who did not dig Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy at all. As far as I'm concerned, I had a pretty good time completing Quantic Dreams' previous game, which is why I really enjoyed my time with Heavy Rain I suppose. I am really looking forward to getting my hands on the review build so I can find out if the storyline is really worth it. Because in the end, the success of the game will definitely depend on how good the story is.
About the game
Melmoth the net has been ready to slaughter SoT for years already. Not sure how many have actually played the final game (24 minutes ago)
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Driftwood GSY is getting some nice content at 3 pm CEST with our July podcast and some videos of the Deus Ex Mankind Divided preview build. :) (> 3 Months ago)
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