It’s finally here. After more than three years of development, Heavy Rain is offering itself to us in this review version and we threw ourselves into the adventure, not without fear. Despite a quite promising preview if one accepts the style of the game, numerous questions were left unresolved. Would the story keep us in suspense till the end? Would it be interesting enough for us to discover the real story behind this ambitious title? Time has come to provide you the essential answers so you know what to expect before taking the step and embarking yourself in the vision of video games made in David Cage.
Heavy Rain, first of all the story revolves around several different characters that will not necessarily come out unscathed from this race against death. Broken destiny, despair and loneliness, we might think that the game from David Cage focuses essentially on death but it is quite the opposite. From Ethan Mars the unfortunate father, Shelby detective and his big heart, Madison the insomniac journalist or Jayden, the FBI agent addicted to narcotic substances, all have only one idea in mind: do everything they can to battle against a flood of irreversible events. Decidedly adult themed, Heavy Rain plays on the feelings and the reactions of the player, the player goes from playing as an actor to playing a director when the choices are presented to the player.
The first of these choices will be to accept this type of game and what it implies. Yes, Heavy Rain is more of an interactive movie than a real game. Yes, Heavy Rain will use (too?) many QTE and other contextual actions. Does this mean that it reduces the interest? No, or rather, it depends. If Fahrenheit had kept you interested despite its preposterous story, not to say, poorly inspired, you should find in Heavy Rain the rare pearl you hoped for. The scenario is classic, with most of the scenes that we expect to see in a polar, without neglecting some surprises, hopefully never of the third encounter kind. And then you can take a deep breath, no extravaganza à la Matrix in Heavy Rain, the story stays anchored in the darkest possible reality from the beginning to the end. And if, as I said, the scenario does not shine with its originality, at least it remains consistent until the end, with an unexpected conclusion and a breathless finale.
Heavy Rain allows the player to accomplish the very basic tasks of every day’s life: taking a shower, going to the bathroom (small bladders can rest assured, we can go to the bathroom quite often if necessary), setting the table, playing with children, making dinner, changing diapers and even putting on make-up. Some of these activities will of course be mandatory but you will not necessarily be asked to perform these tasks in order to progress. These scenes offer limited video game fun - after all, moving a joystick in one direction or pressing a button isn't overly exciting, yet less rewarding for the average gamer, the interest of heavy Rain is elsewhere. At least for those who have not decided to dislike these sequences of everyday life, the purpose of which is to put you, the player, in a certain mood.
Besides that, the player will of course be able to interact with the other characters, whether to discuss with his child or interrogating a witness. The proposed system is quite simple as words appear on the screen, all associated to a button on the controller. The "difficulty" is that they are not static and the readability is therefore affected, and some dialogs ask to quickly choose your question/answer or the game will decide for you - and not necessarily to your advantage as you can imagine, and finally you will not always be able to address every subject. Globally, these scenes work well and some of them actually put a little pressure on the player who could then slip-up or not.
No surprise, all known action sequences will use the famous QTE as described. Whether juggling, fighting with your bare hands, driving a vehicle, using a weapon, escaping a perilous situation or to dance, your reflexes will be severely tested throughout the adventure. While most of the time, you will be granted some errors without fatal result, careful not to get too distracted because some of the chapters can really end badly. Already present in Fahrenheit, the QTE were strongly criticized because of their extreme length and, especially, the difficulty for the player to follow what was happening on the screen if they wanted to enter correctly the combination of keys that were displayed on the screen. Fortunately, this is no more of a problem in Heavy Rain, thanks to an intelligent integration of the commands within the actions. The QTE can be exasperating when prolonged, but never frustrating nor annoying. They appear at the right time and the player does not lose any of the action, they become very addictive and is reminiscent of Shenmue, the inventor of the genre.
In a game that is set in a police investigation, it would have been a shame not to be offered some kind of investigation inquiries. Equipped with highly sophisticated glasses, agent Jayden will for example survey the crime scene while scanning the area looking for possible evidence. These sequences are once again quite simple as the crime scenes are always a bit limited and because the system simply consists in pressing R1 to scan a circular area around the character. Any evidence – having a connection with the investigation or not – appears on the screen and all you have to do is to approach it and push the right joystick down to run the analysis. Again, despite the simplicity of the process, it really puts the player into the atmosphere. Once all the clues are collected, you will have to review them at the office to get information that will help the player make their way through the story. Apart from these very high-tech passages, the player will be also prompted to search a house or apartment in a more conventional way.
The marketing campaign of Heavy rain has been mainly focused on the notion of free will in the game and the importance of the choices the player will have to make to alter the way the story unfolds. In the preview build, we were disappointed not to be able to witness such situations, even though it was obviously due to the fact that very few chapters were available. In the grocery story scene for example, it was just possible to do things a bit differently but it always ended in the exact same way for the player: the grocer would give him a mysterious box he had been sent by the killer after his son's abduction. For obvious reasons, we won't be able to show you videos of real dramatic changes in the narration but the video below will present you with two possible scenarios in the grocery store sequence. Rest assured though that some of your actions will definitely have real consequences on the story. you will be asked to make some tough decisions, which, depending on your choice, will clearly affect the course of the storyline. We were promised that some characters might die because of our mistakes and I can confirm it is actually the case. Sure, it would have been great to see such consequences in more sequences, some being more lenient than others in that area, but it still is more than many games can brag to offer. Be aware that Heavy rain does not come automatically with a happy ending, and everything is up to you.
On a technical standpoint, the review build shows some major improvements in terms of framerate and tearing issues - vertical synchronization is not always top notch but it's ok most of the time. Although some might disagree, I find most of the environments look good, especially when it rains and they get gloomier and more depressing. The interiors are very rich and detailed and the lighting effects give of of them a very unique atmosphere. Character models on their part are often disturbingly realistic, which does not come as a surprise given that some of them have been modeled after the actors who did the voice over work. That being said, the faces and expressions are not always lively enough and it reminds the player that it is, after all, just a video game. Also disappointing are certain close-shots on the characters' hands where you can see that they are really poorly textured and modeled. Considering how impressive the skin textures are on the faces, it is a shame that they haven't put as much effort on the hands. Aside from that, the game does look photo-realistic and it adds a lot to the immersion. I won't be so kind with the way the animations have been handled: motion capture can look OK at times, but, more than often, it feels more like watching a very awkward robot. Controls are, for that matter, not that easy to pick up and turning around can get terribly complicated, especially when the camera angles get in the way. Again, it shows that motion capture has its limits and that even the player's skills cannot always compensate for them.
Your should expect 8 to 10 hours to complete the game, which, to me, seems pretty reasonable for the genre. Add to that the replay value of the game with the possibility to replay all the 50 chapters of the game - either to unlock new content and trophies or to simply try to discover new scenes by playing differently - and you will get an idea of how much time you will spend in the world of Heavy Rain. As far as I'm concerned, I definitely enjoyed my time playing the game, but then again, I had had my fun with Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. It may not be the revolutionary game some expected, it may also be very different from all the others, but it still is a good experience overall. It obviously has flaws, like the fact that some choices could have been made even tougher and more punishing for the player, or the fact that too much time is usually given to react. It is also a shame that some answers are left unsaid at the end - should we expect them in the upcoming downloadable contents? - but, in spite of some awkward moments, the game will keep you interested until the ending credits show up. Some will probably argue that the gameplay has been too simplified to be worth a try, but after more than 8 hours, I can say I feel lucky not to have stopped at such prejudices.