01/05/2010. Contributed by Phil Jones
pub: Quantic Dream/Sony B002BWONF8. Price £39.99 (UK). Cert 15+.
check out website: www.heavyrainps3.com
Usually, when someone says a game tries to break the mould and do something different, various groans emerge from the gaming community. We've heard it all before, innovative control system, amazing graphics and new play style. Even worse if someone were to say interactive drama, a game on rails that you can only make feeble choices at inopportune moments. They end up in the flotsam and jetsam of supermarket bargain bins, often forgotten.
So I would just like to say for starters, 'Heavy Rain' does not fall into this category. It has elements at least of which have been done before. Mundane activities, interactive control, from multiple button pressing, up to five at a time, to button hammering like old school sport games. Where is does differ is its sheer high production values. The graphics at times are outstanding. The facial texturing is very impressive as are the detailed environments. The two elements that really do shine are the camera(s) and music. The acting is on the ball drawing you so far into the world of these characters, it's amazing. This all adds up to an incredibly dark and moody feel. Don't play this if you want to cheer yourself up as it has one of the most foreboding almost depressive atmospheres of any game I've played.
So what's it's all about? At heart, you could simplify and say it's a detective story following the origami killer. He drowns his victims and leaves them in disused wasteland with an orchid and an origami figure. The crime scenes are left bereft of clues to lead back to the killer. The victims usually die a few days after they are kidnapped.
The game kicks off, though, with an almost sedentary pace. You get up out of bed, have a shave and a shower (if you want) and join your wife when she arrives down stairs. The story then leaps to the mall where you look after one of your sons and while paying for a balloon, your son disappears into the crowd. Things start degrading and we join the father; Ethan Mars, two years later in a dingy apartment split from his wife after the loss of their son. You play through a couple of scenes with your surviving son culminating with you having a blackout in the park and your second son missing. This doesn't go down well with your ex-partner or the police for that matter and it's suspected that the origami killer may be involved.
From this point you get to play three other characters as well as Ethan, Madison Page, an insomniac who often resorts to trying to sleep in motels, Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler who is brought in to help with the origami killer case and a private eye, Scott Shelby. All in their own way are trying to find the killer but Ethan most of all has the most at stake with his son missing. They all come to realise that there is only a limited amount of time to save the boy and when there have been six inches of rain, the boy will drown. With each new scene, you are given the amount of rain that has fallen relentlessly reminding you the urgency to find the boy.
The control although may feel vaguely familiar and uses a selection of stick pushing, button pressing and motion control of your PS3 controller to simulate the action on screen. The interesting point, though, is often you can dictate the pace of the animation by the speed you push the analogue stick or button. This is often essential if you are carrying out a delicate manoeuvre or action. If you do some too quick you have to start again delaying the desired action, as with wrong button presses. You are often given a few chances at least to get this right. Only in really tight or intense points are you penalised for slow or wrong response. The overall feel does go closer than any other game to giving you a real sense you are controlling and affecting the characters in the scene and story. You always have a sense of wonder as to what affect your choices and actions will have. Thoughts and choices are presented as a swirling cloud around the character with a separate button attached to each choice. You have to take care and not to impulsively jump at the first few choices. You are given often a few seconds to make a choice.
The clever writing means that often you do not feel that you are making an active choice, there are only relatively few times when you are given absolute stark options to take, often being ones you would rather not choose. That's another thing about this game, it'll unnerve you, both with its atmosphere and the choices and situations the characters are thrown into. The tricky situations often have you tying up your fingers to press all the correct buttons, but, cleverly, the game can do this with your mind as well.
The mundane adds depth as well as breathing space, For example, Jaden has a VR set of glasses and glove which he can both use to find and analyse clues and evidence at a scene or provide him with a breathtaking virtual office where he can examining and analyse clues. You can choose from the surface of Mars, a forest or coral reef. All are stunningly rendered.
Emotionally, this game wins hands down, it's unendingly dower feel is unsettling. It is flawed and sometimes the game-play can be truly annoying, but this is more than made up for by some truly impressive writing and the fact you can play this out in multiple ways. I'll warn you now that this is a relatively short game, but it does merit replay. This is definitely a step in the right direction for interactive drama-based games. It gives you something different and a break from all the regular first person shoot 'em ups. It gives you, like 'Uncharted', a chance to start to see what the PS3 is capable of. I think PS3 owners should definitely add this to their collection.
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