Heavy Rain (PS3) Review

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: February 23, 2010
ESRB: Mature 17+

This would have been an excellent game if not for major story flaws.

Gezegond Score: 7.5
Pros: Features the best possible gameplay for storytelling Story is fantastic in the middle of the game Characters look real and are animated well
Cons: Plot holes Plot inconsistencies Disappointing ending

Contents:
Audiovisuals
Gameplay
Characters
Story
Final Ratings

 

I hate QTEs. I just wanted to clear this up before starting the review because Heavy Rain is essentially a series of QTEs strung together to tell a story: An interactive movie. It’s a real accomplishment, then, that I actually enjoyed Heavy Rain despite my hatred for pressing random buttons.
Heavy Rain is not my first play in the interactive movie genre. I had previously played “Fahrenheit”, another game by Quantic Dream, the developers of Heavy Rain; and while I loved that game for its story and presentation, I hated it for its controls, specially some real frustrating QTE segments.
I remember I was very excited when I first heard about Heavy Rain. Everything sounded great: Being a Playstation 3 exclusive, the developers could focus on bringing out the most of what PS3 can offer both graphically and in terms of control methods, rather than aiming for the lowest point which is supported by all platforms if the game were to be released on multiple consoles. The branching story sounded more complicated than that of Fahrenheit (or any other game I had played); and the new story seemed to be more mature and complicated than the previous one.
Having now played the game, I am quite happy that my expectations are met. Almost.
Audiovisuals:
Let’s start with the visuals. For a game like this, visuals play a very important role. After all, when you’ve got little to play with, you’ll end up staring at the scenery instead. Considering their importance, the graphics are not as good as I wanted them to be. They might look really great, or ridiculously bland, depending on what you’re staring at.
Let me elaborate a bit: Quantic Dream has put a lot of effort on characters, particularly on how well they can express emotions through facial gestures. The results are… well, good. The characters look real (Though some look better than others) but when they express an emotion, sometimes it feels… just too mechanical. Like robots that are programmed to perform a certain expression that is assigned to a keyword. This doesn’t happen frequently enough to be immersion braking though, and the characters’ details and their animations are otherwise done surprisingly well and accurate. A visual highlight for me was when Jayden, one of the characters, used his augmented reality glasses to turn his tiny office into a vast natural environment. Jayden can choose between a forest in autumn, the ocean floor, the top of a cliff in a valley (my favorite), and on mars. These sceneries give the game’s overall gritty tones some needed variation, and they were my favorite part of the game visually.

This is how Jayden’s office looks through those glasses.
 
Those, are however the visual highlights of the game. Other areas are relatively worse. The sceneries have great artistic touches, and look great, but not noticeably better than other PS3 titles. Given the fact that in this sort of game, the engine only needs to handle at most a few rooms, I don’t see why they couldn’t have used better looking textures and details. The world objects are the worst part. You’ll see a lot of these in Heavy Rain. You have to interact with different items throughout the game, which gives you a very close look at the said item: Perhaps you’re shaving and the razor is taking up half of the screen, or you’re putting some plates on a table, each taking turns to fill the entire screen. These frequent close looks constantly ruin your experience by showing you an ugly model that completely breaks the immersion. And by ugly, I mean UGLY. I have seen 3D models used in 5th gen games looking better than some of these. The cars in particular look very ridiculous. I didn’t expect them to look better than the ones in racing games, but I’ve seen custom models done by hobbyists that look better than these. I understand that a developer can’t design a level full of high quality objects, but when something takes the entire screen for 3 seconds, with the player’s complete attention focused on it, it has to look realistic.

 

I have seen cars in games released in 90s that looked better than these.

Voice acting is very important in this sort of game, so it’s very pleasing that I rarely noticed anything out of place. Specifically, the actors are pretty good at conveying their character’s emotions and their tone go along with the facial expressions well. There is however, some very poor voice acting present as well. These mostly belong to minor side characters with very few lines, but they succeed in ruining the mood when they occur nonetheless. I don’t remember any particular piece of music that specifically grabbed my attention, perhaps due to the game’s short duration, but for the most part it was enjoyable and contributed to setting the mood reasonably well.
Gameplay:
Gameplay? What gameplay? It’s an interactive film, you just watch it and make stupid decisions every once in a while, right? At least, that’s what one would expect when hearing the term “interactive movie”. That line of thought, is wrong. This is where Heavy Rain shines. It achieves something never done before: to make you feel you’re living a story. This is not something any movie can ever do, and that, is why Heavy Rain is most definitely a game.
The gameplay is essentially divided into 2 modes: The adventure mode, and the QTE mode. In adventure mode, you have direct control over your character. You walk around, interact with objects and people, and try to accomplish something. It works pretty much like early 3D adventure games such as Grim Fandango. QTE mode triggers when the situation goes out of control, and quick reflexive action is needed to handle it. When combined, these two modes involve the player with the story in an impressive manner: The adventure mode gameplay has been used in story driven games for quite some time with great results, and Heavy Rain is no exception. In most games, QTE is just a cheap method that substitutes more complex gameplay (which is why I hate it), but in this one, they’re actually used for what they do best: gauging the player’s reflexive reactions.

 

Adventure mode plays relatively the same as other 3D adventure games.
 
These modes of gameplay have been done before quite a lot, and their combination has already been done in Quantic Dream’s past game, Fahrenheit. So what makes Heavy Rain different? The answer is their implementation. You see, you don’t just interact with your surroundings by pressing a button. You need to make the appropriate gestures as well: You want to pick something up from the floor? You have to move the analog stick up. You need to pick it up slowly? You have to move the analog stick up slowly. While this doesn’t sound too impressive on the paper, in effect it does a very great job at immersing you in the game. And this goes beyond just “make that analog stick gesture to do x”: Every action is a combination of several gestures, which could include making a certain analog stick gesture at a certain pace, using the buttons by pressing, holding, quick tapping, or a combination of them, and doing several gestures with the controller itself: finally a good use for sixaxis motion sensors in Dualshock 3 controllers. The precision is spot on, as I never felt cheated: If a gesture was registered as a failure, it was because I failed to perform it correctly, not because of poor implementation. That’s something that Heavy Rain should be applauded for, since many other games fail to implement gestures correctly and in a fun or immersing manner.

 

The QTE mode kicks in whenever reflexive reactions are needed.
 
Another touch, that immerses you even more in the game, is the fact that there’s no HUD layout. Each action prompt is presented over the related object in the 3D environment (as opposed to being drawn on 2D HUD overlay). While this too, seems trivial, it makes a huge difference in your experience, in that you have to actually look around the screen to see whether there’s something worth interacting with, similar to real life, rather than staring at a fixed place where prompts would appear on HUD.

 

Each action prompt is displayed on the related object.
 
And what adventure style gaming is good without the characters talking to themselves like idiots? This “trick” was used in early adventure games in order to give the player information about an object. The same is present here only with a small twist: Holding L2 pops up some keywords that rotate around your character’s head and can be selected by pressing one of the face buttons associated with them. Each keyword represents one of your character’s thoughts, and they will talk about it to themselves when one is selected. This way, the game gives you information about your surroundings, the objects, the goals, hints, and most importantly the character’s emotions at any time, rather than simply giving information on interactive objects.

 

Thoughts spinning in your head.
 

Not immersed enough yet? Another immersing aspect in gameplay is what I’d like to call “object button mapping”. See, in most games, each button represents an action. For instance, by pressing x, you kick. I call this “action button mapping”. In “object button mapping” however, each button is mapped to an “object”, such as one of the character’s limbs, or the camera. While the former is more practical and suited for complex gameplay styles, the latter immerses the player in the environment better, meaning each has its own particular use.

In Heavy Rain, the developers have made the right choice to use “object button mapping”: The left analog stick represents your neck, and by moving it you look around, moving the camera accordingly as well as your head. R2 represents your feet, and by pressing it you move in the direction your head is facing. So if you want to turn right for instance, you use the left analog stick to tilt your character’s head to right, and then press R2 to move in that direction. While this might sound too unnecessarily complex, it does a great job at immersing you in the game, and you’ll quickly get used to it because it makes sense. The right analog stick represents your hands, and you use it to perform various gestures that utilize your hands. Moreover, L2 represents you mind, L1 flips between the 2 camera views at each scene, and your controller on the whole represents the character’s entire body (for use in sixaxis motion gestures).

All of the above add up together to make a truly wonderful immersive gameplay style, making this the best method I have ever seen for telling a story in a game so far. This is the sort of meaningful innovation I’d like to see in more games, and I wholeheartedly praise Heavy Rain for it.

There are two more things I’d like to talk about here. First are the extras. Going through the game you unlock 7 concept art galleries and 3 “making of” videos. The most important aspect of the videos is that they show the real actors who the characters are modeled after. I thought the characters looked artificial so I was surprised to see how much they resemble their real actors. The only one that looked a bit different was the FBI agent, which I thought had the least artificial model! Turns out I find realism unreal. The concept art gallery, while not so attractive to regular gamers, is definitely a plus for people who’re interested in art or game design.

That’s some rad concept art.
 
Next is the origami figure. There is a mandatory hard disk installation when you first start the game. While the game is being installed, it teaches you to make a real origami figure (The one that is the game’s main logo). I found this really fun and innovative, and it did a great job at setting the mood effectively while making the wait fun at the same time. I thought this should be mentioned because I have always been intrigued by what game developers do with loading screens, and this one was very innovative as it gives you a game to play even when it’s loading and it has a really good reason not to.

 

You’ll make one of these for yourself.
 
Characters:

And so we reach the most important aspect of Heavy Rain: the characters and the story. All of the technology, the gameplay, the level of details, and everything I talked about up until now were merely tools for presenting the story. Given the importance it carries, I regret to tell you that the story unfortunately falls short. Very short. Let’s get to it, shall we?

The story revolves around the “Origami Killer”, a serial killer targeting young boys, leaving an orchid and an origami figure on the bodies of his victims. The story is told through the perspective of 4 different characters that are all in some way related to the origami killer. Each of these characters has their own story theme and gameplay style.

Ethan Mars, the main character, has his son kidnapped early on the game. His side of the story is full of intense emotions, usually pain and confusion. The origami killer demands him to do harm either to others or to himself in exchange of his son’s life, leading to a lot of painful decisions he must make. This decision making makes the bulk of his gameplay style.

This is Ethan. He’s a bit sad.
 
Madison Paige is a reporter investigating the origami killer. She is the kind of girl you see in Hollywood movies who does extremely dangerous stuff just because she’s “curious”. She frequently does stupid things, and does stupid things to get those stupid things done. There was this part, for instance, where she goes to a disco club to find some information about its owner who is most likely a criminal. Now if it was me, I would start by asking the people around or bribe the bartender to find something out about him. As a matter of fact, I did try to talk with other people on the scene. But Madison want to talk only and only to the owner himself. The owner obviously does not want to be bothered. So what does she do? Bribe the doorman on his office? Try to find info another way, maybe talk to other people now? No! She decides to get into the owner’s private section by dancing and seducing him. And after finally finding her way there, what does she do? Try to wittingly get him to talk about something he shouldn’t? Bluffing about blackmailing him? No! She asks him if they could go somewhere “private” to talk. You are free to facepalm. This kind of behavior usually leads to a lot of situations where she is captured by the enemy and must do something to break free, Hollywood style. I found her character very stereotypical and weakest among the four.

 

The shortest way to find something out about the origami killer is obviously to show cleavage.
 
Norman Jayden is an FBI profiler in charge of the Origami Killer’s case. He has his very own gameplay style thanks to ARI: Short for “Added Reality Interface”, ARI is a futuristic gadget used by FBI agents to help them with… everything. It consists of augmented reality glasses and a glove which help him in a crime scene, in his office, or when he just wants to waste time. Most importantly, ARI can do everything the CSI lab team does in a whole episode in a single second. His gameplay style therefore is reminiscent to that of detective games: investigating the crime scene and talking to related people. But that’s not all there is to Jayden: In addition to being a rookie cop and dealing with numerous inconveniences brought by it, he is also addicted to drugs, and using ARI too much puts negative side effects on his mind. His part was also the only part where I had to use my brain a little. Overall, I found Jayden the best and most fun character to play with amongst the four.

 

Not only does ARI find the evidence, it also analyzes it and finds related info from the entire FBI database instantly.
 
Scott Shelby is a private investigator who’s hired by the families of the victims of the origami killer. He goes around asking the relatives of the previous victims in search for clues. Incidentally, whenever he does that some sort of predicament comes up which he has to deal with, earning the trust of those who don’t talk along the way. His gameplay is therefore a mix of adventure and QTE.

 

Good thing a thieve showed up, now I can play the hero and then he’ll surely talk!
 
Story:

The story is actually quite good and would be outstanding if not for its major flaws. Let’s start with the weak introduction: The first 30 minutes of the game is dedicated to showing you how to play the game, and in those 30 minutes the story is very thin and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Actually, let me rephrase that: it doesn’t make any sense. For example, in the first chapter Ethan’s son suddenly “teleports” upstairs (I can’t think of any other way he could go there that fast) to… find his bird dead. Did he kill the bird? Did the bird die on its own? What is the reason we should know or care about the bird at all? It doesn’t have anything to do with the story, and the lines are so bad that it doesn’t contribute to the development of characters at all. My only guess is that it’s just a failed attempt at sounding deep and metaphorical.

Or in the second chapter, when his other son decides to wander off in the mall despite him warning him not to do so several times. After finally finding his son, he rewards him with by buying him a balloon, after which he wanders off again despite his father telling him firmly not to do so two times. Instead of getting angry and going after him and bringing him back, Ethan spends a whole minute trying to find his wallet to pay for the balloon. Wtf?

Now why don’t I buy you a balloon because you paid zero attention to what I just said? 
 
The story gets better after the introduction. It managed to successfully attract and maintain my attention, so much that I found myself guessing the identity of Origami Killer midway into the game. One of the highlights for me was a part where Ethan, suffering from agoraphobia, has to go through a station in order to get a package left by the Origami Killer in a locker. The way his mental sickness was portrayed here was downright genius. Another highlight was where Jayden and his partner Blake are investigating a suspect. In the middle of the conversation the suspect suddenly takes out a gun and points it at Blake. As Jayden you have the option to either shoot the suspect or talk him into surrendering. I remember that it felt very real: The gun’s trigger was associated with the R1 button, and I kept feeling that I have a real gun in my hand and the life of two human beings at stake. I think I now understand what “the responsibility of holding a gun” means.

 

This guy doesn’t seem to like cops much.
 
One of the most important aspects of the story is that it branches into different directions depending on your choices and actions. All characters can die, and if they do the story will continue without them from the perspective of the other characters. The branching is not limited to deaths though; It goes into different directions based on the decisions you make, things you say, or objects you interact with. As an example, in a part where Jayden has to arrest a suspect, he suddenly starts feeling dizzy due to his drug addiction. You have to find his drugs in his pockets with precise gestures, and if you succeed, you get better on the spot and arrest him and everything’s over. But if you fail, the suspect captures you and puts you in a life/death situation where you have to fight for your life.

 

Stay down!
 

The problem with the story however, is that there are two flaws that are always present: First, the plot holes. There are a lot of things that go unexplained in Heavy Rain. Unfortunately, I can’t elaborate more or I would be spoiling the story, but there are events that happen but never explained why. Similar to the bird in the introduction, you might think that these have something to do with the story, but then the story goes on and on until it’s finished and they’re left unexplained.

The second flaw, which was my biggest gripe with the game, was the inconsistencies. Ethan has some blackouts early on in the game and they seem to be really important. They also have strong hints about the identity of the Origami Killer. However, once a couple of them occur, they just stop happening out of the blue and then the plot takes another direction and a bit later it’s like the writers forgot that blackouts happened at all. Not only are they not addressed, they are never mentioned again.

Strange, where did this origami come from? Well, I’ll just pretend I didn’t see it.
 

And finally, my second major gripe was the ending. The ending was… how should I put it? Pointless. And Meaningless. I don’t want to spoil it so imagine a mystery murder case. The detective looks for clues one by one, and slowly gathers information. All of them point that Mr. X is the killer. Then at the end in a dramatic twist, it is revealed that the killer was actually Mr. Y. They show you a flashback in which Mr. Y kills the victims. The credits roll. Notice that they never bother telling you why all the evidence pointed to Mr. X being the killer. That would feel like 98% of the story was completely pointless. That is how Heavy Rain’s ending feels. Out of the blue, this guy is the Origami Killer. Bye.

There is a reason for both the plot holes and the inconsistencies that the developers have explained: Deleted Scenes. Many of the plot holes and the blackouts are explained in a deleted scenes video that you can watch here. (It’s full of spoilers, so make sure you watch it after finishing the game) However, this does not make the ending make any more sense. You can also read more about why the ending doesn’t make sense here if you want. (This is also full of spoilers) This leads me to believe that there was something else going on besides deleting scenes which resulted in this.

If you’re wondering why the story doesn’t make any sense, it’s because we deleted all the important parts.
 

My theory is that the game’s story was dramatically changed mid-development. You see, where the story was going in the middle of the game would make it a bit… controversial. Yes, that’s the word. I believe they changed the story fearing the controversial nature of it would negatively affect sales. That’s the only way I can explain the ending, the inconsistencies, and the plot holes altogether. The fact that the developers have already admitted that they changed the story to remove all supernatural occurrences is just further evidence to this theory. Perhaps, they changed it a little more than just “removing supernatural elements”.

These flaws, when put together, completely ruin the story which would have been otherwise fantastic. And with the story being the most important aspect of this game, the whole experience and fun factor of the game suffers. Unfortunately, the story, and by extension the whole game fails to deliver anything fun, meaningful, or interesting in the end. This would have been an excellent game if not for major story flaws. If these flaws were not present, one could forgive gameplay shortcomings considering the genre, but this is the other way around. Still, I believe that it’s worth playing for all the positive aspects that I have mentioned. You can experience something new rather than playing a game that’s very similar to the ones you’ve played before. Just try to ignore the ending and make up your own for this story. I’m sure it will fare better than the real one.

 

Final Ratings:

 

Rating
Out of 10
Description
6.5 Story

The plot holes, inconsistencies, and the ending ruin the otherwise fantastic story.

8.5 Audiovisuals

Despite some minor annoyances it’s wonderfully done.

9.5 Gameplay

The gameplay is specifically designed for telling a story and it’s almost flawless.

8.5 Technical Performance

The game crashed a couple of times and on one instance a vital object wasn’t rendered at all.

5.5 Durability

The game takes around 9-11 hours to complete, and there’s not much left to do once it’s over.

7.5
Great
OVERALL
(out of 10 / not an average)

Download PDF Version

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *