The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
A video game can encompass a multitude of experiences, transforming
gamers into the heroes of intergalactic wars or the saviors of
underwater civilizations. While the settings and scenarios may be
different, most titles use similar gameplay vocabularies to immerse and
entertain us. Concepts like shooting the bad guys, leveling up your
character, and acquiring new items are so pervasive that they have been
inextricably woven into most players’ definition of what it means to be
a video game. Heavy Rain forces you to reconsider that definition. It
is barely a game in the popular sense of the word, but Quantic Dream’s
masterpiece makes groundbreaking strides in storytelling and character
development, demonstrating that interactive entertainment still has a
deep well of untapped potential.
Heavy Rain is a game about
choice – but not the kind of black-and-white moral decisions upon which
games typically rely. It’s about choices that send ripples through the
entire experience, changing what you see and coloring your perception
of the characters. On a basic level, you watch the mystery of the
Origami Killer unfold. Beyond that, how the plot and characters develop
is up to you. Fight or flee? Surrender or suffer? Kill or be killed?
Your decisions aren’t just brief forks in the road before the paths
re-converge. Two players could follow unique arcs through the story,
see different characters live and die, and come away with an entirely
different idea of what happened and why.
Playing out like the
chapters of a book, your control alternates between four protagonists,
each gathering clues and driven by their own agenda. The order you play
the characters and the direction of their stories vary depending on how
you interact with the world during freeform exploration and
context-sensitive button presses and motions, which comprise the
entirety of what Heavy Rain offers in terms of traditional gameplay.
Simply pressing a button may not sound compelling at first, but when
your character’s finger in on the trigger, or when a child’s life rests
in your hands, that single motion is just as intense as any boss fight.
When you can read the conflict and pain right on the characters’
expressions (thanks to the game’s amazing facial models), the choices
are even more powerful. During one particularly rough sequence, I was
literally cringing as I pressed down, forced to decide between two
equally reprehensible options.
While these harrowing decisions
give the story its edge, the quiet and subtle moments are just as
integral to shaping your vision of the characters. Allowing the dad to
lose a toy sword fight with his son, deciding what the insomniac
journalist does at two in the morning, or making the gruff private
investigator close his desk drawer without taking a swig of whiskey –
these are the incidental events that slowly uncover complex emotions
like trust, grief, and love. The characters are defined through these
casual choices, building a foundation to work from when you’re faced
with dictating their actions in the high-stakes scenarios.
little choices and big ones fuse in a single, seamless narrative. No
matter how you perform during the timed button presses, the story goes
on, and the chapters flow from one to the other so brilliantly that
you’ll have trouble imagining how things could have happened any other
way. I strongly recommend you avoid the temptation to replay chapters
if things don’t go as you hope; there is no success or failure, and by
retrying until you “win,” all you’ll end up with is a more disjointed
view of the events.
Not all of the stumbling blocks in Heavy
Rain’s story spring from replaying chapters. While the plot is
remarkably cohesive given the game’s ambitions, cracks appear in a few
areas. One seemingly major thread is unceremoniously dropped about
halfway through, and several of the side characters feel more like
stock archetypes than believable people. The voice acting can be tough
to bear at times, too – especially when no one can consistently
pronounce “origami.” But for every instance where the game’s
composition falters, there are dozens where it gracefully glides on
Taking the right lessons away from its previous
title, Indigo Prophecy, developer Quantic Dream has shorn away most
traditional video game trappings from Heavy Rain. What remains is an
innovative journey through an engrossing and well-paced mystery. You’re
given just enough gameplay to forge a connection to the world and its
characters, but not so much that it interferes with the game’s
cinematic sensibilities. Heavy Rain is a truly pioneering title, and
hopefully the vanguard for a new genre of interactive narratives.
Email the author Joe Juba, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, and Game Informer.
While Heavy Rain succeeds in giving players more control over the
narrative, the results of this experimental game are mixed. The game’s
choose-your-own-adventure approach sometimes results in questionable
plot devices and redundant story threads that make it feel more like a
pulpy dime novel than a serious action thriller. Characters often act
unnaturally, and the voice acting isn’t strong enough to compensate for
the questionable writing. But it’s not the story that makes Heavy Rain
a worthwhile experience; it’s how that story is told. I walked away
with a strong sense of ownership over the plot, and certain sequences –
such as escaping from a burning building – had me on the edge of my
seat. Heavy Rain won’t be for everyone; the quick-time action sequences
are great, but that limited gameplay is fairly one-dimensional. Those
who put up with Heavy Rain’s slow pacing, however, will find that it is
one of the most unique and compelling experiences interactive
entertainment has to offer.