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Heavy Rain

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Trivia:

-Heavy Rain was originally intended to be multi-platform, but the PS3 tech demo at E3 2006 generated so much buzz that Sony opted to obtain the publishing rights

-The game’s soundtrack was recorded by a full orchestra at Abbey Road Studios, London

Many point to The Walking Dead as the catalyst for the rebirth of adventure games, citing its empowering yet emotionally tense story and incredibly developed three-dimensional characters as innovations to the genre.  Some point to Sam & Max, or Monkey Island, or even Back to the Future in its own way as proof of the adventure genre coming back strong in the 21st century.

Well, to this I say bulls**t.  I’m sorry, I truly sympathize with Telltale and other developers, but this trend of increasingly powerful games in the genre does not hail from existing franchises!  Rather, it took a 2010 hit, a new IP no less, to truly get the ball rolling… and who better to call upon for a mature, story-driven experience than Quantic Dream, the team responsible for Indigo Prophecy.

There were some who might have been sceptical of the ever-changing controls in every sequence, or the game’s apparent abundance of quick-time events.  Yet even with its flaws, Heavy Rain manages a task few games can truly claim to accomplish: it inspires raw, natural emotion in the player, and it keeps them invested to the very end.

That’s not to say I can say anything specific about how the game manages this emotionally-driven feat, since the key to this success is the unexpected and ever-changing nature of the story.  I live by a code of not spoiling anything for other people, so if questions about how many playable characters there are, what can happen to them or how the story plays out come up, fend for yourselves.

What the game’s story does come down to is tragedy, and how we as people choose to handle it.  It’s a deeply moving tale that sports non-judgemental commentary about the power that love can hold over us, and what we’re willing to do for the people we care about.  There’s overtones of obsession, of pain, of increasing madness that culminates in a finale one has to see to believe.

Although I can’t quite detail what I mean by this, the story does somewhat gloss over a few holes in the motivation of the ultimate antagonist – particularly when it comes to recalling certain convenient story moments.  Right place, right time, and such.  There’s also an issue with pacing in the opening, but the resonating emotions that come up as a result are well worth it.

Overall, though, the strength of the script, combined with the natural development of the characters over the course of the game and the incredibly believable actors, ensures that the story is elevated to Hollywood levels of excellence.  If a film ends up being made for Heavy Rain, there’s a good foundation here.

The gameplay also serves as a great compliment to the story.  It’s driven by quick button inputs, yes, and it does randomly switch up the inputs for each sequence of actions, but this approach adds a degree of intensity and split-second thinking to the player’s actions.  You’ll feel like you’re surviving every scene by the skin of your teeth, even if it’s something as trivial as cooking an egg, and it’s exhilarating.

If the controls are flawed in any way, it’s with movement.  The characters are mapped to an analog-esque control scheme (despite using the Control Stick) that reminds me of Resident Evil in all the wrong ways.  They move in a rather clunky and indirect manner, despite the excellent animation, and the camera occasionally makes precise turns nigh impossible.  Also, although I don’t like the artificial shaking added to characters’ thoughts as their moods change, I appreciate how it raises the tension and adds to the sense of urgency.

Fortunately, in terms of content, Heavy Rain finds a nice balance between quality and quantity.  You’ll spend somewhere between 10 and 15 hours narrowly escaping from death, danger and all other threats, while also spending time on both sides of the law.  There’s enough time spent developing the relationships between characters, and their styles of interaction, that you come to understand and even sympathize with them.

Again, I can’t go into details for fear of spoiling the story, but there’s an excellent sense of development to the game’s central mystery.  As characters move forward in the story, they can come across intriguing hints that tie up nicely by the end.  There’s also emphasis on detective work befitting of the game’s film noir roots, though its application is more in line with the neo-noir genre.

That is to say, it utilizes technology classic detective films couldn’t have even dreamed of. Getting in close and scanning clues, finding the trail that leads straight to the heart of the game’s mystery, following leads that bring characters closer and closer to their demise than they’d like… okay, that last part is horrible to think about, but it’s all about cinematic tension.  There’s a mechanic in play, a piece of technology, that allows for much of this work to be done, and it’s interesting to see what impact it has, both on the case and on its user.

What the game truly excels at, above all else, is telling a non-linear story while giving it meaning and closure.  The player’s actions may not impact the overall flow of the story, save for some conversations playing out differently and some chapters being skipped over, but they absolutely come to a head in the final hours of the game.  The decisions made throughout the game impact what evidence is found, whose lives are saved and whose are lost, and ultimately how that finale plays out – seriously, by God, play the game for yourself and you’ll get how important every detail is to the climax.

The game absolutely feels like a top-notch adventure game – complete with environmental interaction – but the amount of work put into its presentation gives the impression that it’s something more.  For one, the motion capture is some of the best I’ve seen in gaming, with facial expressions and body movement nearly at the level of photo-realism.  The injuries that characters suffer, for instance, are so believably rendered that I nearly wince when I see them.  Sadly, other details like characters’ hands and some textures tend to feel less polished, but I’m still impressed overall.

The environmental effects are also solid, with very well rendered rain drenching everything from clothing, to objects, to people.  The voice work shares this quality, with most of the actors giving believable and nuanced performances.  I’d be lying if I said every actor was endearing to me, but it’s high quality for video gaming, so I’ll take what I can get.

However, and I say this with the expectation that most everyone knows this already, the soundtrack is the one aspect of the presentation I cannot critique.  It’s perfect: it’s full of heart, sadness, pain, tension and fear.  It adds so much to the story, to a degree that I view it as essential to the experience.  If Ethan Mars’ Main Theme hadn’t been as well-conducted as it turned out to be, I might not have gotten hooked by the game as easily.

Heavy Rain brought back the adventure genre with a vengeance, with more heart, maturity and intense gameplay than most of its contemporaries can claim to have.  It certainly holds a place in the industry as a bittersweet reminder of gaming’s true potential as an artistic medium, as a method of storytelling and as emotional entertainment, albeit with some flaws.

Score: 8.5/10

Recommendation: Buy It

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