As you’ll know if you follow our Twitter feed (which is amazing, by the way), Heavy Rain has split opinion in the Radar office. Moreso than any game in recent memory, in fact. Some like it, some hate it, and some lie somewhere in between. But regardless of subjective reaction to this most unique of PlayStation 3 exclusives, there are certain cold hard facts that you need to know, and those are what this Super Review is going to bring you.
Tread carefully if you're particularly sensitive to spoilers though. We've tried to avoid them, but there are one or two unavoidable plot points touched upon within.
Easily the most blurred combination of movie and game to date, Heavy Rain is a very interesting prospect indeed in this age of sprawling video game mythologies and high def cut scenes. But “interesting” covers a wide range of emotions. Which ones does Heavy Rain evoke? Read on and we’ll tell you. But first, a large disclaimer.
Your appreciation of what Heavy Rain does will depend on what you like to take away from your video games, and in fact your entertainment media in general. Depending on your preferences you may gush uncontrollably over the things it does well, but by the same note they might leave you stoney cold. So we’ve devised the following multiple choice quiz for you to fill in. Just tick the boxes that sum up your reaction to the following items and we’ll explain the results in a moment. And remember, don’t use a permanent marker or you’ll bugger up your monitor.
What is your gut response to this screenshot?
How would you feel if presented with the following as part of a tutorial?
If you ticked mostly A and B, you’ll appreciate what Heavy Rain does. If you ticked mostly C, move on. There’s nothing to see here.
So what the hell is it?
Glad you asked. With so many preconceptions already gathered around the title (“It’s the future of games!” “It’s the return of point and click adventures!” “It’s the longest QTE in history!”) we need to start by clearing up exactly how Heavy Rain works.
Heavy Rain is a gritty piece of interactive narrative following a dark and fairly brutal murder mystery story set in 2011. You’ll alternately play as several different characters involved in various aspects of the overall plot, and your actions will shape the events of the current scene, subsequent scenes, and the overall story. These changes are achieved via branching dialogue trees, the provision of different solutions to problems (sometimes including the option to walk away altogether), and your success or failure during key action sequences.
Everything (and we mean everything) bar physically moving your character around the environment is controlled via simple button presses, small turns of the right analogue stick, and shakes of the Sixaxis. QTE prompts flash up on screen whenever you pass an object or person that can be interacted with or whenever the story throws up a set-piece event, and you follow them accordingly. Or not.
You definitely can’t change the way things unfold with complete freedom, but when different approaches are possible you can often radically change the way a scene plays out, even if your actions don’t change the end result. For a simple example, check out two different ways we tackled a convenience store hold-up with private eye Scott Shelby. First we did this:
Then we did this:
One approach led to a quick and easy victory, while the other led to a botched confrontation. We could also have kept our hands in the air (dropping them was a manual action, performed by letting go of L1 and R1) and talked the robber into leaving. Regardless of personal success or failure, Shelby still got the result he needed to further the plot in the predestined direction, but in other scenes your actions might lead to a different outcome, resulting in a different story branch for your character, the existence or non-existence of a character relationship, or even the death of a protagonist or important NPC. There are multiple versions of many scenes to accommodate this branching, and more than a few that you’ll only see if you take a certain route.
So that’s how it works, but what's it like to play? Is it an adventure game? Is it an interactive movie? Is it the joyful union of cinema and game so long coveted by Kojima’s four-day-long Metal Gear cut-scenes? Heavy Rain is a tricky one to pin down in truth, and it’s probably better explained by detailing what it isn’t.