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Heavy Rain review

AT A GLANCE
  • One of the most stunningly believable game worlds to date
  • It's genuine emotionally affecting at times
  • You'll be engrossed
  • It's badly written
  • It feels a little smug at times
  • You'll hate it if you're an action junkie

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.


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.

It’s not the evolution of game narrative

Fact. However much Heavy Rain eschews the traditional A to B linearity of video game storytelling, the fact is that its stripped-down interaction mechanics make it much more an evolution of cinematic narrative than of video game storytelling. This isn’t a game where skills or problem solving will usually be required (more on that latter point in a bit). It’s a game in which you experience an unfolding story rather than play through it in the traditional sense.

Imagine a film in which you can reach in and touch the world you’re watching, or hear how certain events make the characters feel on a personal level. That’s what you’ve got in Heavy Rain. It’s a movie which uses interaction in order to create a greater connection and sense of empathy within its audience.

And in that respect, it works fantastically. You’ll feel a strong personal bond - even a relationship - with the game’s better-written characters. Their personal quirks and foibles become believable and reassuring and the sense of who they are as people is unquestionable.

Similarly, the already stunningly-rendered game world becomes all the more real for a bit of hands-on exploration. It’s amazing how much the mundane actions of digging through a fridge, taking a piss or even changing a baby’s nappy can add to your bond with the story, particularly when they’re completely optional.

The more visually cinematic Heavy Rain becomes, the more obvious its design philosophy is. Watching a split-screen image of a film protagonist struggling to escape a building while the enemy prepares to enter would be a tense experience already, but when the hero’s fate depends on your physically tense button mashes and stick flicks, it’s suspense on a whole new level.

Above: The perilous results of Heavy Rain's more demanding QTE inputs

The QTE commands frequently even approximate the physical actions your character has to make in the game world, further adding to the immersion, even if a few become so unnecessarily convoluted that you can occasionally run the risk of running out of fingers part way through. 'Augmented cinema' would probably be the best term to use to describe Heavy Rain, and as a sensory experience there’s nothing else like it around today.

It’s not an adventure game

Those of you hoping for a grand renaissance of the good old point-and-click are going to be disappointed. You see while Heavy Rain steadfastly follows the old genre trope of identifying and interacting with usable items and characters in the immediate environment, you’ll rarely ever have to think about what to do with them.

Rather than finding the right object to pass an obstacle, you’ll usually just investigate your surroundings until you find the element that moves the plot along. It’s no more taxing than eliminating the villagers with the filler dialogue in order to find the quest-giver in a JRPG. Need to find a route out of a locked room? Just fulfil the QTE requirements of each possible exit until you trigger the one that actually works.

Heavily beset by the enemy? Don’t go looking for a hidden weapon. Just hit the right QTE buttons as the scene plays out and things will roll along of their own accord. Heavy Rain is all about soaking up the rich atmosphere and intrigue of an evolving story. If you can reconcile yourself with being more of a passenger than a driver, you'll find yourself dragged into proceedings very quickly.

When the rare problem-solving sections do arise, they’re welcome indeed, and very well thought-out. There’s no need for awkward video game logic in Heavy Rain. Just think like a real person in a real situation and the answer will present itself pretty quickly.

It’s strange how such an innocuous and simple design decision can make a game so refreshing, but Heavy Rain’s problem-solving is logical, smooth and natural in a way few games ever manage.


It’s not just a great big cut-scene

While you won’t play through Heavy Rain’s world in a traditional sense (don’t expect to manually aim a gun any anyone, or navigate the environment as kinetically as Nathan Drake) , it’s actually a good deal more involving than you probably expect.

As you explore the potential of each environment you’ll have full manual control over your character. The control scheme is a strange blend of old-school Resident Evil and a driving game, in which you hold down R2 to walk in the currently-faced direction and use the left stick to turn your character in transit. Mercifully, all directions are relative to the player, not the character, and the fact that you only need to tap the left stick rather than hold it means that the system works very well in handling Heavy Rain’s automatically switching camera angles with the minimum of fuss.

The one drawback is that movement can be sluggish, with human beings feeling a little like dump trucks at times, while twitching around like over-zealous ballerinas at others. Certainly, there was one occasion in which we inadvertently sent our protagonist off on a whole new story thread just because we got arrested while spectacularly failing to manage to cross a road. Hardly heroic.

As for the numerous hands-off sections, in which your character’s actions play out automatically and your QTE inputs simply dictate the success or failure of a certain action, they feel much more immediate than you might expect. Thanks to some sharp cinematography, canny direction and the illusion of spontaneity afforded by the branching action scenes (even a successful fight can take two or three different directions before you win), Heavy Rain’s combinations of button taps and stick tweaks can feel as gratifying as lining up a headshot in real time.

It’s not as mature as it thinks

Disappointment time. For all of Heavy Rain’s much vaunted pretensions of being the first great mature video game narrative, it fails. Hard. The fact is that if you strip away the beautiful imagery, the stirring musical score, the clever camera angles and the expressive facial animations, what you’re left with is a fairly gratuitous, schlocky and unoriginal story, packed with clunkily presented excesses which at times veer towards the comical.

The central plot is little more than the Saw franchise blended with the visual style of Se7en, and there’s barely a single scene or story element that isn’t built around a hoary old crime movie cliché you can instantly relate to a million hoary old crime movies. The corrupt police chief. The world-weary but big-hearted private detective. The brilliant, ideosynchratic, but mistrusted FBI agent. The crazy, out of control son of the sinister millionaire. The ballsy reporter. The sleazy nightclub owner. They’re all here in force, but they’re just the tip of an iceberg which comes close to sinking the whole narrative ship.

Some characters are fleshed out and genuinely relatable, while others are as one-note and unsympathetic as they come. Troubled father Ethan in particular, who is charged with taking the brunt of the story’s emotional weight, starts out well with a few genuinely affecting scenes. But by the mid-point of the game he becomes such a flat and undeveloped non-entity that that it's disturbingly hard to care about what should be a genuinely distressing storyline.

If you need a summation of Heavy Rain’s immaturity, check out this video comparing the two shower scenes in the game. Director David Cage may claim he only uses nudity as a character development device, but boy is that statement about to become pretty hilarious. Be warned though, the vid is rather damn racey. Adults only please.

Ethan (male) is straight in and straight out, with only a brief arse shot and a quick towel dry as an early tutorial in using the Sixaxis. Madison (female) can be manually stripped at any speed you wish, goes full frontal whenever possible, seems to have her own cameraman specially trained in close-up boob shots, can have her shower scene extended twice by ignoring a QTE prompt, gets more towel drying (which by this point in the game is far from a tutorial), and then has to be manually clothed (again, at a speed of your choice). Or you can just leave her naked and ogle for a while if you feel like it.

Heavy Rain is a movie alright, but frankly, it’s not a very good one. Which leads us onto our last and saddest point.


It’s not very well written

In fact at times it’s pretty bad. At others, it’s downright embarrassing. Let’s ignore for a moment the clichéd characters and scenarios. Let’s ignore the gratuitous excesses. Let’s ignore the occasionally over-ripe dialogue. Let’s ignore the sometimes trite imagery. Hell, let’s even ignore the clumsily-written ‘ominous’ forshadowing scene at the start; the one so sledgehammer-blunt that it made us laugh out loud. Aside from all of that, Heavy Rain’s biggest failing is that the plot is just broken.

If you’re the sort of person who played through Modern Warfare 2 and didn’t care (or notice) that it made no sense, you might be okay with it, but as a game constructed by and for the strength and malleability of its story, Heavy Rain’s narrative failings cause the whole show to fall down once you start to think about them t0 hard. It's like a heavily obese Megan Fox. Potentially great beauty stretched to the point of implausibilty by a lack of grace or restraint.

Most obviously, there’s a stinking great plot-hole late in the story which succeeds in nothing less than pulling the whole climax apart (pro writing tip: if a key dramatic moment relies on two characters knowing each other, try to make sure that they know each other, or have at least become aware of each other’s existence before said scene occurs).

But there are gaping logic voids littered throughout the whole damn thing. Would it really be possible to commit a major crime in the police station you work in – a crime easily tied to you with minimal thought required from your supposed crime-solving colleagues – and then just get back to work as if nothing had happened? Is it plausible that even a corrupt media-whore of a police chief would decide to scapegoat an arrest target based on no actual evidence or thought to how he’s eventually going to build a case in court? And how the hell does a character end up in another’s apartment without a key?

Occurrences like these are plentiful throughout Heavy Rain, and are endemic of an approach to plot which seems content to simply squeeze in dramatic moments with no thought to the wider context of why or how. And it only gets worse as the story gathers pace. As the mystery unravels, key developments are built around co-incidence, implausible jumps of logic, and bullshit theories that don’t hold together at all but turn out to be true regardless, just because it’s more convenient that way. The red herrings can be nonsensical to the point of presenting impossible and unexplained scenarios in aid of implying false guilt, and at one stage the game pulls a trick so cheap you might end up feeling cheated come the resolution.

You might not come across all of Heavy Rain's broken plot elements during your first play through, but the more you see of the overall story possibilities and the more you think about the events unfolding, the more affronted you'll feel by it all. Some might give the game a free ride because of the supposed complexity of its narrative pioneering, but in a real sense it does nothing with its branching structure more clever than the writers of Choose Your Own Adventure books have been doing for twenty years. For primary school kids. While actually making their plots work.

But the frustrating thing, the really really frustrating thing, is that it initially gets away with a lot of this for exactly the same reason games have always got away with duff storytelling. The interactive elements pull you through the experience regardless of all the crap. The way in which Heavy Rain presents its story makes it an undeniably engrossing and involving experience in the same way that shooting your way through Gears of War makes you forget all about the knuckleheaded bravado attached.

And that’s just ironic. Because instead of eliminating the traditional evils of and excuses for video game storytelling, Heavy Rain simply repeats them in a classier-looking way. And despite its gloss, style, genuinely affecting moments and pervasively dense atmosphere – actually because of them – those failings become more obvious than they’ve ever been.


Is it better than...

Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy? Yes. Quantic Dream's previous foray into branching interactive drama was an intriguing and much-loved left-fielder last generation, but lost its mind towards the end by turning a mystery thriller into The Matrix. Heavy Rain is messy, but it never goes as batshit as that.



Mass Effect 2? No. Both games have player choice and epic storytelling as their raisons d'etre, but BioWare's game is by far the more satisfying. More coherent, less pretentious, better acted and with choices loaded with more real consequence that Heavy Rain's, it's easily the more heavyweight and affecting game.



Dragon's Lair? Yes. Heavy Rain is arguably a descendant of the old interactive cartoon, but it's a far more accomplished and deep game all round. In fact it only falls down on its lack of actual dragons. DLC please.

 

 


Just for you, Metacritic!

Heavy Rain is an admirably ambitious creation capable of engrossing the mind and engaging the emotions like few games that have gone before. Visually and aurally it's a decadent feast for the senses, but its frequent descents into ham-fisted schlock and downright broken storytelling ultimately make it a clumsy case of style over substance. It's a likeable mess if you don't think too hard, but nevertheless, a mess it remains.

More Info

Release date: Feb 23 2010 - PS3 (US)
Feb 26 2010 - PS3 (UK)
Available Platforms: PS3
Genre: Adventure
Published by: SCEA
Developed by: Quantic Dream
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
PEGI Rating:
16+

125 comments

  • Corsair89 - February 10, 2010 5:37 p.m.

    I played the demo and I enjoyed it somewhat. I thought that the FBI agent's forensic sunglasses were really over-the-top for a game that was supposed to be serious. I'll probably wait a few months to buy this one.
  • Jok3rNThi3f - February 10, 2010 5:40 p.m.

    Pretty Good score for a really Niche' Game. I honestly liked the Demo a lot. It had a really strong Noire type of feel. It's kindve odd to compare it to Mass Effect though, as they're really different Games. Then again, it's hard to compare Heavy Rain to alot of things so I suppose it makes sense.
  • IIIIIACEIIIII - February 10, 2010 5:58 p.m.

    The way you were hacking at it all through the review, I thought you were going to end up saying Indigo Prophecy is better because that game was really good, but then you end up saying it's better than Indigo Prophecy? Left me baffled, but if that's the case then I'll be getting Heavy Rain.
  • idlemindkiller - February 10, 2010 6:10 p.m.

    Fail... No thanks. Just make a real game.
  • Yeager1122 - February 10, 2010 6:13 p.m.

    So its average from all the hype i was actually expecting it to be alot better then the way you sadi it was.
  • Estacado - February 10, 2010 6:22 p.m.

    I don't care if this is a "7" game, i will buy it =D
  • loonyman978 - February 10, 2010 6:43 p.m.

    It seems this must have been one hard game to score as it appeals to some while applaing others. Nevertheless, I'll give it a shot despite being slightly disappointed that it has a terrible story
  • chrisat928 - February 10, 2010 7:17 p.m.

    idlemindkiller - 1 hour 4 minutes ago  Fail... No thanks. Just make a real game. And you're the reason video games will never be taken seriously as a 'adult' media.
  • DirkSteele1 - February 10, 2010 7:19 p.m.

    This game has been garnering some great review scores elsewhere. I however believe this game will be viewed in the future to the PS3, as Sonic Adventure was on the Dreamcast. Everyone is blown away by the graphics and as such overlook obvious game play flaws, awarding a great score. Sonic had never before seen graphics and scored 9's and 10's, but a release on the GameCube a few years later shone a rather bright light on its failings and the review scores reflected this. Quantic Dreams should be commended for trying to create something a little bit different as there is far too much derivative trash produced in the gaming world today, even if the end product does not quite deliver. And well down GR for not being swept away by the fantastic visuals. Oh and the shower scene is ridiculous.
  • MrDuracraft - February 10, 2010 7:44 p.m.

    chrisat928 - 11 minutes 13 seconds ago idlemindkiller - 1 hour 4 minutes ago Fail... No thanks. Just make a real game. And you're the reason video games will never be taken seriously as a 'adult' media. I think what he means by "real" game as in one where you... interact (for lack of a better word) more. I would've liked this one but it seems boring since not even walking is a normal function. You do interact a lot in this game and it is very beautiful to look at, but that doesn't make it adult. Even GR says "It's not as mature as it thinks." About the game: I don't think I'll be getting it after this review.
  • Axcleblade - February 10, 2010 7:47 p.m.

    From the one gameplay video I watched (It was of the scene in the mall), the voice acting seemed pretty bad, too. I'll wait for it to be in the $30-40 range.
  • iluvmyDS - February 10, 2010 8:26 p.m.

    Protip: 7 doesn't mean the game is bad. 10 point scale exists for a reason.
  • John-117 - February 10, 2010 8:35 p.m.

    This is easily the most discussed and disagreed games amoung my friends. Even more so between reviewers it seems. It's hard to write a objective review, and Heavy Rain seems make that even more difficult. It's just many of the points of argument surrounding this game are too subjective to really find a standard at which this game could be reviewed. I've been a pretty on a big media blackout regarding this game but I've read all the reviews and it seems to be split into two groups. Nothing seems to be able to nailed down, people love the writing/acting, some people find it atrocious. Others can't stand the way style and themes while they are lauded somewhere else. I haven't played the game, or the demo for that matter but from everything I've seen and read this game will greatly appeal to me though it doesn't seem to for you guys. While I don't agree with the review from all the clips I've recently seen(the temptation was too great!) and previews I've read, I think the main thing is that you're picking it apart based on really subjective things. I'll have to wait until I can actually play the game of course but I will have to say I'm on the other side of the fence of the Heavy Rain debate. It seems this game either gets a 7 or a 9/10, there is no objective review made for a game like this. None the less, the review was done tastefully; no real flamebaiting so that always gets marks from me.
  • Stabby_Joe - February 10, 2010 8:59 p.m.

    Wow, this is the lowest score by a lot on Metacritic... ...but hey you're a reviewer and its your opinion so screw the fanboys haha! I'll be getting this game on release!
  • crumbdunky - February 10, 2010 9:07 p.m.

    It's WAY better than the review makes out. WAY better. I can see why someone might not like the game and appreciate a lot of people won't get it or will get frustrated that it isn't what they expect of a game at all BUT it's just not a seven. I was fortunate enough to play the game early too and was blown away by the vast majority of QD achieved with it. Were I to complain about things I'd say a couple of the acting performances weren't up to scratch with either the visuals or the script-but there'#s still some great performances in the game from most actors even if ne or two voices can annoy the hell out of you! I just do not agree that it's badly written, however. Yes, there are inmstances where, because of the nature of the game itself, consessions have ben made ver moments that may or ,may not be seen depending on what you've done/killed so far but given they were doing what amouuntas to something noone ever has before I think the writing is deserving of WAY more praise than the formulaic, bog normal(but effective, necessary and totally right for an excellent SF and WRPG game)writing in Mass Effect2(again, not a dig but the writing in HR has a far harder job and attacks it with far more risks and joy than what has to happen in ME2)which is stilted by comparison. There are clumsy moments as there always is when you try something noone els has before and you're feeling your way but I fear it often gets a mark or two knocked off unfairly because editors don't know who best to review it whereas they do with other games more easily fitted into a genre. A lot of sites seem to have given the game to the local staff film buff as well(from reading remarks made by reviewers lately)and I think even that skews it's reviews as it's bound to have plot holes compared to a single story film isn't it? I just don't know if, unlike nearly EVERY miche game before it , it was given to the most sympathetic reviewers. that isn' to say that's the case here as we may just disagree but it's something I do think jhas happened a lot more for this game than any other I can think of since IP itself! Anyhow, GR, I respect your opinion but cannot agree with it and find myself thinking, yet again, that the whole review process is defunct-let alone the act of adding a score to "go" by. Everyomne uses a differewnt scale and often not even numbers. People give average games a seven, give "safe" sevens and all of that. Even though just the words here maay habve felt harsher I still have the nioggling thought that without the need for numbers at the end we'd have a better review nine times out of ten. Whatever, I woul tell most gamers that trying out HR is something that, even if you don't find blows you away, is well worth looking at. It may well be something tht cleanes your palette for more hectic games agan or might be just the more thoughtful thing you needed. Who can really tell? Whatever, it's a quality piece of work and something that I think will surprise a lot of gamers if they're brave enough to give it a go wih an open mind.
  • cazman619 - February 10, 2010 9:38 p.m.

    The fact that some will hate it and some will love it, leaves me to think that Nathan Irvine should have handled this review. It's such a niche game that it should be given to someone who is genuinely interested in it from the outset. If this is already the case then I take back my previous point. I am not taking any notice of the score, but I know many people will... and from the comments, it's put some people off the game entirely. I urge those people to read other reviews. It's been getting some really positive reviews all over. I also think the love/hate section at the end of the review is inconsistent. If it's emotional and engrossing... then it has done it's job. It tells a story. And if it engrossed you, then it shouldn't be a worry. Again, this is not about the score. A 7 is good. This is about my thoughts on perhaps the wrong reviewer and also some inconsistencies in the review.
  • DriveShaft - February 10, 2010 9:43 p.m.

    Glad that you summed it up at the end with the 'better than Indigo Prophecy', I'm a fan of it - but it also suffered from bad dialogue, plot holes and such. Once I Play the demo of Heavy Rain I'll decide whether I should rent it or buy it, I've been looking forward to this for a good 4 years so I hope it isn't a real letdown.
  • CAPST3R - February 10, 2010 10:13 p.m.

    This game was a stupid move by the developers, hopefully the industry will learn from this. Game players like the on-edge interactivity of the game. This, however, provides an interactive film. You'll get that from any trailer or review. Sure, some might be interested, but this new genre alsmost certainly won't catch on. It might have caught on if everything you did changed some of the future, i.e realism, but this is just a multiple choice, with no real affect on anything (those 2 trailers showed an ending with the same script). If this is ever going to succeed, it will need some extreme amounts of realism, both in effects of actions, and graphics. In games, it seems that whenever a player picks something up, it sticks to them.
  • Pocotron - February 10, 2010 10:29 p.m.

    Wait. Why does this sound familiar? *cough* inFamous *cough* JUSTSAYINLOL
  • garnsr - February 10, 2010 10:39 p.m.

    I'm often amazed at how much effort must go into making just a few things in a game really be affected by a players actions, I don't know how they could make several games worth of diverging stories based on what you do (I'd love to see it, though.) Some people will like this, some won't, but it's always good to have games that aren't just what's selling bets at the moment. We'd never have gotten so many FPSs if someone hadn't tried to make them in the first place. There's always room for something less popular, it doesn't stop the makers of best sellers from continuing to make them. I still think I'll pick this up, it's the sort of thing that PS3 has done fairly well in the last few years, giving us choices in games that aren't entirely for the masses.

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