Review: Heavy Rain

25 03 2010

I cannot remember the last game I played that was so enthralling that I played through the whole thing in one sitting.

I will remember Heavy Rain.

Heavy Rain can’t really be approached with the expectation of playing a game in the traditional sense. It would also do the game a disservice to generalize it as an “interactive movie,” because the mechanics run much much deeper than decision points and branching narratives. Heavy Rain can be called nothing other than a raw, new “experience” that will shatter your preconceptions and what is possible for a user to feel in any form of media.
Let’s address the concern that there’s not much of a game here to be played. Is it nothing but QTEs? Pretty much, but they are implemented in clever and engaging ways that never get old throughout the 9-10 hour duration of the game and the action and fight sequences invoke a tension, intensity, and sense of adrenaline-surging, frantic immediacy that I’ve not found in any other game to date. There are some other interesting gameplay moments, my favorites including crime scene investigation with Batman-quality tech and navigating a slick “Minority Report” style virtual interface with one character. But perhaps what is most striking and entrancing about the game is how incredibly lifelike the characters are. A combination of exceptional graphic rendering and intricate animation creates very convincing true-to-life characters whose movements, gestures, and subtle nuances are the closest yet I’ve seen to resembling a real human being. All of this is just one of the facets of the true meat of the experience, however, which is empathy. The game truly succeeds in creating the emotional bond between the player and characters, which is what makes the game so deeply moving and keeps you driving forward hour after hour, wondering what happens next. You quickly come to know the characters on a very personal, intimate level which makes all of the events and interactions of the game’s winding, twisting plot so gripping. You feel their emotions, their moments of terror, relief, sorrow, and even their pain…their victories and their demons become yours. The story and outcome can branch out and change on even the slightest of decisions, and drives home the concept of action and consequence, where we must live (or die) with the results of our choices, and the repercussions of our successes and failures.
There are unfortunately a few things that hold it back from being a completely flawless, sublime experience. The controls, specifically the motion gestures, can at times seem unresponsive which is a huge frustration especially in the clutch, do-or die, life-or-death moments, of which there are more than a few. Furthermore, for all of the intricate storytelling and expertly crafted narrative elements, there were several very noticeable plot points, at least in my playthrough, that were never explained or returned to again. It stuck out to me after I had beaten the game. “Hey!” I said aloud, “What about this heavily emphasized event that seems contrary to the outcome? Are we just going to ignore that, pretend it never happened?”
All that said, Heavy Rain affected me in a way that I can’t compare to any other game or any other form of media that I can recall. While at first it may seem to stray from our definition and understanding of what constitutes a “game,” by the end I think most of us will accept that it is instead reshaping that understanding, building new grounds onto what is possible for video games as a whole. This is a game that you have to see.

On a side note, I would just love to see the Quantic Dreams team do a survival horror game. That would be SOMETHING.


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