At this point it would be easy to wonder, "Well, why don't I just watch this as a movie?" Actually, it probably wouldn't be half bad edited down. The list of games I can say that about is pretty short. As a game, though, Heavy Rain ratchets up the intensity by putting the outcome of each scene squarely on my shoulders. And while I wasn't controlling the action in a traditionally game-y sense, I was definitely playing the game and involved with the events in a way that went beyond being a passive observer.
Through the controller in my hand Heavy Rain managed to duplicate some of the emotional roller coaster I imagined the characters were going through. I could really experience the tension between the urge to, for example, run from a room or the need to maintain my composure to slowly enter the necessary commands. When I "won" a scene it immediately recharged me to press on. And when I whiffed on something, I genuinely felt like I'd let that character down.
Yet I learned to resist my conditioned video game response of resetting and playing that section again. Part of Heavy Rain's brilliance comes from its ability to adapt to so many potential outcomes and in doing so makes each playthrough personal. I'm not talking about minor details, either. Under the broad story arc, significant developments that dramatically alter the lives of the characters depended on my choices and ability to execute on them. At one point I had to pause the game to consider what to do next as the character I controlled faced an especially tense situation. Never before playing a game have I felt so strongly that what happened next was up to me.
As a result, I'm eager to go back to Heavy Rain and see the what-might-have-beens. I know I'll also be able to better appreciate its subtleties as well: the beautiful orchestral score that contributes so much to the atmosphere, the attention to framing each scene just so, and the care that went into creating believable, complete stages. While its unorthodox approach may initially put off gamers, anyone who enjoys getting wrapped up in a good story owes it to themselves to play Heavy Rain for all these reasons and more.