Heavy Rain Review

By Garnett Lee, Mar 03, 2010 6:20pm PST Heavy Rain appears to fall as far to the storytelling end of the game-design spectrum as possible. Its unique mechanic of using the sticks and buttons on the controller to mimic actions taken by the characters on screen gives an effect similar to directing the action in a movie. Game director David Cage calls it "interactive fiction" and in Heavy Rain he uses it to tell a complex, serial-killer mystery as seen through the intertwined lives of four characters.

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.

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  • I played through the first chapter as the world's worst OCD father. It began by me opening and closing every door 5 times, viewing my garden from every angle possible and sitting up and down on every seat in the house.

    After my character's neuroses had been appeased his wife arrived home and requested that I help her bring the groceries in, to which I cheerily replied yes of course darling before heading back out into the garden to beat the crap out of my kid at swordfighting. I was the boss around here.

    Then came the mall scene where I amused myself by cheerily walking straight in to passers by and shouting "Jason!" in their respective faces. Eventually I stumbled upon what must have been my child as he responded to my aimless bleating before the little blighter wandered off again. Ho hum.

    Finally, I was left with my other spawn in my sole care for a night. Oh, what folly! First things first though, it was time to get settled in- 5 light switches, 7 doors and 4 hours later it was 9pm so it was time to force feed the youngling in my territory some garbage, however after taking the pizza out of the fridge I soon became distracted and wandered around the house with it variously introducing said pizza to my bedroom, the bathroom and the inclement weather outside.

    Upon returning indoors I realised my progeny had fallen asleep on MY couch in front of MY TV. The audacity! I duly scooped the miscreant up and deposited him clothed, on top of his bed next to an open window. I'd like to think I did this to teach him responsibility and make a firm, aspiring young man out him, but really I just couldn't be bothered. Besides, I had more important things to do- i had spotted an unaligned lightswitch!

    Thus did my adventure begin.