Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Review | Heavy Rain

It seems that the more you look around today’s video game charts, the more you see non-involving, emotionally detached games like Call of Duty and FIFA 2010. While they are indeed brilliant games in their own right, their appeal comes from the ability to jump in and play quick bursts with the ability to drop the pad after even as little as 12 minutes. I believe it is the lack of emotional attachment that causes games to develop like this and every once in a while, a game comes along that focuses and engages a gamer deep into a fulfilling and exciting series of events that simply forces the player to stay glued to his screen.

Heavy Rain is indeed that title. While of course there are genre’s specifically designed to engage players for countless hours such as RPG’s, this is a puzzle adventure that boasts variability in story progression, incredible narrative, amazing voice acting and graphics that compare to the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4. Unfortunately there are some hiccups along the way that I will discuss here, but overall, it is an experience that should not be missed.

Heavy Rain’s game play can be described as a variation of timed sequence events ranging from simply pressing buttons on time, to swinging the control from side to side, to button mashing. For something that sounds quite linear it is actually implemented well and varied accordingly to make sure you don’t get bored and are always on your toes. This of course is accompanied by exploration across the different environments that are somewhat enclosed off actually and you will find that for the oddest of reasons, the movement controls in Heavy Rain are far from smooth, in fact they are more trouble than they are worth.

The synopsis to Heavy Rain is a story involving four protagonists, each involved in one way or another, with the mystery behind the Origami Killer murders. As the story progresses, characters interact in different ways depending of course on how your decisions direct the flow of the game.

The main character, Ethan Mars is a successful family man that gets everything taken away from him when his first son dies and the killer captures his second son. Ethan Mars’ story is actually quite a huge rip off of the SAW movies, which I am sure you are familiar with. The killer gets in contact with Ethan through different devices and forces you through tormenting challenges asking ‘’how far you are willing to go to save your son.’’ The challenges are thrilling, including crawling through a dark tunnel filled with shards of glass and driving down the opposite side of the motorway for five miles. The absolute beauty of Heavy Rain and indeed this goes for all four characters, is no matter whether you succeed, or fail, the story progresses. I cannot tell you how wide the grin that developed on my face when I crashed my car on the motorway scene and instead of seeing a ‘FAIL PLEASE TRY AGAIN’ menu, Ethan Mars crawled out of the car and proceeded to escape, continuing the story, that was a great feeling.

The second character introduced is private detective Scott Shelby. This retired police officer is doing his own investigation into the case of the Origami Killer. His story involves quite a lot of physical confrontation and the need to find clues to figure out the mystery behind the killer. Along the way he befriends a single mother who helps him to try and uncover the mystery. A highlight for me with regards to this portion of the story was a small scene that is available on the online demo, where Shelby is required to disable an armed shop robber; while creeping up behind him you accidentally knock over some kitchen roll and if you don’t quickly press the timed sequence to catch it, you alert the robber. Needless to say, I failed horribly as I just didn’t see it coming, but then managed to convince the guy to leave without hurting anyone. Shelby gets involved with some seriously tough individuals and in my opinion, is the most lovable character of the four throughout the game, one that I personally got emotionally attached to the most.

The third character in Heavy Rain is FBI detective Norman Jayden, who is easily the best character in the game. Norman’s story concentrates largely on finding clues across crime scenes using the coolest gadget, ARI. ARI is a pair of virtual glasses accompanied by a special glove that turns anything Norman touches, into data that is analysed by the computer inside his glasses. When you use ARI, clues become available, information can be analysed and lots of other quite interesting things can be done. The most mind blowing sequence with regards to ARI is when Norman enters his new office in the police station, only to find that it is an absolute hole, so he opens his ARI system and transforms the room into a choice of locations including the planet Mars, or a tropical jungle, or the mountains. The game’s graphics are an absolute highlight here and it really put me in a state of awe to experience all of these environments in turn. A much more dramatic segment with Norman occurs in a flat when a religious fanatic is holding your partner at gun point and after persuading him to put his gun down, he reaches for his pocket and you get a quick time event to shoot him or not. I of course blew his head off; only to find out he was reaching for a crucifix. That moment really made me question my judgment and it showed me how well a video game can actually capture my emotions.

Last but not least, a journalist by the name of Madison Paige joins the story as kind of a side character to Ethan, his guardian angel if you will. Madison’s story is essentially used to prove Ethan Mars is innocent once he is accused of being the Origami Killer. Madison’s best scene is when she goes snooping for information and gets drugged by a mad scientist who then proceeds to try and operate on her with a drill. I fortunately got all the timed events correct and came out alive, but its sequences such as this that can change the entire story because if she dies, Ethan never gets in contact with her again and the path you developed changes. I feel it was important to keep Madison alive because Ethan goes through so much hell in Heavy Rain and she falls in love with him, so it is pretty cool that he gets a woman by the end of the game (do you see how much the game got me contemplating? And it is only a game!).

To be honest, the storyline throughout the game flows well, the game does a great job keeping suspense and you WANT to find out what is going on. However, when the conclusion arrives, you will be slightly disappointed, however, the ability to go back and replay chapters to see how the story could have played out pending on different decisions, is a great addition, one that is worth checking out just to see the different endings.
My conclusion summed up is this. The first time you play through Heavy Rain, you play based on decisions you make according to your moral decisions. Due to this, you do, without a doubt, become emotionally attached to the characters, you want them to succeed or fail depending on what stance you take, and you feel as if your good deeds are rewarded and vice versa. However, playing through a second time and forcing yourself to make decisions you normally wouldn’t make, just to see different variations of the story, is not actually as much fun because the emotional attachment disappears when you know the decisions aren’t really your own, just forced for the sake of progression.

Heavy Rain is unlike anything most people will have ever played or seen before. It is worth going through the game, but I simply cannot bring myself to recommend it to keep because there really isn’t much replay value, if at all in fact. If you can get your hands on a loan copy, or borrow it from a friend, do not hesitate, pick it up, play it, love it and it will stay in your memory as a brilliant experience. But if you purchase it, do not be surprised if after the first play through, it will be put on your shelf and stay there as there is really no incentive to play through again unless you are a trophy junkie and need to 100% that.

Igor Kharin
CeX (UK) Contributor
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