The game assigns sometimes congruous but more often random movements to the characters' ability to interact with objects or people. These random movements inevitably become how players of the game break it down to progress. Can I open this armoire? Have I gotten the ability to leave yet? Why can I pick up this glass, will I need it later? Switching characters between chapters hardly affects the gameplay at all, and once again, is done in service of the story and little else. Characters don't even differ in walking speed or stamina, something we've already seen in much earlier games, even though you get control of a fit thirty-something FBI agent, a very thin twenty-something girl, and an older overweight PI. You'll more-often-than-possible get into fight sequences which boil down to sudden movements you need to make. Well, need is an unfair word. There are fights you can die in, and fights you can't. In its defense, the ones you can't may result in the character having bruises on their face for the remainder of the game, and the ones you can die in have several commands you can fail at to be killed. Ultimately, it has you control so many useless movements both in and out of battle that half the time I want to fail just to see if it matters. Replaying a single chapter of this game will shatter any and all illusion of control that you might have believed you had during your first time through.
Usually I'm against separating parts of a review into sections describing graphics versus audio versus gameplay, but here it's unavoidable. The graphics are some of the best I've ever seen, along with some of the effects and framing. The game felt more like it was pursuing cinematography than employing video game character models. I used to annoy one of my old roommates by forgetting I was watching his new HD TV a few seconds after it was turned on, as those sorts of things are largely lost on me, but with Heavy Rain, even I had to stand back occasionally and remind myself I was playing a game and not watching a movie. Aside from the horrendous mouth movements, some of the facial animations and motion capture were jaw-dropping. And yet, there are certain things that would stand out as eye-sores if you were to put them one generation back, occassionally popping up to remind you what you're actually doing.
So it's maybe a game, maybe not. Did I have fun? Was the game worth it? Difficult to say. The game seems to forgo interesting gameplay mechanics and apt button application to focus on its story (I can't tell you how easy and natural it was to shoot a gun, and how many times I failed to sit in a chair). Let's start with the good. There was one character I liked so much I kept going back and playing differently until I got his best ending before I was satisfied. There are scenes that stand out to me now, even though I had little control during them, that I reconsidered my choices made during them later. However, the first point of any interest in the entire game is buried a good three to four hours in, with me flippantly deciding to risk the main character's life hoping for something to occur that may be more than emotional character development. Even worse, I found no real fun or compulsion to continue until around that same mark. There are two major glitches in the first hour or so that I'm not used to seeing outside a testing lab. Then, there are serious plot holes and unexplained phenomena that are used to push the story along. How serious? After you find out who it is, nothing the central antagonist then does in this psychological thriller makes any sense, and the killer's identity also invalidates the logic behind anything said killer had done up to that point. Again, the word “average” simply doesn't apply here.
In the end, Heavy Rain just failed at being an enjoyable experience. There were some good parts of the story, and of the experience, parts that I can point to, even ones including interaction, and say to myself, “Yes, that was very cool, I really like the way that was handled.” The approach to the final trial for Ethan was somber and elegant. The suppressed musical theme going lightly in the background and the slow and halting gait by our protagonist who has been beaten but not broken almost had me swooning. Or course, even this stunning scene was marred in the name of faux-interactivity. Dialogue trees quickly become contradictory and the voice acting amateurish. All of a sudden, I feel like I'm a generation or two back, at the dawn of voice acting in games.
With the focus being on the plot (even to the detriment of the gameplay), having that plot thrown back in my face near the end by not making any sense and feeling rushed made for an experience that was only memorable for letting me down. Ultimately, I felt like the game would almost be better without me playing it. It's forced to deal with me as an outside party, rather than me interacting with it and driving the story along. That's really not the feeling I want to get when playing the game. If you're really into this sort of thing, you've got some good parts ahead of you. This is like an eight to ten hour movie with a bunch of alternate endings filmed for your viewing pleasure. Otherwise, I can't say you're missing much.
Developer: Quantic Dream
Release: February 23, 2010
Available On: PlayStation 3
Similar Titles Played:
Shenmue - Like
Shenmue II - Like