How far would you go?

March 1, 2010 by Tim

I had intended to do a newspost last Friday. I had stuff to talk about, I had it all written in my head. I was going to type it out. Heavy Rain had other ideas.

To say that Heavy Rain grabbed me would be an understatement. Heavy Rain tackled me and put me into a relentless choke hold of some sort from which there was no escape. Yeah, it’s good.

You’ll recall that before the game came out, based on the demo and pre-release hype, I was looking forward to the game. I didn’t know how well the game was going to hold up, they were trying a pretty drastic departure from the norm. But I was definitely interested in trying something different.

What arrived in that little plastic game case ended up being one of the emotionally raw and gripping interactive experiences I’ve ever had. Never before in a game have I been so emotionally invested in a game that I found myself gritting my teeth, flinching, wincing, or agonizing over decisions I’d made. Never before have I felt that my choices in a game had such clear and meaningful consequences. And never before have I finished a game, and immediately turned around and started it again because I was so anxious to see what I could do better/differently.

Games do choice nowadays. Mass Effect for instance, will give you choices that effect the outcome of the game. But not like this. Heavy Rain isn’t messing around. The game keeps moving, always moving forward, no matter what decisions you make. There is no retry from an earlier save. Your decisions, your reactions in the heat of the moment are there to stay. When you’re presented with a quicktime sequence, how well you react determines the outcome, but there is no “game over, would you like to try again” if you miss the prompts. You suffer the consequences. And once you realize that your decisions and reactions matter this much, to the point where you can drastically change your story even up to the main characters dying, you’ve just strapped in for one of the most engaging gameplay experiences to date.

Heavy Rain is a good looking game. It has to. The character’s faces and movements are key to drawing you in. That said, it’s not perfect. As stunningly realistic as some of the characters look, other effects leave a little to be desired. Cloth and clothing, for instance, always looked like it was made of cardboard. It can be a little distracting, but this is a raindrop of a complaint in an ocean of awesome.

If you’ve seen videos of Heavy Rain, you have an idea of how its played. There is no HUD, all interactions are performed through an in-game 3D interface. There is a combination of choice (walk around and interact with objects) and quick-time events (where a sequence unfolds and you have to react). The difference here is that if you’re in a fight, and you don’t react quickly enough to dodge that punch, the sequence doesn’t restart. You get nailed and have to hope you’re quick enough to dodge the next one, lest you get demolished.

There are also times when you’re forced to make a decision in the heat of the moment… it’s a gut reaction, instinct, and you’re often left questioning whether you did the right thing afterwards. There was more than one sequence that left me with my heart and mind racing. It’s a really powerful experience.

Your story takes place through chapters that focus on a rotating cast of four players, all of whom are connected to the events taking place, and who often cross paths, which is interesting in its own right because you as the player have seen all the cards. You’ve played these characters and gotten to know them. There are parts of the game that, at first, seem slow-paced. You might wonder why it’s important for you to walk your character through brushing his teeth or playing with his kids. You then understand later in the game when you realize that you’ve become emotionally invested in these characters.

Heavy Rain isn’t flawless… it’s got a couple of minor quirks here and there, and one fairly large plot hole (though the story is fun an engaging) that I can’t talk about without spoilers. However, it is a unique experience, and incredibly well done. It can be beaten relatively quickly if you focus, but the drastic variety of endings will most likely leave you wanting to play it a couple of more times just to experience how things could have turned out if you’d have said something different, or pulled off that quick time prompt.

People sometimes ask me if the PS3 is worth buying. I tell them that the exclusives the system has are often worth the price of admission, and then I talk about the Uncharted series. Well, from now on Heavy Rain is on my list of reasons to own a PS3 right there next to Uncharted.

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