Ah, Heavy Rain. If one game has been on the fevered tongues of fans boys it is this one. ‘Heavy Rain. It’s a new genre in gaming,’ the PS3 fan boys cry. ‘But it’s just a long cut scene with QTEs (Quick Time Events),’ shout the 360 fan boys.
Well, after getting my hands on the demo, I can safely say it definitely is unique and that the game is quite QTE heavy, but in a brilliant way, and after playing the demo I would like to add my own quote to the mix.
Forgive the cliche, but this is definitely a Marmite game. You will either love it or hate It. There is no in-between.
So what’s it all about? Well, Heavy Rain is a noir thriller created by Quantic Dream exclusively for the PS3. You may remember Quantic Dream for creating the sci-fi thriller Fahrenheit, or Indigo Prophecy, depending on where you are in the world.
The story revolves around four characters who are trying to catch the origami killer, someone who kidnaps and murders little boys. So, definitely one for the adults.
The demo consists of three different sections which I shall explain in as much detail as I can, although I’ll skip one of them, given that it’s the tutorial. All you need to know there is that it introduces you to private detective Scott Shelby, and gets you used to controlling him.
As you progress you are told about a few of the prompts that you may come across during the game and before long you are at the end of an alleyway and the demo moves on to the next scene.
The Sleazy Room
The next stage begins with you walking into the foyer of a motel. Not knowing what to do you walk up to the receptionist and, as if by magic, a name appears with a corresponding icon. Upon pressing this icon you learn that the receptionist is not parting with any information.
This is the first example of a branching section. You can either follow the on screen prompt to pay the receptionist, which results in more information, or you can just head upstairs and knock on random doors until you find who you are looking for. Either way, you find the person you are looking for and upon entering the apartment you begin the conversation side of things.
Several one word descriptions start floating around your head and you need to pick one by pressing the corresponding button.
Depending on your approach, the conversation will vary as will what information you get. You can either get kicked out and learn nothing of value or you can persuade them to open up and tell you the information you need to know. If you manage to do that, then the screen splits into two, with one focusing on you as you freely walk around the room, whilst the other focuses on the other character.
This is a rather nice gimmick as it allows you to interact with different things whilst the conversation carries on, resulting in no boredom as you are not forced to watch the scene unfold in a static cut scene style.
Either way, you end up leaving the apartment. Upon heading to the stairs you are struck down by an asthma attack. After a few button presses you pull out your inhaler and have a quick puff. This scene shows off another cool gimmick: the prompts react to different scenarios. If all is calm, then the prompts are static. If it is an intense, stressful situation, then the prompts shake. I have heard that these can become blurred or even upside down, depending on the situation. Which inevitably results in panicking and failure.
I may be wrong but this is the first time I have seen a control scheme so directly linked into the emotional state of your character, which it then passes on to you with increasingly difficult to execute prompts. Once you have dealt with the asthma attack, a man enters the apartment you just left. Upon hisentering you hear some screams.
You now have a choice to make. Do you leave the building or do you go and investigate? If you leave, then you leave the motel and the demo moves on to the next scene, but if you investigate, you enter into one of the best things about the demo, the fight scenes.
The fight scene is fully choreographed and could be viewed as a cut scene. You effect the outcome by pressing the precise button combinations, but the prompts are fired at you in such a quick fashion that you are bound to miss some. It is brilliant to see how the fight turns out depending on what buttons you miss and also makes you wonder what would happen if you missed that button press, or if you made that button press.
It may sound like a lavish QTE section and that may be accurate, but a QTE has never made my heart pump faster and have me worry about missing a button press, because you never know what the consequences may be of a failed button press.
Once the fight scene ends, a few words are exchanged and you leave, allowing the demo to move on to the last section, The Crime Scene.
The Crime Scene:
You start by pulling up in a car. After a quick stick flick you exit the car. After explaining to some cops that you are Norman Jaden, an FBI agent, you are granted access to a crime scene.
After another conversation with the detective on the case, you find out that the body in the crime scene was likely to have been killed by the origami killer.
You are now allowed free reign of the crime scene to do your investigating. You do this with your ARI goggles and glove. The best way to describe the ARI system is to compare it to the Detective Mode in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
The goggles allow you to view the immediate area and gain valuable insight on any clues you discover, the glove allows you to scan the area revealing said clues.
After examining the crime scene and the body you are then able to leave. You don’t have to scan the entire scene, but the one thing you have to do is check and investigate the body, otherwise you will not be able to enter your car and leave.
This gives you an intriguing dilemma. Do you scan the entire scene making sure you get all the information possible? Or do you get the minimal amount and go on that? How that interferes with the story is yet to be known.
With that the demo ends and a trailer for the game starts to play.
Obviously, the first thing that I noticed when playing through the demo is how beautiful this game is. I was amazed at the graphics in Uncharted 2, but in Heavy Rain I was blown away. The detail on the character models and surroundings has to be seen to be believed.
This game also has the best motion capture I have seen in a videogame. The characters are lifelike, react to outside stimuli and the lip synching is amazing. It does go to show the amount of work that Quantic Dream has put in to the title.
The control scheme is inventive and actually relates to what you are doing. Jerking the controller in a downward motion could mean a head butt and turning the right analogue stick slowly could mean applying a bandage. It is completely different to anything else out at the moment.
The game is atmospheric and the music is perfectly played out in the background to create that all round film noir setting.
An honourable mention must go to the pause screen. If you get the demo, just pause the game once. It just isn’t your standard freeze frame. It turns in to a watery pool with whatever image you paused being distorted with raindrops. Well, I liked it, anyway.
I had planned to go through this demo at least four times to try and explain how different actions create different outcomes. Unfortunately, after three playthroughs I had basically exhausted all the options with very little difference in the outcome. The biggest change is if you win or lose the fight scene.
Saying that, it doesn’t mean that what I had done wouldn’t impact later on in the game. It’s just that you don’t notice them in the demo.
For example, in the Sleazy Room section you can leave a Contact Card in case the character you are visiting has any more information. Now, you have no way of knowing if that will provide you with information later on. Also, if you manage to beat up the guy in the fight scene you are warned that he will “see you again”. Does that mean a future fight scene with him? Which you wouldn’t get if you lost the fight? Who knows? But that is the draw of Heavy Rain Everything you do has the potential to change the game in a small or big way.
I am very intrigued about how the final game spaces out the detective, conversation and fight scenes. Without the fight scenes there is a lot of walking around. This is where I come to my biggest bug bear about the game.
There is no run button. This is really, and I mean really, annoying. There is nothing more annoying than walking to the end of a field to find that there are no clues to investigate and you have to walk all the way back, slowly.
One thing I did notice is that, despite the game boasting that you can do what you want and effect the story your way, there are some things that you have to do to keep the story moving on. You can’t just leave these prompts hoping that they will go away. You have to do them.
But they are few and far between and are generally things that the character would do in that situation.
For example, when you have the asthma attack, you cannot leave it so you die of the attack because it is something that he wouldn’t do. He would use the inhaler. Everything else, though, is up to you.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the game and any fears I had were removed from my mind. One thing I have found writing this preview is that I do not envy the reviewers tasked with the gargantuan task of reviewing Heavy Rain.
Sure, you can talk about graphics, controls, etc, but I don’t know how they can put all of the game in perspective, how the changes you make effect the game, and talk about the story without giving anything away.
The demo does a very good job of showing you how the control scheme works but, apart from that, it tells you nothing else about the game, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it is a good thing, as it keeps the rest of the game a mystery. Which is perfect for a noir action/thriller game.
You owe it to yourself, if you have a PS3, to at least try the demo. If you find it isn’t your thing then at least you can say that you tried it, and if there is anything that you should take out of this preview it should be that you can compare a videogame to a yeast-based sandwich filling.