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Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) artwork

Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) review

"Most of the scenes make good sense and do a nice job of either building tension or adding depth to the characters, but there are instances where something will happen and it feels like the developers are just pandering to my testosterone. Example: characters Ethan Mars and the ever-so-sexy Madison Paige are sitting on the floor in a seedy hotel room. Ethan tells Madison that the only thing he cares about right now is finding his son. Madison responds by leaning in for a passionate kiss. The moment is supposed to be dramatic, I assume, but the timing is so ridiculously absurd that I can't help but think that it was included simply so the player has another chance to admire Madison's svelte physique as the distraught Ethan experiences carnal pleasure."

If you have a lot of experience covering games, a review for Heavy Rain can practically write itself. As long as you remember to mention the next-generation visuals, the unique control scheme and the interactive narrative, you're halfway to a finished draft. Follow those efforts up with examples of a few memorable moments from the game (there are plenty from which to choose) and liberally sprinkle adjectives throughout your descriptions. Include some artful run-on sentences to jazz things up a bit, if you like. No matter how you proceed, you're almost certain to produce something more eloquent than nearly any review that you've ever written. You'll wind up with a thoroughly readable critique that will whet your audience's appetite for the long-anticipated PlayStation 3 exclusive, one that will leave your readers confident that the game lives up to its every objective.

I'm fairly certain that if I reviewed Heavy Rain using the process described above, the people at both Sony (the game's publisher) and Quantic Dream (its developer) would forgive me. I wouldn't feel terribly guilty, either, because at worst I'd be guilty of providing a glowing review for a game that I quite enjoy. The only problem is that I'd be glossing over a few flaws that really do warrant serious consideration, no matter how minor they may seem on the surface. I'm not cool with that.

Before I start flinging dirt, though, I should let you know--in case somehow you've missed hearing about it--that Heavy Rain is the purest definition of a story-driven game. Its primary goal is to engage the player in the search for a serial killer who has abducted the son of one of four main characters and who plans to let him die at the hands of the elements. The hook isn't necessarily the plot itself, which often feels like a modernized cross between old radio serials and Agatha Christie novels. The hook is your emotional involvement. If you find yourself loving the game, it will be for the way the tale involves you and forces you to feel like you're a part of the effort to unravel the mystery of the origami killer. Anything that gets in the way of that purpose must be considered a flaw because it has a direct impact on your experience.

Unfortunately, Heavy Rain suffers from its share of flaws.

The first of those flaws is the game's control scheme. There are essentially two sides to it: exploration and interaction. To explore, you simply hold the 'R2' button and your character will hopefully walk in the direction that he or she is facing. You can turn with the left analog stick if there's something of interest to one of the sides. The general feel is that you're playing a classic Resident Evil title and your character is drunk. The awkward stumbles that result are unwelcome, but at least you don't have to be ready to constantly dive out of the way if zombies attack. When exploring, you typically have all the time you need to respond to any points of interest.

Some of those "points of interest" don't quite live up to that label, though, and some of them are simply a hassle. An obvious example on both counts surfaces in the game's tutorial prologue, where you'll possibly find yourself juggling balls. That activity requires you to press and hold certain buttons while tapping others in a timed fashion to keep the balls in the air. The inane task is typical of numerous others that you'll face over the course of your adventure. Opening a refrigerator door is never as simple as pressing the 'X' button, to provide another example. You'll need to press the right analog stick up, then rotate it around the outer ring of the stick's potential rotation. Whether you're unfastening a bra or helping a baby gulp down a heated bottle of milk, expect to perform an unlikely series of button presses, controller shakes and analog stick gymnastics. Sometimes it feels like your fingers are playing Twister.

I have a hard time deciding what to think of the controls overall. On the one hand, they do allow the player to feel more directly involved. Control requirements change often, so that you really have to pay attention when faced with tense moments. During a tense conversation with a potential suspect, my character wound up shooting him because I pressed the wrong button in error. That kind of blunder wouldn't have happened in any normal game because I would have felt thoroughly in control at all times, so there's something to be said for the removal of that safety net. It allows Heavy Rain to engage the player on a deep level that some games simply can't. I can even understand why the developers included the option to do things like take a leak or enjoy a hot shower, since those help the player to connect with characters and to see them as more vulnerable and human. I'm just not sure that I grasp the value in making me feel like a raging drunk when I'm simply trying to walk across a room to check the contents of a desk.

Controls aren't the only issue that occasionally crops up in Heavy Rain, either. Another occasional disappointment is the plot. Most of the scenes make good sense and do a nice job of either building tension or adding depth to the characters, but there are instances where something will happen and it feels like the developers are just pandering to my testosterone. Example: characters Ethan Mars and the ever-so-sexy Madison Paige are sitting on the floor in a seedy hotel room. Ethan tells Madison that the only thing he cares about right now is finding his son. Madison responds by leaning in for a passionate kiss. The moment is supposed to be dramatic, I assume, but the timing is so ridiculously absurd that I can't help but think that it was included simply so the player has another chance to admire Madison's svelte physique as the distraught Ethan experiences carnal pleasure.

Even simple choices have the potential to come back to bite you in the butt and oversights can be especially unfortunate. There may be options available that you don't even notice until it's too late and the story is progressing along an undesirable path as you miss out on intriguing content. Or you'll fail at something unexpected and at first it doesn't seem like a huge deal in the grand scheme of things but before long someone is taking a bullet to the chest. That's supposed to be one of the game's hooks--and it is in many ways--because your actions directly impact the story's development. You can even lose a protagonist or two and still reach the closing credits, a fact that has rightly been emphasized in the months leading up to the game's release. I just wish that some of the choices that I had to make didn't seem so arbitrary.

Presumably, gamers are supposed to forgive such shortcomings because they're a natural side effect of innovation. Heavy Rain's admirable efforts to give the player so much control over the story are supposed to justify the occasional fumble. I'm willing to go along with that theory to a certain extent, but let's not give the game more credit than it actually deserves. After all, players have already been enjoying games like this for years. The old graphic adventures from Infocom spring readily to mind, for instance. The difference here is that everything suddenly looks and sounds better and there is a larger cast of characters to love or hate.

The emotional involvement that those next-generation tweaks and the expanded cast bring to the overall experience ultimately serve as the reason that I personally enjoy Heavy Rain as much as I do. There's a lot of stuff here that has been done before, but I can't remember it ever feeling this good. A twelve-hour adventure along these lines once meant a lot of menu diving and hand-shaped cursors, but in this new form some of those cumbersome conventions have been removed. The result is an adventure that feels much more personal, one that's absolutely worth experiencing even though it doesn't break as much ground as it could have or deliver on its promise with complete consistency. If you can make your peace with those understandable shortcomings, try your hand at tracking down the origami killer. You'll be glad that you did.

Rating: 8/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 18, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for nearly 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he also writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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If you enjoyed this Heavy Rain review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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zippdementia posted February 18, 2010:

This all seems very much in line with the demo's created expectations and other reviews I have read. It's a good length for a review and you avoid redundancies, which is nice and very much appreciated. I would've liked to hear a little bit more about how choices (especially deaths) affect the game, but I imagine you didn't have time to go in and actually check those features out in depth.

Nice job getting a review out pre-release.
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honestgamer posted February 18, 2010:

I could have commented on that in the review, but explaining those things properly would have expanded its length more than I would like and a lot of the deaths wouldn't make sense or even seem significant unless I gave examples that would then serve as unwelcome spoilers. It's a tricky game to review properly the minute you try to expand anywhere beyond a complete praise or bash.

For those who are curious, death is kind of a big deal and kind of not. If a character that you like dies, you can always exit out to the main menu to reload the sequence in which the death occurred and fix things more to your liking... but then you'd be depriving yourself of one of the game's potential hooks. I can't really recommend that, but it's nice to have the option.

I did finish the game once proper before reviewing it, and also I went back through a few of the segments to try things out differently. The results that I discovered didn't lend themselves well to discussino within the review (again because of spoilers), so that's why I ultimately decided not to go into more depth in that regard. Besides, at over 1400 words, it's already longer than I would have liked.

Anyway, thanks for reading.
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Suskie posted February 18, 2010:

I don't know if this is just my natural bias against adventure games talking, or whether it's the fact that you take on a negative tone for most of the review, but you make Heavy Rain sound absolutely awful in my mind. The discussion on the controls only strengthens the (relatively common) presumption that the gameplay is just a series of quick time events, and... you have to hold R2 just to walk around? Are they afraid a more conventional control scheme will make Heavy Rain feel too much like an actual game?

I'm hearing a lot about how deep and interactive the storytelling is, but that really didn't come through in this review. I understand you wanted to avoid spoilers, but the most substantial piece of analysis you gave the story was the bit on the two characters kissing, which did sound awkward, and since that's the only visualization of the plot's presentation I have after reading this review, I'm wondering if I'm meant to take that as an example of how the story plays out.

Don't read too far into what I'm saying, though. Like I said, I generally hate adventure games and I've pretty much made up my mind about Heavy Rain already, so it's unlikely my views are fair and reasoned. But I could see the game being worth a play if the story is really engrossing, and I didn't pick that up from this review.
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zippdementia posted February 18, 2010:

I agree with Suskie about the tone of the review. The story didn't really get a highlight, probably for the reasons you mention in your post here. But the story is what sounded extremely exciting from other reviews on the net. Tricky.

Suskie, I agree about adventure games. There are a handful that are worth playing for their story or quirkiness. I would say Longest Journey, Bladerunner, and ALMOST anything by Tim Schafer (though I think he's more witty than a good story-writer).
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zigfried posted February 18, 2010:

I really liked this review. It does make the game sound horrible... to me. Heavy Rain's a divisive game, and most reviews don't get across the things that are going to be turn-offs to "core" gamers. Not in anything more than a passing mention, I mean. I've read six reviews (counting this one) and hadn't felt this kind of impact until now.

This review convincingly explains that Heavy Rain sounds like it doesn't use quick-time events merely to add interactivity to cutscenes. The enormous amount of button-pressing shows that you truly control the cinematics -- that's innovative. Some people will find that to be really cool. I find tasks such as going to the bathroom, unfastening bras, and taking showers to be absurdly pointless and trivial.

So I guess what I'm saying is, if the game sounds awful, that's the point.

This review is for:
* people who think it sounds mind-numbing or hideously bad. These are people who shouldn't even be playing the game. This review warns them away, and that's a good thing.
* people who expect the messiah to rise from within their PS3 upon booting up the game. Adding this review to others they've read, these people can approach Heavy Rain with realistic expectations.

Basically, it's a review that complements the massive coverage this game has already received on the internet. If this were being judged as a person's single source of Heavy Rain information, then that would be one thing... but we don't live in a vacuum. I think a focused review like this is useful, especially since it comes from someone who admits to enjoying the experience.

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Suskie posted February 18, 2010:

I can see what you're saying, Zig, but at the same time this kind of reminds me of my BioShock review, where I gave the game an 8/10 but was mostly negative about it -- I said at the time that I was merely providing a counterpoint to the massive amounts of praise the game received, but I later admitted that I was simply unsatisfied with the game and couldn't really admit it at the time. I'm not saying that's how Jason felt about Heavy Rain, but that's how it came across to me.

I do disagree that a review can take on a completely inappropriate tone to contrast other reviews, though, because a review should function on its own. Again, maybe it's just my natural bias against the genre, but Jason doesn't make the game sound appealing at all, and it's hard for me to imagine anyone feeling differently unless they're already convinced it's going to be incredible. Hell, Zipp seems to feel the same way, and his excitement for this game mirrors mine for Mass Effect 2 a month ago. Which is to say, he's quite looking forward to it.
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Probester posted February 18, 2010:

So is it possible to play through the entire thing as one character? Or does it force you to balance out the characters?
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honestgamer posted February 18, 2010:

To Probester: The game has a sequence of scenes, each taking place from the perspective of a different character. Some scenes change mildly depending on what characters remain alive. You won't see some scenes, obviously, if the central character for that scene bites the dust. There's no way to play through the game entirely as one character.

I explained what makes the game work for me in pretty specific terms and I'm not prepared to hype the story any more than I did. The story was competent and interesting, but it's hardly groundbreaking. If I don't make the story sound exciting enough to make the game a must-play experience, well, that's because it isn't. The way the player engages with the story is the key point that I wanted to stress. Whether you like the story or not, your ability to enjoy it will come down to the manner in wich you interact with it. Some people are absolutely going to dislike the game mechanics for the reasons that I portrayed in the review. Some people won't mind them at all, for the reasons that I stated. So the review's goal was to paint an accurate picture of the game experience and to let the reader decide from there whether that's something that will interest him or not. Judging by the comments here, I've succeeded more than usual in that regard and that makes me happy.

Thanks for the comments, guys. I definitely will keep them under consideration, but I'm not sure how much tweaking the review needs because it seems to have accomplished its goals even for people who don't care for it. The same is ultimately true of Heavy Rain, I believe, so I guess that's appropriate. :-D
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zippdementia posted February 24, 2010:

I have to say... I'm playing this game and absolutely loving it. I mean, I've been expecting to LIKE it, but I didn't expect I wouldn't be able to put the controller down. After all, I figured a game trying to be cinema couldn't be that engaging but !@#$! it draws you in and holds you there.
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Lewis posted March 02, 2010:

I really want to play this. Can someone lend me a PS3, please?
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honestgamer posted March 02, 2010:

You really should play it, Lewis. It strikes me as precisely the sort of game that you would write multiple reviews and essays about. I think I was imagining it, but I could swear there was a scene in the game where I saw "Made specifically for Lewis Denby" scrawled on a wall. Yeah, I was probably imagining it. My point stands, however. Seriously, get yourself a PS3. It's an interesting system to have these days.
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zippdementia posted March 03, 2010:

It's the only game that my mother has ever asked to see all 12 hours of.
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Lewis posted March 03, 2010:

I played a little bit of a preview version of it last October, and although it wasn't anywhere near enough to get a good feel for the game, it seemed fascinating. My interest's piqued far more since reading Phill's review over at Resolution (am I allowed to link it? I will, not as a plug, but because I think it's a really interesting take on the game which I haven't seen elsewhere). It sounds just marvellous, and even if I didn't enjoy it, I'm sure I'd have a lot to say about it.

Yeah, I totally need a PS3. In fact, the amount in the HG Fundraising tub should go some way to covering it. Give me a loan? ;-)
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jiggs posted March 03, 2010:

so i hear there is a glitch that leaves one of the main female characters playable in the buff??
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zigfried posted March 04, 2010:

As cool as that sounds, it would probably mess with the sense of realism.

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bloomer posted March 04, 2010:

Zig said, 'If this were being judged as a person's single source of Heavy Rain information, then that would be one thing... but we don't live in a vacuum.'

I came to this review from that vacuum. You can say that's my fault and I'm in the minority, but I still think there's a minimum of story or contextual info I want to see in a review for any game like this, which I didn't get here. Subsequently I found the review very weird, and often funny. If you feel you can use the whole first paragraph for meta commentary on writing the review, I think you can definitely chuck in just 2-3 lines about the whole place giving more info than is given here. I had this weirdly annoying sensation of someone trying very gingerly not to say anything about the plot or story at all. The sensation increased roughly in a straight line as I moved through to the conclusion.

I still found all that I read very interesting, but this reticence or coyness was making me laugh with frustration. That's probably a weird response, but it was my response :)
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honestgamer posted March 04, 2010:

Paragraph three said as much about the story as I feel that any review for this game should, bloomer. I wondered, honestly, if it said too much! This is a case where spoilers are especially dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. My "meta" paragraph at the start would have been inappropriate if it didn't serve multiple purposes, but it did serve multiple purposes (relaying info while also explaining why the review won't read like nearly every other Heavy Rain review in existence) and I'm quite satisfied with it.
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bloomer posted March 04, 2010:

Trust me Mr Frecklesworth, you absolutely did not say too much.
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LowerStreetBlues posted March 04, 2010:

There was a certain point in the review Lewis linked to (a man reaching elaborately and carelessly to impress about a subject he thought warranted it, to spare five pages) when I realized I didn't want to play Heavy Rain, and that was when I read the following:

"I can’t help but think that David Cage is a fan of Talking Heads. Or, to be specific, their magnum opus ‘Once in a Lifetime’. In case you’re in the unfortunate situation of not knowing the song, let me explain it to you. Essentially, it’s a song about life."

I can forgive honestgamer for maybe not giving full story details when others are so stupefied giving explanation they make horrible and elaborate insinuations of directorial design based on 30 year old songs of average renown. And continue on for several paragraphs trying to relate the two media by vague common themes. Oy.
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zigfried posted March 04, 2010:

30 years... I feel old...

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zippdementia posted March 04, 2010:

I've got my review of the game on the way. It should provide a great compliment to Jason's, since mine focuses on the other extreme: the immerssive experience of the game as it's selling point.
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bloomer posted March 05, 2010:

This thread reminds me of black metal pioneers Celtic Frost's misguided turn to hair'n'glam metal, 'Cold Lake'!
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zippdementia posted March 05, 2010:

In what way?
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bloomer posted March 05, 2010:

In the same way that reviewer guy LSB quoted above found Heavy Rain reminded him of Talking Heads' magnum opus ‘Once in a Lifetime’ ;)

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