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Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) artwork

Heavy Rain (PlayStation 3) review


"Since Heavy Rain’s release it has received numerous accolades from reviewers. Yet still I encounter gamers who are wary of the title. Some of this wariness no doubt comes from the calamity that was Quantic Dream’s last release, Indigo Prophecy, which had the unfortunate distinction of being a sloppy and unfinished product. Others came away from Heavy Rain’s demo unable to deal with its admittedly odd system of movement, claiming that the controls would surely ruin the ent..."



Since Heavy Rain’s release it has received numerous accolades from reviewers. Yet still I encounter gamers who are wary of the title. Some of this wariness no doubt comes from the calamity that was Quantic Dream’s last release, Indigo Prophecy, which had the unfortunate distinction of being a sloppy and unfinished product. Others came away from Heavy Rain’s demo unable to deal with its admittedly odd system of movement, claiming that the controls would surely ruin the entirety of the experience. The voice acting has also come under occasional scrutinization for a few awkward moments, no doubt caused by European actors trying to carry an American accent. Except for the first concern (Heavy Rain is nothing like Indigo Prophecy) these are valid complaints, but they aren’t drastic enough that gamers should allow them to keep them away from this incredible and unique title.

The point of Heavy Rain is to create an emotional and cinematic experience. I know the the words “cinematic experience” and “interactive movie” have been coming up a lot in the gaming industry and not always with an enthusiastic response. It has to be stressed, though, that Heavy Rain does it right, keeping the player so fully immersed in the experience that they stop thinking of the product in terms of gameplay and what their next goal is. That doesn’t mean everyone will like it. In being an interactive movie, it often leaves familiar gaming territory behind for less conventional ground. Most gamers will readily appreciate the thrill of getting into a fist fight with a psychopath or chasing down a thug through crowded streets and later a grocery store, leaping over tables and knocking over stunned customers as they try to keep the man in their sights. Some might not be able to appreciate the delicateness of rocking a baby to sleep, however, or the subtle power of Heavy Rain’s theme, which is centered around the relationships between fathers and their sons. But regardless of your gaming tastes, there is a gracefulness with which Heavy Rain approaches these themes that can’t be ignored.

Certainly one of Heavy Rain’s largest draws comes from its high production quality. Heavy Rain shows a subtlety in its character interactions and movements that is currently unmatched in other video games. When desperate father Ethan Mars is trying to involve his distanced son in conversation part of what makes it painful is seeing how their heads turn slightly away from each other with every other sentence. When reporter Madison Page turns on a light in her apartment, her eyes change their dilation and she stifles an exhausted yawn, making the player see her insomnia before she even mentions it. When private-eye Scott Shelby steps on a bag of chips while sneaking up on a convenience store robber, the surprise isn’t registered on his face as a grand dropping of his jaw and widening of his eyes; it is a simple twitch at the corner of his mouth and a slight lowering of his brows that indicates his grimace at his mistake. Heavy Rain makes full use of its graphical sophistication to not just add a realistic textural sheen to everything but also to capture the slight changes in facial expressions and eyes that let a player know what’s going on in a character’s head without the need for heavy explanatory dialogue.

Deeper than this surface accomplishment, though, is an underlying sense of consequence to the many choices a player has to make for the characters. One reason that this is achieved is because there is no such thing as a “game over” in Heavy Rain. Rather than players failing at a situation and then having to do it again, the game keeps moving, incorporating the results of the scene into the future of the plot. Because of this, players feel like what they do matters. Maybe more importantly, players also feel that what they don’t do matters, leaving a gamer constantly checking in with themselves, wondering if they’ve made the right decisions. Of course, with no game-ending decisions, what is right and wrong also becomes confused and is left up to the player to morally assess. This gives players an extreme amount of emotional connection to the characters that they have helped to shape and a personal investment in the story that they’ve chosen the direction for. The tension in a scene where a character can die is increased dramatically when you know that failure will not result in your getting a “retry” screen but will instead continue the story without that character. Nor are these deaths ever very pleasant. Getting a vaginal exploratory with a power drill would not be my preferred way to go, nor would I like to fall half-conscious into a massive industrial grinder.

No, the game certainly doesn’t lack for brutality but neither should it be confused with Saw 7. The focus here isn't on gore and horrible situations as much as it is on the characters and the moral considerations behind their decisions. The character histories have a lot of power to them, even when they aren’t fully explained. There’s plenty left open for the eager analyst to decipher and infer. The emotional twists in the last few hours of the game are more than enough to keep anyone playing until the early hours finishing up the story. Some of the most intense scenes in the game come from the perspective of Ethan Mars, as he embarks upon a twisted journey to save his son from the clutches of the Origami Killer (who, in an engaging twist, may or may not be Ethan himself). The moral decisions that he is forced to make throughout the course of this endeavor are shocking not primarily for the innate cruelty of the tasks set for Ethan, but more for their ability to force the player into uncomfortable quandaries where they feel like there is no good answer to a situation. Adding to this tension is the fact that many of these scenes are timed, not giving the player the opportunity to think as rationally as they might like about their decision. After making a few disturbing choices under pressure, players of Heavy Rain may learn something about themselves and just how far they would be willing to go to save someone they love.

Ironically, replay-ability suffers somewhat because of all this. With the emotional investment players will have in the story, it's not easy to view the multiple decisions as "oh, this gives me the GOOD ending" and "this is the EVIL choice." On a second playthrough, players may have to distance themselves from the immersive qualities of the game in order to feel like they can freely explore different paths. Of course, as immersion is the main thing Heavy Rain is about, this can easily deflate a subsequent experience. Not that there isn’t a lot of new things to see, especially for those who want to get the entirety of the story and the character motivations. My friend and I, for instance, both got the "good" ending, but there were whole pieces of the story that I saw that he didn't and entire scenes that he played that I never encountered. There is incentive for multiple playthroughs here, but players are more likely to make use of the chapter selection option to replay select scenes from the game, rather than run through the full game again. Similar to a movie, Heavy Rain has a lot to offer observant players on their second run, but there’s nothing quite like the first time, especially with the game’s many twists and turns. On the first playthrough, there's never a moment where you're looking at your watch wondering when a character is going to stop talking, but on a second playthrough you'll have heard a lot of the dialogue before... again, same trouble with watching the same movie twice in a row.

With its cinematic focus and lack of conventional gaming offerings, Heavy Rain isn’t for everyone. It certainly was the game for me, as showcased by my high score. It is also an experience everyone should try at least once. Even though I went in with certain fears based on other Quantic Dream titles, I was surprised by the game's tenacity. No survival horror game has made me as tense as I was during some of the Origami Killer’s tests. I have never hesitated over a choice in Fallout 3 or Fable for as long as I hesitated over many choices in Heavy Rain and one in particular about half way through that no gamer will ever forget. Indeed, Heavy Rain is one of the most memorable games on the market and even those who don’t end up feeling as enthusiastic about it as I do will never forget it.

Rating: 10/10

zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (March 04, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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radicaldreamer posted March 06, 2010:

Really good review. I'm definitely one of those people who just kind of thought that this game would be bullshit or "not even a real game," but this review is making me reconsider. When I glanced at your blogs I kept thinking, "man, why does this guy have such a boner for this game," but you really capture the game's special subtleties here instead of just gushing praise. Since I can't be completely nice I should mention that "Me and my friend" should probably be "My friend and I," but that sentence does make a good point.

The gruesome deaths sound like something out of Saw though, which feels like a turnoff for me given the context the game has been placed in. In cases of games like God of War I would probably relish it, though as Heavy Rain is meant as something more serious and cinematic, I would foresee myself reacting squeamishly, since that's what happened when I watched Saw a few nights ago.
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zippdementia posted March 06, 2010:

Hey, thanks for the feedback, Rad! I'm really pleased that it's making you reconsider trying the game. The point of my review is to get people to TRY Heavy Rain and I'm glad it's working.

Funny you should mention Saw, because it's nearly impossible not to draw similarities in the basic idea, if not the presentation of that idea. I'll play around with that section.

Oh, and I'll go change the "friend" line.
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Suskie posted March 06, 2010:

I'm torn on this game at the moment. On one hand, I hate adventure games (as I believe I've stated numerous times before) and Heavy Rain's gameplay looks horrendous to me. On the other hand, I'm genuinely interested in the potential of video games as an interactive storytelling medium. Trouble is, if you focus entirely on storytelling and forsake the game itself, then you've fallen into a rut. I wish more developers would find middle ground between the two (this is why I love BioWare games so much); it's maddening that adventure games are often the most promising in regards to storytelling but are also painfully boring to play.

I guess the only way to sell me on a game like Heavy Rain (if only partially) is to convince me that the plot is really good, and you've certainly done that here, so bravo. I might yet check this game out if the opportunity arises, though I can't promise I'll be fair.
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zippdementia posted March 06, 2010:

Thanks for the feedback and the thoughts, Suskie. I'm completely aware that some people won't like Heavy Rain, but I don't think anyone will regret having witnessed its story.

Note: if the voice acting bothers anyone, you can play the game in French.
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wolfqueen001 posted January 26, 2011:

There's a reason I didn't read this - or any Heavy Rain - reviews until now, and even then, only to give you a fair shake in Jerec's tournament. I wanted to avoid the possibly spoiling the game for myself by reading a review, because, well, even if the reviewer avoids major scenes and twists, they can't avoid spoilers altogether simply because actual examples are needed to prove a point.

However, I was quite pleased to find out that you actually gave away very little. The bit I played of Heavy Rain really only extended about halfway through the opening - what I assume consisted of the demo - and I found the game quite fascinating. Thankfully, from what I've read of the review, you don't actually give much away beyond that original opening. There is a section in the review, where you're talking about the ways characters can die, that I kind of wish I didn't know about since that's something I'd have liked to have discovered on my own, but at the same time, I know that you really couldn't help it since what you described contributed to the point you were making.

In any case, this is a great review that really makes this game sound awesome without actually giving that much away. I still can't say when I'll get around to playing it, since I don't actually have a PS3 and the bit I played I had done at a friend's house, but... who knows.
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zippdementia posted January 26, 2011:

Thanks for taking the time to read it, WQ! I seem to always be pitted in difficult matches and I'm not sure how this one will turn out (right now it's not looking good for the Homestar Runner) but I'm glad it got you to read it and I hope you get to play it and think about whether this is a justified review at a later period. It was a tough game to review! But Joseph's review does a very cool thing in taking a classic game like FF2 and giving it a new look.

I love that and I'm glad that I'm biased on this match up because otherwise I'd have a lot of trouble picking between the two.

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