For many years game developers have tried to create narrative driven games with multiple outcomes on a limited scale. The 1997 Blade Runner game had a possible 13 endings depending on your interactions with characters and Final Fantasy X-2’s had three alternate endings, one for perfect completion of the game. With the release of Heavy Rain, finally a company has succeeded where others have failed. With a possible 18 endings (and counting!), this is a game about the consequences of choice.
Dubbed as an ‘interactive drama’, Heavy Rain follows four people and their pursuit of the Origami Killer, a desperate father, an insomniac woman, a FBI agent and a private eye. Each pathway has its own feel within the story, for example, the trials of the father are most reminiscent of Saw, while the private eye’s storyline has echoes of a Raymond Chandler novel. (Even the FBI agent looks a little bit like Mulder!) The whole game has the look and feel of Se7en, David Fincher’s masterpiece set in a city where the rain never ends. While this conglomerate of references could have turned into a hack job of old stories, the scriptwriting is excellent and the interactivity creates a whole new way of storytelling.
How does this work, you ask? When you approach an object or a choice, pictures of your options show up on screen and by pressing certain combinations you can react in different ways. It could be as simple as moving the joystick to open a cupboard. You’ll also have to learn to shower yourself, feed a baby and even kiss… Slightly creepy. But there are much better things to do with your moves later on in the game, like beating people up and interrogating sleazy guys.
The game feels like a major development from the point and click adventure. You explore a location, find clues, solve a problem and then move on. But it is done in such an innovative way that it will never feel like pushing those old buttons “Talk to” and “Pick up”. The gameplay is completely original and a clear reason why Heavy Rain will be a major contender for game of the year.
Your choices determine the outcome of the game, but with so many possibilities everyone will have a different experience. If one of your characters dies, they are permanently dead and the story continues without them. The autosave function sees that there are no second chances. The first play through I resolved to go with my gut feelings and not try to reset in order to replay. I’ve never played a game where I’ve been so on edge about my joystick control. One false move could mean the end for a character, and there are some pretty horrific ways to die in this game! I had to ask myself “What would I do?” in this situation, which at times is harrowing and other times morally confronting.
Heavy Rain’s major contribution to video games comes in the way it deals with moral responsibility. It asks the question “How far would you go to save someone you love?” and is one of the few games that challenges a player’s sense of morality through the ability to chose, something that is impossible in film or literature. In a medium that often allows players to live out their fantasies without repercussion, Heavy Rain confronts players with the consequences of their actions. In that way it is entirely unique – where other games have used violence to justify their exploration of morality, Heavy Rain does the opposite, to the point where you may need to fail events to succeed in getting the best outcome. Part of the entertainment of the game is to see where another choice may have made a difference, giving the game a fantastic replay value.
You can win trophies depending on the outcomes of certain scenarios. They can be as simple as the ‘Ludwig Van’, for playing the piano with no wrong notes, or as complex as an award for killing or not killing someone. I found myself wanting to unlock the trophies more and more, one of the few games I’ve actually wanted to fully complete (unlike Final Fantasy XIII – as if I am going to grind my way through those dumb trophies and screensavers). Completing certain chapters also unlocks interesting bonuses, again, something worthwhile like the stunning concept designs. This is a game that you will want to look at the extras – it’s a fascinating work of art, not just a video game.
It goes without saying that the graphics are excellent. I felt the lighting of the crime scenes was spot on, particularly the rotating beams of the police cars reflecting off the water in the first crime scene. There is a high level of detail in the cinematography; cut scenes use film techniques like steadycam and are carefully framed. Even many of the interactive parts are completely animated. The main characters are well done, although some of the supporting female characters (particularly Lauren the friendly prostitute) have an odd look about them. The sets and locations are well thought out, although I had a little bit of difficulty navigating in certain situations (Butterfly Trial anyone?).
Which leads into my one major frustration with the game. Walking. You have to use the left joystick and press R2 at the same time to move around. Why press R2? Why not just use the left joystick? It felt completely redundant to have to press two buttons to walk around a crime scene. And some of the combination moves will leave you feeling like playing twister on your controller.
There are also a few points where I could see better alternatives that weren’t offered in the game. In the Butterfly Trial (sorry, it’s the one that totally peed me off!), why wouldn’t Ethan brush away the glass? Or the FBI agent’s fancy glasses… how realistic is that? Or the way he dictates into his glasses the whole time like Kyle MacLauchlan in Twin Peaks! There are a few unbelievable situations like this but on the whole, it’s incredibly realistic.
Heavy Rain is a magnificent game. Despite the few misses, it has more than enough hits to land a power punch in storytelling. It is a genre changer and brings new life to the interactive story. I have never played a game that gave me so many chills or adrenaline rushes, yet has a story worthy of the top crime writers of our day. Play Heavy Rain and don’t look up the spoilers. It’s one of the best choices you’ll make.