Game Review: Heavy Rain

I commented in an earlier post that I didn’t plan on playing this game for a while, but the demo really got the better of me and I just couldn’t resist it. Overall it has been an enjoyable experience, but it is certainly not the perfect game, and many of the remarks I made in my earlier post held true.

Heavy Rain is, as claimed, an interactive drama. That is to say like its spiritual predecessor, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, it is not a game in any traditional sense of the word. You don’t play it, you watch it and interact with it. Though it is definitely a good thing that not all games are played the same way that this one is, having one game like this is not a bad thing.

You start out playing the character Ethan Mars. He wakes up, it’s his son’s birthday. You can make Ethan do various tasks such as brushing his teeth, taking a shower, or other mundane things that normal people do. The opening gives you a sense of how to interact with the world, and it begins to show off some of the great animations that you are going to see throughout the game. Many tasks are fairly simple to carry out, and include holding down a combination of buttons, or moving the joystick in a simple pattern. There are also quick thinking sequences where you have only a split second to press the buttons as directed. The game features a lot of mundane tasks that are utterly worthless to do, and certainly a second play through of this game would warrant skipping most of these sequences. Making a character go to the bathroom every time they see a different toilet gets old pretty quick.
ARI crime scene investigation, the technology of the future. Next year in fact. (The game takes place in 2011.)

Further into the game the real drama begins when the plot introduces the Origami Murders a series of killings that have taken place over several years, where the victim is drowned and an origami figure is found near the body. These are introduced while you play the character Norman Jayden, a profiler for the FBI. As Norman, you use something called ARI to investigate the scene of the most recent victim. ARI is basically a computer system which scans the area, and brings evidence or clues to the attention of the person using the system by showing information in an Actual Reality Interface. It is certainly an interesting way to go about investigating crimes, but not very realistic.

You will also play as Scott Shelby, a private investigator, who is investigating the killings. And as Madison Paige, a journalist, who gets mixed up with the killings after meeting Ethan Mars.

The plot is that Ethan’s son is kidnapped, and he is given a series of clues by the killer, which, if followed, will lead him to his son. No details will be given about the plot here, as the game is certainly best experienced the first time by playing it out, and letting the end be a surprise, but some illusions to the plot will be made to point out some of the problems with it.

The plot has many classic fallacies of fiction writing, and is certainly not perfect. There are huge plot holes, many of which are in the game simply to keep the player guessing, but they are distracting and will lead the player to believe that the characters in the game are idiots. There are several sequences surrounding a mob boss, which really have nothing to do with the main plot, and seem to be in the game simply so that it lasts longer. The police in the game don’t seem to be doing any actual investigating, they just interview people that have already been interviewed and then beat them up, or get beat up by them. The lead detective, Carter Blake, is basically a moron, and it’s a relief that you never play as him.

The story is somewhat intriguing, but at the same time it is pretty mediocre, and not necessarily as intense as the ads made it out to be. The Ethan Mars character is interesting, and Madison Paige has some good moments as well, but the rest of the characters fall pretty flat. Norman Jayden basically seems to be randomly put in situations where he gets beat up, which is kind of funny, and he has a drug abuse problem, but the details surrounding him never really play out, and he is never that interesting. Maybe if there was some more back story on him, he would have been a much stronger character, but as it stands we don’t get much. Scott Shelby is about as boring as all hell. As a private investigator he never really does any investigating, and very early in the game the player will wonder why he is even playable.

Admittedly a lot of problems with the plot are because it is a game, and a game needs to give players a certain amount of play time. If this had been a movie, many of the problems with the story and characters would have been cut out, and it might have been a much tighter story, although it would still be pretty generic. There really isn’t anything that foreboding. It’s just the story of a serial killer, that has a somewhat interesting modus operandi.
The facial expressions of the characters are particularly telling.

What the game does very well, is animation. There are literally thousands of different animations for the various tasks that the characters do. Standing up, sitting down, juggling, and playing with a boomerang in the park, to mention a few. The game used motion capture not only for body animations but for facial expressions as well, and in that regard the expressions on the character’s faces are very realistic, and very telling of what the characters are thinking. The facial expressions are probably the best part of this game, and the details of the faces of the main characters are especially good. Most of the emotion in the game is brought out through the those small shifts in a the character’s lips, jaws, and eyes.

A word should be said about the voice acting. It’s terrible. Especially the actors that played Ethan and Norman. Both actors are obviously Europeans doing American accents. Ethan sounds like he’s from Scotland half the time and America the other half of the time. Norman’s actor uses both Brooklyn and California accents in the same sentence. The children in the game were badly acted as well. Being that this game made such a big deal of facial expression, it should have had the professional voice work to match. Despite the voice work, in general the soundtrack is pretty good, very emotional, some of the tracks are particularly memorable as well, but it is very repetitive.

I want to comment on the multiple endings. The game boasts hundreds of them. Realistically speaking that is a flat out lie. Each character has several different endings, and depending on the choices made throughout the game some of those endings will be shown, and yes, the same character can have two different ending sequences in the finale, so, sure, when combining everything together maybe there are a hundred different endings, but you don’t have to play the game a hundred times to see them all. You will probably get one fourth of the endings on your first play through, and you only have to play the last two chapters to get another fourth of them. Other endings require different decisions earlier in the game so you have to go back further for them. Overall, however, the game is very linear with only a few choices that affect the ending, like letting a character die, or not finding all the clues at a crime scene. This isn’t really a bad thing, it just isn’t the big deal that the PR people made it out to be.

Of course the only really important thing, when it comes down to it, is whether or not the game is fun. Certainly this game doesn’t have the fast paced action of a shooter, or require the intuition and detective skills of a more traditional adventure game, but, to be perfectly honest, there is something very satisfying about pressing the buttons and doing the actions required to make the characters carry out their scripted sequences. Yes, it is surprisingly fun and satisfying to play.

Now since there are different ways for the game to end, the question arises as to whether or not this game is re-playable? Sure, you can replay it, but honestly it’ll be pretty much the same every time you play it, with only minor differences, so it really isn’t going to be a whole lot that is new and exciting on your second play through. Like a good movie, you’d have to wait several months, or even years, before experiencing it again.

The ultimate deciding factor concerning your like of this game is the demo. Log onto the PlayStation network and download it. If you enjoy the demo, you will enjoy this game.

Rating: 8/10

Alternatives: Indigo Prophecy, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened.