As the videogame industry grows all kinds of new and innovative ideas flourish into life providing us with unforgettable experiences that leave impressions long after the game is over. Movies have been doing the same for over a century and have matured to the point where an interesting idea can be translated into an amazing experience, but can these two forms of media merge successfully to give the user something they can related to yet be utterly engrossing?
Back in 2005 Quantic Dreams released Fahrenheit, a paranormal thriller that introduced gamers to a new form of interactive storytelling with its imaginative ideas it showed that there was a market for a game that focused on the cinematic side of storytelling.
Jump to today and what has seemed like a millennia in development Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain is here but will it be able to build upon the foundations Fahrenheit lay or will it simply be a 7 hour cut scene? Read on to find out.
For a cinematic adventure game like Heavy Rain story is key, the background to the game centres around a serial killer who has been terrorising a city, on each of the victims an origami figure is left, the killer is nicknamed 'The Origami Killer.' Now a boy has just gone missing and with less than a week to find him before he is the next victim you take the role of four characters as they uncover the truth behind these killings and track down the real killer before it's too late.
The story is presented much like a movie for the most part and is played in chronological order from start to finish with a few flashbacks here and there. Each of the four main characters has their own separate story line which on occasion crossover throughout the game leading to a final climax where all the stories converge. This method of storytelling is nothing new and it allows for a very consistent and well managed pace, never throughout the game will you get lost or frustrated with the lack of progress in the story as it has been very cleverly crafted to offer what seems like a world of possibilities yet keeps you tied very closely to the main plot.
Speaking of possibilities one of the features the developers have shown off is the choice system in that whatever you do will ultimately change the story and not just the ending, there are possibilities to kill main characters throughout the game and even change some key events based on what you do making Heavy Rain a different experience to each and every person who plays it. Some people might argue that since your decisions shape the events that happen throughout the game that there is no one correct story, this is true as everybody has different views on what is right. If someone tries to kill you then is placed in a position there their life is in your hands, what would you do? The game thrives on moral choice and the only correct way to play the game is what you as the player deem is correct according to your own moral code.
Most adventure games of this type have found a new home on Nintendo DS where the emphasis is placed on the story and not the controls of the game, Heavy Rain's control scheme is different to any 3rd person adventure game on the market right now. You control your character in real time using a combination of the left analogue stick and R2, I know what you're thinking, this is the same control scheme as found in racing games, and you'd be correct the closest I can compare it to is the older Resident Evil games where the character will only move in the direction they are facing but instead of pushing forward with the analogue stick to walk you have to hold down the R2 trigger. It can be a little haphazard controlling what should be a woman but feels like a tank and trying to position your character in front of interactive objects can be somewhat tricky for the first few hours of the game.
Heavy Rain likes to sell itself as a Hollywood esque Psychological thriller that immerses the player into a world where you will feel like you are playing a movie. Most games have a set number of actions or moves the characters can do but to achieve what Quantic Dreams have with Heavy Rain they completely scrapped this idea in favour of giving the player the ability to perform hundreds of different actions throughout the game. This was made possible through onscreen button combinations that allow the user to do mundane things such as shave right through to investigating areas looking for evidence.
Action sequences in the game are controlled though quick time events much like an old FMV based game but unlike FMV games the transitions are smooth and even mistakes do not mean that you will lose the fight or fail only that your character may get cut or bruised. The action sequences and the button combination sections both use the same icons and some action sequences will require the use of button combinations so it all integrates quite well. Unfortunately there is one little gripe to be had with this system, one of the button combinations involves you tapping said button numerous times, the icon shakes to show you have to press it more than once but in the game especially during an intense moment your when your character is scared the icons will shake to show they are scared, it can on a few occasions be a little confusing to think through what the game wants you to do especially during an intense moment and they could have used colours to differentiate what is emotion and what is an action.
Button combination sequences really break the flow of the game too, especially if you accidently fail to hold down a sequence of buttons and have to do the sequence again, it interrupts the pace of the game play and can be a little fidgety at times.
From very early visuals Heavy Rain has always looked like a masterpiece showing off the full power of the PS3. Photorealistic rendering of characters and environments and everything in between has that little extra something, textures are for the most part are ridiculously sharp allowing the player to read something written on a book or see the pores on a characters face, and the hair in particular looks fantastic. There are however moments in the game where this high standard is not achieved with almost PS2 era graphics and a stuttering frame rate at times it either shows that the PS3 is being pushed or the game was poorly programmed.
Quantic Dreams wanted the most realistic movements for their characters as they could get so they hired real actors to act out the scenes and motion track facial emotions, this is a mixed bag as with some characters the emotion in their face is undeniable but others come across as very wooden with their voices not matching the facial emotion shown, this is unsettling and partially breaks the immersion that the game tries so hard to enforce. In a few cut scenes too some of the characters move abruptly almost like an uncontrollable movement that looks like a glitch, this only happens once or twice but is mentioned because it exists.
As the title suggests the game does have a lot of rain, in the majority of outdoor sequences it is raining and the rain effects on the characters faces really does look quite nice, almost like the first time you see the water effects in Bioshock it really seems like developers are getting a handle on how to generate water to make it look like water and not some translucent gelatinous mess.
A good thriller always has a good soundtrack to help set the mood of the scene, a good soundtrack can turn what would be an intense situation into an extremely fearful moment. Heavy Rain delivers gracefully with a moody soundtrack that really shows the emotion, fear and frustration brought about in a scene. It really feels like it was written for a movie, not a game but it works so well.
The actors used to voice the game for the most part are really good, emotions are truly portrayed and there are no instances where the flow of a conversation is interrupted by a duff line. Qunatic Dreams did not use American actors to voice the game so a few of the American accents used by the actors in the game can be hit or miss at times but it really is barely noticeable with the exception of the word 'origami' being mispronounced on numerous occasions by different characters.
The game isn't so much short lasting around the 7-8 hour mark as it doesn't really offer anything more upon completion. Modern Warfare 2's single player campaign was only 6 hours long but promised a huge amount of play time with the multiplayer, a multiplayer mode wouldn't be appropriate to a game such as Heavy Rain so what do you do once you've finished? Depending on the ending you get you may want to play it through again this time putting all morals aside and comparing the outcome of the second run to that of the first.
If you complete each section of the game 'correctly' i.e. you get the best possible outcome in that scene you will unlock 'bonuses' such as galleries and documentaries, these extras are really interesting as they provide an insight into how the game was made. But are these merely the equivalent to DVD extras on a movie?
The game is without a doubt an experience, a personal experience what you get from it will be different to your friends and vice versa, the relatively short campaign is intense and has no padding to artificially lengthen the game and the storyline works on many levels and constantly keep you guessing as to who the murderer is. The controls are a little shaky no doubt about that and quick time events are not every ones cup of tea but if you can look past the faults you will find a game that that treats its subject matter with a maturity rarely seen in this industry. If you're after something a little different to all the FPS's or Brain Training simulators this title begs your consideration.