Tech News on G4
Raining on this parade
Mar 11, 2010
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
'Heavy Rain' isn't so much a video game as it is an interactive movie. It's obvious that developer Quantic Dream is attempting to break down, in one fell swoop, the idea of what exactly a video game is and can be.
Though it has a lot more brains than those shooters that are so popular right now, Heavy Rain is almost too ambitious for its own good, asking its players to be extremely patient. The average person won't want to sit through a three-hour movie, unless it's very, very good. So for a person to play through a movie-like experience like Heavy Rain, for 10 hours, the plot has to be superb and the gameplay equally so.
So the burning question is - is it that compelling? At times, absolutely. Where it becomes tedious and predictable is in the story itself, which is chalk-full of cliches and some truly eye roll-inducing lines.
The game follows the story of not one, but four characters, all of which the gamer plays as at different points. They're all in search of a serial murderer known as the Origami Killer who for months has been kidnapping young boys and drowning them. What's known to the gamer from the get-go (this isn't some well-kept secret that's being spoiled here) is that one of the four main characters is in fact the Origami Killer.
As the player goes through the story, it's clear that choices made and actions that are completed or failed will eventually change different subplots in the story, and the final outcome itself. It's refreshing that a lot of these choices aren't as cut-and-dried as so many other games that attempt to have a gamer think long and hard about their decisions. In Heavy Rain, there are moments where you only have a couple of seconds to come to a conclusion. Sometimes, the outcome is completely different from what you thought it would be.
What makes 'Heavy Rain' so different from just about any game you can think of, is that almost all the gameplay is based on context-sensitive actions. For instance, in most games, if you find yourself getting into a fight with another character, you'll mash a few buttons to throw some kicks and punches, and move an analog stick to control your character.
In Heavy Rain, prompts will pop up on-screen telling you what you have to do to win the fight. You may have to hold down or tap face or shoulder buttons, complete motions with the analog sticks, or even tilt or shake the PS3 controller, taking advantage of its Sixaxis capabilities.
That's just one example, but there are dozens upon dozens more. Some are hugely interesting - controlling a car driving the wrong direction on a highway, putting a fussy baby to sleep, applying makeup to a face - others not so much.
While some of these examples are fresh an hour into the game, they become boring when they're done for the fourth or fifth time. The basic controls for movement are frustrating as well. All characters control like a tank (think of the early Resident Evil games) and move about as fast. Couldn't they add in some kind of 'run' functionality?
The other hook for this game is that it's supposed to be one of the more emotional experiences a gamer will play through. The heart of the story does deal with some heavy stuff that many people can relate to such as the loss of family and sacrifice for loved ones, just to name just a couple. But it's never as suspenseful as something like Condemned, or as scary as Silent Hill, or as funny as a TimeSplitters game. In fact, it's not funny at all. Through the hours upon hours of story, there's barely any attempt at humour to keep the game from weighing down on the player quite so much.
We understand that it's not trying to be any of those games, and is trying to be more than that, but as hard as it tries, it doesn't get the emotional response that has worked in other titles.
And it's almost embarassing to realize halfway through the game that a large part of the plot follows the same idea behind every 'Saw' move ever made - and that's certainly not a good thing!
There are moments of true suspense, such as being trapped underwater in a car with an unconscious acquaintance, being a police officer whose partner has a gun pointed at his head, or trying to escape an apartment that's quickly being overwhelmed with fire.
But for every one of those cool moments, there are more bad ones. Like a shootout where goons repeatedly manage to only graze their target in the ear, or a moment where an old man suddenly has a heart attack and needs his pills that will miraculously cure him in a matter of milliseconds.
The power of the PS3 is a boon to Heavy Rain, as the game takes full advantage of the power the console allows. The game looks absolutely fantastic, with the character models looking particularly stunning. The voice acting in the game doesn't always match the quality of the facial expressions, but if it's true that communication is more non-verbal than verbal, then Heavy Rain gains a lot from the work done in the graphics department.
The setpieces aren't very big - Heavy Rain is open-ended in terms of the choices the player can make, not in the places he or she can travel - but they're also intriguing. Whether it's a rundown apartment, a busy police station or a park full of kids and parents, it's another way the game manages to keep the gamer drawn in.
Yet the final product isn't a complete success. Though 'Heavy Rain' should be lauded for trying something different in the world of interactive gaming, the plot and characters it relies on so heavily are its weakest links.
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