A “Heavy Rain” Is Gonna Fall

In a landscape dominated by sequels, spin-offs, formulaic rehashes and yearly iterations, “Heavy Rain” is a much-needed breath of fresh air. From developer Quantic Dream and exclusive to the Playstation 3, “Heavy Rain” delivers a compelling experience that defies all gaming convention. There are no aliens, no zombies, no terrorists to kill — only a gripping tale that asks the player, “How far are you willing to go to save the one you love?”

Drawing inspiration from thrillers like “Se7en” and “Silence of the Lambs,” the story revolves around the case of the “Origami Killer,” a murderer whose trademark is an origami figure clasped in the hands of the victims. The story unfolds through the eyes of four different characters who end up entangled in the case; Ethan Mars, architect and father; Madison Paige, insomniac journalist; Norman Jayden, FBI agent; and Scott Shelby, private detective. Their stories intersect and overlap with one another, and each scenario provides the player with a piece of the puzzle with which to solve the mystery of the Origami Killer. The result is a mature storyline that stands on the strength of its own merit told through the unique qualities of the gaming medium.

On a base mechanical level, “Heavy Rain’s” gameplay can be reduced to character navigation and hitting a series of on-screen prompts à la “Simon Says.” The movement controls are awkward; walking forward requires a button be held down like a gas pedal and you’ll often find yourself pivoting and twisting in place, running into random walls and furniture, and making unnecessary movements due to shifting camera angles. The action segments offer no direct control, abstracting interactivity in a series of analog stick swirls, controller jerks, trigger depressions and hitting the face buttons when the appropriate prompts appear.

The game showcases perhaps the most realistic characters ever rendered in a video game. From the glassy sheen of the eyes to the stubble of the chin, the visual presentation blurs the line between gaming and cinema. The rained-out world is suitably drenched, soaked and dripping. Puddles splash, streams rush and small rivulets run.

Although the presentation is marred by a few flaws, the game struggles to maintain the visual fidelity with frequent screen tearing and slowdown. Voice acting ranges from decently passable to laughably bad, and the stark contrast between cutscene animation and the robotic in-game animation can be jarring.

But “Heavy Rain’s” greatest achievement is making the player experience a range of emotions typically not associated with games — you will feel sadness, sympathy, regret, anger and even fear. The story IS the gameplay. The small act of making Ethan wake up, brush his teeth, shave and take a hot shower doesn’t sound all that great as a gameplay sequence but it does a great deal to immerse you into the world and cultivate a relationship between the player and the character.

Our ability to influence and guide their actions allows us an unprecedented level of control over the narrative. This allows the player to invest emotionally in the characters on a completely different level. You actually care about them; their conflicts become your conflicts, their struggles become your struggles and their choices are your choices. Just like in real life, if you make a mistake, you’ll just have to live with it. There are no do-overs — the game automatically saves after each event. You will never see a “Game Over” screen even when a character dies. The story will move on regardless. The outcome is not set in stone, and because of it, the choices you makes have very real and tangible consequence on the overall story. No one person will have the exact same experience and every adventure is unique to each player’s personality.

“Heavy Rain” gives you a responsibility that no other medium demands because the ending actually changes to reflect the choices you make. You will be forced into high-stress situations that require quick-thinking and rash decision-making. Because of the ever present threat of character death, each scene carries a palpable tension and emotional weight that thrives on the player’s relationship with the characters.  The action sequences will have you on the edge of your seat, keep you on your toes and make your heart race. You will be placed into intense situations where the outcome is not clear and depends entirely on your moral compass and reflexes. “Heavy Rain” will play with your emotions, tug at the heartstrings and leave you guessing until the very end.

In an industry fraught with shooters and fantasy RPGs, “Heavy Rain” is a revelation. The game is by no means perfect but the few gameplay and presentation issues are minor in face of what the game does accomplish. What it achieves is far beyond the ambition of every other game. It draws you in a spellbinding and suspenseful tale of mystery and makes you feel genuine emotion. It has opened up a whole new world for gaming to explore. This is an experience that no one should miss out on.