In games, I’m generally a sociopath. In GTA IV, I like nothing better than seeing how many cops I can kill before they get me. Having said this, I think the reason I enjoy this manner of gameplay because I disassociate the game world of Liberty City from any real place. It’s just a game world: a place to have some fun and not take too seriously. For some reason, I took Heavy Rain a lot more seriously, but in the end I felt betrayed by the game.
That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the game. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone interested in games and game design. The game itself is quite simple, merely requiring timed button presses and careful examination of spaces. Beyond this, a lot of the game plays out based on the choices you make, although it's not always clear when you’re making a big, game altering decision or an arbitrary one.
The graphics in general are quite good, although not as mind blowing as I had first expected, and there are a lot of assets that don't seem to have gotten the same level of attention as the characters. Controlling animation speed can be fun and interesting, but all too often the charters seem alien and move like robots. The scene where Ethan and Madison kiss really showed that this game world resides deep within the uncanny valley. At times the sound got choppy and faded in and out, which could be frustrating during cutscenes.
The movement is oftentimes clunky, and it became one of my major frustrations with the game. The static camera angles didn't help with navigating the world and often made it difficult to figure out what to do next or what to explore.
The four main protagonists, Ethan Mars, Scott Shelby, Norman Jayden and Madison Paige, are all interesting in their own way. No one in the game is a super powered commando out to save the world; they're just real (ish) people trying to save a kid’s life. Unfortunately, it doesn't feel like you as the player have much input in the world. Most of the time it just feels like you're helping the characters use the microwave or put the car in gear. There is a genuine sense that the world would just continue with or without you. It's pretty frustrating when the characters you're playing as are keeping secrets from you.
The influence of film on this game is clearly massive: it's very much a game that tries to marry video games and movies, but it feels too forced. Hopefully Quantic Dream and other developers will explore this type of game further, as the whole genre could be really exciting if it gets the attention it deserves.
If you've played MGS 4, you'll remember one of the final scenes where Snake crawls through a radiation filled corridor, and you'll know the sense of urgency that just tapping quick time events can lead to. Heavy Rain pulls this off regularly with fast-action button presses, leading to a sense of immediacy and urgency from the player that can be thoroughly exciting. This is one of the best features of the game, and it’s probably what I'll remember most about it.
Heavy Rain makes a big deal about choice, and in the end the choices you make will affect how the game ends. I was pretty happy with how my game ended so I don't think I'd feel the need to go back and play again. A major issue, however, is that there are so many arbitrary choices that it can be hard to know what's important and what's not. Towards the end of the game, I felt betrayed by the game, by one of the characters I had played. It was a big disconnect and leaves me feeling a bit unhappy about the game overall. Feeling betrayed as a character could have been really powerful emotionally, but instead I resented a game once I figured out certain things.
Overall, Heavy Rain is a really good game, and an extremely important game for the industry. I'm glad that it has sold well, and I just hope that Quantic Dream will strive towards a clearer vision in their next game. I've heard David Cage recently argued that games need to not be about mechanics and loops, which worries me a little, but with Heavy Rain as a foundation, games like this could be a big part of the future for the industry.
The Good Bits:
- Engaging story
- Sense of urgency
- Choice affecting the outcome of the game
- Real to life characters (no super human alpha males here!)
- Worth playing for its novelty value alone
The Bad Bits:
- Graphics can be hit or miss
- Movement is clunky
- Characters never feel like they're in your control, you’re just helping them out
- Disconnect between game and player
- Choppy sound and visuals at times