A Shadow Fox Review: Heavy Rain

A Shadow Fox Review: Heavy Rain + The Taxidermist
Platform: Playstation 3 + Playstation Network
Genre: Action/Adventure, Interactive Drama
Released: February 2010
Reviewed: October 2010

The Origami Killer is...

What defines a video game is a concept constantly challenged by new ideas and technology. Shenmue popularized in 1999 what would eventually be known as the Quick Time Event (or QTE), which provided players with a playable cutscene with more dynamic consequences, unlike the static nature of games like Dragon’s Lair in the 1980’s (regardless of the programming ideals being basically the same). To- date, several popular games have made use of QTE’s, God of War being the most recent. Has there ever been a game that consisted of nothing but QTE’s?  To my knowledge, none in the post-2D graphics age with the exception of Heavy Rain. This game by European studio Quantic Dream takes what we once knew about the QTE and turned it on its side, providing a very rich and compelling thriller whose quality could arguably rival that of the box office. Never before has a game presented itself so professionally. Ideally, this is what a CSI game really should be like (pay attention, Telltale games).

Story in this game is the forefront and driving force of the game. Four individuals (a divorced father Ethan Mars, a retired cop-gone-private eye Scott Shelby played by Sam Douglas, journalist Madison Paige, and FBI agent Norman Jayden) all share playable experiences and eventually weave a web of connection together as they all solve the case of the Origami Killer- a serial murderer who collects his victims and drowns them in rainwater which declares the title of the game. All the characters outside of Norman Jayden have reasons to solve the case that are personal and are explained during the play-through, and this review will omit said topics to avoid possible spoilers. In any case, the game plays itself out as a race against time to find and stop the killer before they succeed. The story progresses as choices are made, and they alter other opportunities or choices later in the game minutely. If a character say, dies in the game- they aren’t coming back, and the ending of the game will be different based on that “error”. There are a total of 17 different endings and 3-4 different climaxes to the story based upon choices made in the game, ultimately increasing the replay value of a single-player, linear story. The plot is very well done, and there are several details even the keen eye will miss until they are touched on again towards the end of the game, proving expert direction of scenes and game design.

Heavy Rain plays like Tomb Raider + Shenmue (moving + QTE’s). Players guide the playable character’s direction with the left analog stick, and initiate movement with R1. This takes some getting used to coming from an FPS, platformer, or any other game not Tomb Raider 1, so take note of this before starting. Players move about an environment to find objects of interest, which are highlighted by context-sensitive buttons when nigh. The player can also initiate thoughts of the character being played by holding R2 and then pressing an appropriate button in the resulting menu for hints, or general feelings about the situation at hand. This “thought menu” can be displayed while moving, which is useful, but cannot be done during QTE’s. Context sensitive areas can be initiated by the button required or with sweeps or flicks of the right analog stick and when input, other contextual buttons will be requested, or the game will cut to a QTE, where buttons must be pressed in a certain order to continue the game. If you fail a QTE, you will either have to complete the QTE again, or in more serious QTE’s (like fights) QTE results are permanent.  So if you fail the QTE, consequences (lost friends, lost fights, or lost life) are saved and you are stuck with said result for the remainder of your play-through (unless you reload the game otherwise).

This attention to context sensitive action really works well in Heavy Rain- commands are demanded quickly so interaction is mandatory, yet engaging, but not too demanding as to turn off players. Chapters are re-playable in the main menu, and it is tempting to reload them just to play them again, and not just for seeing a different outcome in the story, but often just to perfect the way you”played” the QTE- which is something only rivaled by God of War and parts of RE4/5. These actions are spread out well, and only in the beginning of the game are some of the events likely result in one or two ways. The context menu in this game really sets the gameplay apart instead of turning the game into a rolling FMV interrupted by control input.

Controls are very responsive with one glaring exception- The Butterfly chapter in the game has excruciatingly bad turn controls, making the character feel like the old Resident Evil tank walkers (or in this case, crawlers) of yore. Otherwise, looking around with the left stick is accurate, though pressing R1 to walk takes some getting used to after all these years since Tomb Raider 1. Inputting button presses and even holding multiple buttons all over the controller in some instances all work well, provided the aforementioned time to adjust to some awkward (and sometimes funny) context commands.

Heavy Rain is a single player game, but it doesn’t skimp on replay value. The game is home to some 17+ endings (more if you count the climax and other parts of endings modified), all dependent on how you play the game, who you befriend, who you fall in love with, and how you complete certain tasks and actually catch the Origami Killer. Each chapter can be replayed to see how the story would otherwise play out, and some of the trophy challenges are really grueling- don’t expect an easy Platinum Trophy here. Bonus features are unlocked along with trophies such as extra art, promotional videos and “making of” documentaries. From your first pretend sword fight with your children as an architect to a tragic childhood as a mystery man, Heavy Rain is full of different reactions to how the gamer plays. In addition is the Taxidermist DLC, which adds one more chapter to play prior to the events of Heavy Rain for the low price of $5 (unless you got the free unlock from certain pre-order deals).

Heavy Rain’s main attraction prior to release is its graphics. Awarded for the “Casting” demo seen two years ago, Quantic Dream has outdone themselves not only in the detail of the character models and environments in Heavy Rain, but also in HOW it was all made. Proprietary Vicon scanning tech loaded faces and expression animations into live models in Heavy Rain’s game engine, and 6,000+ shots for motion capture of ONE scene in the game proves the length the developers went to create the illusion of photorealistic people that also behaved and animated as extremely believable performances. Sam Douglas’ likeness in the game is uncanny in how realistic Scott Shelby looks and behaves in-game. HDR lighting in scenes, heavily populated scenes like crowded malls and subway stations look just like real-world counterparts, and details like rain dropping on cars and dripping from the edge of a characters’ face are phenomenal. PS3 has finally seen a game that isn’t made by Factor 5 that takes every advantage Cell and RSX have that created visual magic- one of the prettiest game you will see on the platform.

The original score for Heavy Rain is a triumph, rising greatly in the height of drama and life-or-death situations with perfect cues. From orchestrated pieces to Trance/House in a neon nightclub, the soundtrack traverses every genre possible situation the game itself does in spades. Thumping bass in action scenes and times of suspense, and decent voice acting bring the world and its characters to life.

Heavy Rain is a culmination of nearly four years of perfecting a craft that previously went unproven. Noir Crime Drama as a video game genre is an extremely high risk, and Quantic Dream went all out on this title and it shows. This is a sweeping novel that is only eclipsed by itself in graphics, plot, and excellent use of the mature themes that are rarely ever explored seriously in this industry. The game is a fresh, wild and emotional piece of art that has to be experienced by every person that considers themselves a gamer. Highly Recommended.

Shadow Fox bottomline: 9.5 out of 10