Heavy Rain Chronicles Episode 1: The Taxidermist
Release Date: 03/05/2010
Heavy Rain Chronicles is a downloadable series of games that continues the look and feel of Heavy Rain. The first episode is currently only available to people who preordered Heavy Rain and I have to admit, the way Sony handled the DLC was a two-fold faux pas. First, you had to wait over a week after purchasing the game to even use the voucher code. Then once the PSN Store was updated on March 4th, everyone discovered that the code for Heavy Rain Chronicles wasn’t working. Sony finally got things fixed in the wee hours of March 5th, but between those two issues and the 24 hour down time for the older PS3 models, Sony had some pretty big consume relations issues.
All that aside though, what matters is the game. As of this review’s writing, HRC: Episode One is only available to people who preordered Heavy Rain, but the voucher does say it has a $4.99 value, so it’s only a matter of time before the content is for sale in the store. I’m purposely keeping this separate from my actual Heavy Rain review, which I have yet to finish as I’m waiting to get everything in the game (including) all endings before I post my thoughts on it, and I’m also avoiding both spoilers and YouTube footage. What can I say? I’m anal about my Interactive Cinema. You should have seen me as a kid trying to log all the possible death scenes in Dragon’s Lair.
So how was The Taxidermist? Do the chronicles look like they have potential, or should Heavy Rain been left an island unto itself?
In Episode One, you are playing as Madison Paige, an investigative journalist who is trying to figure out the identity of the Origami Killer. With a hot tip that it might be a 40 year old taxidermist named Leiland White, Madison heads on over to the man’s house to see if she can find any evidence or even outright ask Mr. White some questions about the serial slayings.
Without spoiling things for those who have to wait for the content, I will say Episode One is about a half hour of gaming per playthrough. There are five possible endings and I ended up earning, “The End of the Nightmare” which appears to be the most heroic/good/canon of the endings (at least from the unlockable storyboards you can get). Not bad. After beating the scenario, you are allowed to restart from one of three checkpoints and replay to earn the other endings. I really liked that I was given this option instead of having to replay from the very beginning as it allowed me to see all that there was in the game without putting a full two and half to three hours into the title. Trust me, when you review fifty-some games a year, this is a blessing you can’t properly describe. My favourite ending was, “The End of Anguish” as it gave you the most story.
Although the story was light, I will say without spoilers that Madison didn’t find what she was looking for, but she did find something parallel. There isn’t a lot of characterization or depth to either Madison or Leiland as things are kept to a very two dimensional level. Your game revolves around getting into the house, looking for clues and/or evidence, and then getting the hell out. That’s it. There is no real attempt to go beyond basic story telling here, but for the equivalent of $4.99, you’re getting five endings, or an ending per dollar and what’s here is fun if not mind-blowing. I will admit that once Leiland got home my reaction was, “Oh ****, oh ****, oh ****” and that my initial expectation of Leiland being a private transexual was nowhere in the ballpark for what actually unfolded.
In all, I had fun with this brief thirty minute Heavy Rain side story. I can’t say I was floored or in awe of the plot as it was very basic, but I did have fun it, and that’s what matters.
Story Rating: Enjoyable
Heavy Rain Chronicles looks just as stunning as the main game. There is more detail put into afterthought visuals than most games have in their primary graphics. Quanticdream isn’t kidding when they call this “Interactive Cinema.” I’ve never seen such lifelike animations or visuals in a game before. The way characters blink, breathe, move and react is simply amazing.
There are only two quibbles with the visuals. The first is long hair seems to be a problem for Quanticdream. The second is that the taxidermized (Is that even a word?) objects in the game look more like high end PS2 graphics than PS3 games. The visuals are so noticeably different from the “living” characters, that it is a bit jarring. Other than those small quibbles, the game looks fantastic and I was quite impressed with how well a thirty minute side story looked. Nicely done here.
Graphics Rating: Great
There are only four or five voice acted characters in the game and that’s if you do every possible ending. You have Leiland, Madison, her friend Sam, and two possible police officer voices. Four of the five voices are excellent, with only Leiland being a bit weak. Now Leiland and Sam are done by the same voice actor according to the credits, so I’m going to say that’s the director’s fault and not the actor’s. Leiland doesn’t seem to have the same level of believability as Madison as times his delivery is a bit wooden or forced. He’s nicely done otherwise, but there is no denying that at times the delivery is a bit off.
Now, if you change the vocals to French, it’s a different story. The delivery is stronger and if you can understand French (I wish I knew how to make a circumflex on an American keyboard), you’ll find the overall emotion and tenseness of the game to be better in this language. I’m chalking this up to the fact that this a French game and so like many things, it is better in its native language.
Music is rare but when it does play, it is quite somber and brooding, which is a perfect fit for the feeling of this short stand-alone. Sound effects are very realistic and really help to make this feel like an interactive movie rather than a video game.
All things considered, this was very nicely done here.
Sound Rating: Very Good
4. Control and Gameplay
The controls of Heavy Rain Chronicles are the same as what you will find in Heavy Rain, which should surprise no one. It’s basically a combination of cinematic adventure gameplay like you would find in Space Ace or Brain Dead 13 and the kind of gameplay you get when a third person adventure game like Still Life(Another wonderful serial killer mystery game BTW) is ported to a console.
If you still have yet to play Heavy Rain, the breakdown is as follows: You use the R2 button to walk and the right analog stick to guide your character’s direction. Occasionally you will also use the right analog stick to interact with objects or get a closer look at some of the background items in the game. The only real game play besides this comes from Active Time Events, which can be broken down into four categories:
A) Hold down buttons for a period of time
B) Shake the Controller
C) Button Mashing
D) Timed events where you must hit buttons or press directions within a limited amount of time.
Everything here is exceedingly simple to learn and I also like the extra depth you can get by hitting L2 and being able to have the character provide an inner monologue on a variety of subjects. My only real quibble with the controls is that sometimes the camera angles make it hard to see what motion you are supposed to do to open a drawer or interact with an object or that sometimes the moving the character can be a bit like driving a tank. What I mean by this is sometimes they are hard to steer or turn and occasionally the character will take a step or two after you stop pressing R2. In one instance my character kept walking right onto creaky floorboards, which gave away my position and started a game of cat and mouse. Whoops. Still, my issues with the controls are few and far between.
On a side note, I do know some gamers have complained about the SixAxis sensitivity (or lack thereof). I do want to let readers know I tried the game with a Sixaxis and a DualShock 3 controller and I found oddly enough, the SixAxis actually was the more responsive choice, both with motion controls and overall play. If you’re having problems, maybe switch to the older controller model.
Overall, this was a solid playthrough and I have to admit I found gameplay to be tighter and with less detection errors than in the core game. There also aren’t nigh endless Active Time Events which was another bonus.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
In two hours, I had achieved all five endings and had gotten two different variants on “The End of Nightmares” ending. In my first playthrough, I escaped to my motorcycle after a terse battle and in the second I didn’t need to escape because I cut someone’s groin off with a chainsaw and left him to bleed to death. This highlights that although there are five set endings categories, there are many ways to achieve the endings. This means you can freely replay The Taxidermist multiple times, even after achieving all the endings and still get new dialogue or situations. That’s pretty impressive for a $4.99 (or at least that’s what it will eventually cost) side story download.
Although you can get everything possible out of HRC: Episode One in a single evening, there’s still an amazing amount of content here for downloadable content. I’m kind of surprised there weren’t any trophies for this though.
Replayability Rating: Good
One of the great things about Heavy Rain is that there are three difficulty settings designed to make the Active Time Event accessible to everyone from casual gamers who might use their PS3 more as a Blu-Ray Player to people who live, eat, sleep and breath games. Heavy Rain Chronicles follows suit and I found the game to be nicely balanced. Active Time Events were harder based on if you did something stupid or not, like running down stairs and confront your would be assailant instead of running and hiding from him.
The game is so short that it’s somewhat hard to judge how balanced the game is. The only time I had any difficulty was on those rare occasions where steering was a bit haphazard. Other than that all the events went smoothly and they were executed flawlessly.
There are two problems I had though that really should be discussed. The first is that once you get inside the house, you can’t get back out until you trigger Mr. White’s return home. This to me seems like a pretty big oversight from a side story that gives you so many other options. You can’t open the front door or a window. There is literally no way out once you are in safe for triggering a single specific plot point. It feels to me like this needed to be an option and thus a sixth ending like, “Scaredy Cat” or something similar.
The other issue is that you HAVE to go inside. When you ring the doorbell and no one answers you can look at the internal dialogue and choose “Too Bad” which prompts Ms. Paige to want to go home. Unfortunately, the game won’t let you. You are again stuck having to go inside. This makes me wonder why you are given the option to choose to want to go home in the first place. It’s a very logical and reasonable choice of, “Hey, my interview subject isn’t home. It’s cold and rainy and I’ll just come back another time because I don’t want to get arrested for breaking and entering.” Alas, it’s just not there while the game plans for more far out options like using a chainsaw on someone’s special no-no place or smacking someone with a vanity mirror. It’s these gaps of common sense and logic that diminished my enjoyment for the The taxidermist, but it didn’t make me hate it. I still enjoyed my time with in spite of these flaws, but make no mistake about it, these are balance issues. They’re small ones, no doubt about it, but they still exist.
Balance Rating Very Good
As fun as Heavy Rain and thus Heavy Rain Chronicles can be, it really isn’t anywhere as groundbreaking or innovative as people seem to be making it out to be. Point and Click Adventure games have had well-crafted murder mystery stories for decades. Even the main gameplay of Heavy Rain goes back to the very earliest of arcade titles. Interactive cinematic adventure games are one of the oldest genres there is in gaming. I was playing Dragon’s Lair before the very first Super Mario Bros. was released. Like Heavy Rain, this 1983 game captured the attention of gamers across the board for having a story and visuals far ahead of anything else that had come before it. It too was labeled “interactive cinema.” It too had “Game of the Year” hype around it. So on and so forth. None of this is to demean Heavy Rain or the sheet amount of work Quanticdream has put into their game. Instead this is just a reminder to people treating Heavy Rain like it’s completely revolutionized gaming that in fact, what’s here is nothing really all that new or original. It’s just a quality game bringing back a nearly dead genre in the same way NBA Jam revitalized arcade sports games or how Street Fighter IV brought fighting games back into the mainstream spotlight.
So is Heavy Rain Chronicles, like Heavy Rain before it a good game? Yes. Is it a fun game? Yes. Is it really all that original or innovative? No. Not really. This a great example of what hype, clever marketing and a huge glut of gamers ignorant of a genre’s history (or gaming history in general…) can do. It’s nice to see the Interactive Cinema subgenre of Adventure games coming back from the dead, but I can’t with good conscience state that Heavy Rain does anything I have seen a dozen times over, because it simply isn’t true.
Originality Rating: Decent
I actually found myself far more addicted to Heavy Rain Chronicles than the main game itself. Perhaps it is because the episodic content is so short that I was able to go back and hit all five endings in two hours, but as soon as I started The Taxidermist, I found myself unable to stop save to take quick notes on each endings for the purpose of writing this review. I just wanted to keep trying out new things, new hiding places and seeing what events I could trigger. I ended up doing six playthroughs straight, which was really helped by the three checkpoint options and the short nature of this game.
To be honest, if I wanted to introduce someone to Heavy Rain, I’d use this rather than the demo or throw them into the actual game as you’re getting a full story in half an hour. What better way to let a gamer decide whether or not they’d want to buy this title for themselves?
A fun story and a full game that I can replay multiple times and get a very different result for only $4.99 and that I can complete in less time than some casual games. This is a wonderful package for gamers without a lot of free time to devote to say, an 80 hour RPG. I found myself riveted and gamers from all walks of life will too.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
Heavy Rain really seems to be the “IT” game of 2010, even though we’re only two months in. Again we see a huge parallel with it and Dragon’s lair from 17 years ago. It’s returned Adventure gaming to a spotlight it hasn’t held since The 7th Guest or Myst. As a longtime Adventure fan, I’m pleased to see this response.
As Heavy Rain is getting critical and consumer praise at a level we rarely see these days, it should be obvious that Heavy Rain Chronicles will do just as well. You get a major character from the core game in her own solo story, a quick but fully fleshed out scenario with multiple endings and all for a price that is hard to beat (Free for those that preordered and $4.99 when it is eventually available to all gamers through the PSN Store). If you’re not a fan of Interactive Cinema games, and there actually is a large sect of gamers that aren’t, there’s no point in playing Heavy Rain or Heavy Rain Chronicles. For everyone else, you have a nice stand-alone package highlighting the best aspect of Quanticdream’s newest title. Let’s just hope these people who have jumped on the Heavy Rain bandwagon will now look at the inspirations and precursors to this game.
Appeal Factor: Great
The Taxidermist is exactly what i like to see in my downloadable titles. It’s cheap. It has a full storyline. It’s a stand-alone from the core game yet has subtle ties to the main one. it’s basically the best that Heavy Rain has to offer in a short little package that anyone can play even if they don’t have any real free time. It’s a streamlined fast-paced version of the core game highlighted the best aspects of the game and is free from most of the criticism the game has received. Plus I got to cut off someone’s wang with a chainsaw. Who could ask for anything more?
Miscellaneous Rating: Unparalleled
Sound: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Great
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Heavy Rain Chronicles Episode One: The Taxidermist is as fun to play as its title is a mouth full. This short stand-alone episodic content basically distills the core Heavy Rain game to its purest essence, highlighting the best aspects of the game while having very little of the elements people have chosen to criticize. Each playthrough is roughly thirty minutes long and there are five different endings that you can get. It’s a rewarding and captivating experience and people that pre-ordered Heavy Rain will be quite happy with this bonus. For those that didn’t preorder Heavy Rain, The Taxidermist will eventually be available for purchase in the PSN Store for $4.99. If you enjoyed the core game at all, you’ll want to plunk down your five spot as soon as this is available to everyone.