Release Date: 02/23/2010
That’s right. I’m finally getting around to reviewing this. You’re probably wondering what took so long. Well first, I wanted to wait for the Heavy Rain Chronicles DLC to come out so I could see how it tied in with the main game, if at all. Then I had a ton of other reviews to write. Then came Pokemon Week and the thirteen different articles I had to write for that. That’s over 100 pages on Pokemon. Oy.
The real reason though is that I wanted to see all the endings and I refused to use a guide, YouTube videos or the like. It was just me and my intuition. So as you can imagine, that took a bit of time with all the other stuff I do on the site here. The hilarious (in retrospect) thing is that I finally got the “Perfect Crime” endings, only to realize I was logged in under my Japanese PSN account (as I was downloading a few games) and so that gold trophy along with the “See All Endings” one are the only trophies on the Japanese account and my poor US one has some bare spots. C’est la vie. In other words, we have a pretty late Heavy Rain review, but we had the first Heavy Rain Chronicles review out there. Checks and balances.
Now I’m a big fan of adventure games in genre, but especially cinematic ones. Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace, Dracula Unleashed, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, BrainDead 13 and so on are all games I own and have beaten countless times. There is also the Casebook series which our own Mark B. has reviewed. The funny thing is that even though I like this subgenre of point and click games, I really didn’t like quanticdream’s last title, Indigo Prophecy. I thought the first third of the game was awesome, the middle was okay and the last third was the biggest train wreck I had seen in years. So half of me was optimistic that they had learned their lesson while the other half remembered the alien conspiracy and psychic children crap that Indigo Prophecy turned into and shuddered.
So how was Heavy Rain? It is worth of the unbelievable amount of GAME OF THE YEAR talk that surrounds it? Is it an overhyped piece of drivel? Is it somewhere in between?
By now you all should know the basic plot of the game. You’re be playing as four main characters: reporter Madison Page, FBI agent Norman Jayden, architect Ethan Mars and private dick Scott Shelby as they attempt to solve the mystery of the Origami Killer. The Origami Killer is a serial murderer who kidnaps young boys, drowns them, and leaves an orchid on their chest. He leaves no clues nor any hints to his identity, but things start to unravel when his latest victim is the son of Ethan, who has already lost a child and is now determined not to lose another. Can Ethan persevere through the Origami Killer’s challenges? That’s the basic crux of the story.
To be honest, the basic plot on its own is okay, but it’s nothing great. There are a ton of plot holes regardless of what actions you have your characters take and I don’t want to really get into any of them in fear of spoiling the game for anyone. Instead I will comment on the fact that nearly every character in the game is unlikeable and annoying. Ethan looks and acts like Jack from LOST without any of his redeeming personality traits. He was just such a whiny bitch. I know he’s severely depressed and he’s all distraught over losing his kid, but at no time did I actually like the guy. Madison was far more likeable in The Taxidermist than she was in the main game and she felt two-dimensional throughout all of my playthroughs. I liked Norman Jayden as his character was a good person consumed by a demon and trying to overcome addiction. Out of all of the four main characters, he was the most developed and realistic and by far my favorite. Scott Shelby was either the most likeable or disgusting character in the game, if only because he’s the one character you have the most control of in shaping his personality. Do you save the Hindi shopkeep stereotype or let him die? Do you let the hooker drown or save her? Do you save the woman who tried to kill herself? Do you give the old man his heart attack pills in spite of the fact he is EEEVIL? The only problem here is that depending on how you play him, you may be in for a world of inconsistency and paradox to the point where you feel the game lacks logic or intelligent plot progression.
Where the game’s story excels is not in the core plot, but in the sheer volume of possibilities and branching paths that it gives you. Each choice you make is rife with story, characterization and substance. Everything you decide to do, or not do, earns a response that plays out later down the road. Best of all, the game is so open ended that people who try to “beat” it may be knocked for a loop. All choices lead to an eventual ending for the four characters, be it good or bad. With each playthrough at least one character will have a “bad” ending, if not more. So this isn’t the type of game you can truly “win.” Instead you are allowed to experiment. What happens if Character A doesn’t succeed at Event B? Perhaps that turns out to be the better outcome after all. In playing Heavy Rain, you’ll discover that most of trophy-wielding events actually give you two trophies – one for succeeding at the event and one for failing. If you want to see all the story possibilities and perhaps even the best endings for certain characters, others will need to fail at specific events in the game. That’s pretty outside the box and it’s rare that a game lets you experiment that much. In this respect Heavy Rain allows you to play scriptwriter and director for the story of Heavy Rain and the fact that you have all these possibilities and 18 different endings that can be mixed and matched with your four playable characters more than makes up for the plot holes and low points of the core story idea. Think of it this way – several of the plays Shakespeare wrote had been done many, many times before. The stories for those plays were weak and thin but it is in the specific telling that made his timeless while the others were lost to the sands of time. Heavy Rain too is a game that succeeds by HOW the story is told rather than the strength of the plot itself.
So yeah, I can think of many Mystery games, many adventure games, and even several French mystery adventure games that have a far superior plot to Heavy Rain. In terms of characterization, overall mystery quality and tightness of the plot progression, I’d say something like The Sinking Island by White Birds Studio is far superior. It’s non-linear and it features the best mystery story I’ve ever seen in a video game. However, it lacks the range of options, playable characters, back story, branching paths, multiple endings and the sheer volume of story possibilities that can be found in Heavy Rain. Do I think the core storyline of Heavy Rain will be remembered as a timeless classic? No, of course not. Do I think how the story of Heavy Rain unfolds and the way it is told will stand the test of time? THAT I do, simply because quanticdream took a decent but flawed plot and made it into something memorable by how it was told, unfolded and let you, in a sense, play god with these characters’ virtual lives.
Story Rating: Very Good
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.”Â I’ve never seen such lifelike animations or visuals in a game before. The way characters blink, breathe, move and react is simply amazing. I said that in my review of Heavy Rain Chronicles and it’s even more true about the main game. There is so much detail paid to the human anatomy that impressive doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Yet in 2010, quanticdream can’t seem to figure out how to do long hair. For some reason all but two women have short hair or have long hair but it is always up so it doesn’t count. For the two that have it down (both mothers who have lost children to the Origami Killer), it looks awful. I’m talking PSOne awful. It is so bad that you have to wonder how they could make such a beautiful game, yet were unable to do such as simple as long hair. If you really want to see how bad it can get, go to the club scene and look at all the women in the club and just pay attention to the hair. Wow. It’s bad. My other issue is with fire. It looks atrocious. The scene where there is a fire in a trash can towards the end of the game? That fire is one of the worst things I’ve seen visually on my PS3 and I’ve reviewed both Disgaea 3 and Last Rebellion.
Now that’s my quibble with the graphics. Aside from those very minor things, Heavy Rain is a visual masterpiece with breathtaking graphics, lifelike movements and some of the best animation in the history of gaming outside a Don Bluth title (but those are hand drawn animation rather than computer animated so that’s oranges and apples). In terms of both the quality of texturing and details thrown into the smallest and most insignificant of objects to the lifelike characters than inhabit this un-named East Coast city, Heavy Rain really shows off the power of the PS3…when it’s not giving women hairdos out of WWF War Zone.
Graphics Rating: Classic
The soundtrack for Heavy Rain is wonderful. The music fits the tense and creepy atmosphere of the game perfectly. Sony’s even begun to offer the soundtrack for download on the Playstation Network and it appears to be selling decently. It’s a nice tip of the hat to the quality of the music. The sound effects for the game are equally impressive. From the tweeting of a bird to the tapping of a typewriter, everything sounded as if it was coming from real life rather than the speakers of my HDTV. The voice acting however, is another story.
The English voice acting, is to put it bluntly, not very good. Many of the actors are atonal and have little depth or emotion when delivering their lines. Madison and Ethan both felt very wooden to me and nearly all of the secondary characters did a poor job with their lines. Scott and Norman did a fine job and although Blake’s actor (along with many others) couldn’t say the word “Origami” correctly to save his life, he had perhaps the greatest range of emotion in the game.
My other problem with the English voice acting was the accents. So many of the accents were off or were clearly accents that made no sense for the story. You had French accents for characters that were in no way French. The broadcast journalist who starts each ending had an amazingly thick Canadian accent to the point where you expected him to tell you how many meters high Mount Waddington is. Considering our broadcast news shows crush every ounce of accent out of their newscasters until they sound like Midwesterners (and yes, they actually do this), this was both off and extremely telling that quanticdream was meticulous with the graphics and engine of the game, but not as careful with the story or voice acting. Simply put, the voice acting quality in Heavy Rain, save for a few rare cases, was B quality.
Now, English isn’t my only language. I do French, Japanese and a little bit of Mandarin. As Heavy Rain was made by the French, I actually did a playthrough in French with English subtitles on to see how that sounded, as well as how it matched up translation-wise. Although the translation wasn’t spotless from French to English, the voice acting was heavily improved. The actors conveyed emotion, gave their characters depth that was missing from the English version and did an all-around better job from beginning to end. The only place I feel the English cast did better was with Scott Shelby. Great accent, great range, great job. Now does this mean Sony is to blame for the English voice acting job or does it simply mean that because quanticdream is a Parisian studio, they could better judge quality acting in their native language but not en Anglais. I wish fellow staffer (and native Francais speaker) Guy Desmarais had played Heavy Rain so I could get his take on the differences in quality between the English and French voice acting.
In my opinion, Heavy Rain has an awesome soundtrack, amazing special effects and an English voice acting cast that is the quality of 1950′s dub of a Godzilla movie. Do yourself a favour and after having beaten the game, replay it in French. The quality difference is instant and overwhelming. You don’t watch Roman De Gare or Le Pacte des Loups in English. Why would you do the same thing to interactive cinema?
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
4. Control and Gameplay
The controls of Heavy Rain are a combination of cinematic adventure gameplay like one 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 made by a French company 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. 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 try switching to the older controller model.
Overall, this was a solid playthrough and I have to admit I found gameplay to be tight regardless of which difficulty setting you try it on. I know some people might not like Active Time Events that are 30-50 button presses long, but considering I play games like Gradius or R-Type where you press a button that many times a MINUTE (if not more), this wasn’t a big deal to me.
Controls and Gameplay Rating: Good
As I mentioned earlier in the review, there are eighteen endings that you can unlock, but you can get all of them in about six or seven playthroughs, depending on the choices you make. However, as you are getting one ending per each of the four main characters, you can do many other playthroughs for a mix and match of all the possible endings – some with slightly different variants.
The key though isn’t to think about the endings (unless you’re looking for trophies), but the journey you take to get there. You’d be surprised how one or two things that appear to be minor details can shape your entire playthrough. Each time you play you’ll notice something that you missed before, be it subtle or blatant. Trust me when I say that you’ll view at least a full third of the game differently the second time around for several reasons.
Heavy Rain should take you about six or so hours to “beat,” but again you don’t really beat Heavy Rain as much as you experience it. The would-be bad endings are just as viable as the good ones and in certain cases the bad endings might be more realistic or appropriate. Not everything has a happy ending. Think of it like Clock Tower which is another game that had multiple endings, but where the writers said the best possible endings aren’t necessarily the correct ones. Here there is no point to conjecture as to what is the right ending, as there really isn’t one. Just go with the ones you like best.
It’s far better to earn the endings than to just watch them on read about them, as then you’ll actually be emotionally invested in them. I got the four “best” endings my first time through and as soon as I finished I purposely went out and got several bad ones just to see what would happen and how it would change the game. I wasn’t disappointed.
Heavy Rain is one of those games that will feel different each time you play it, and there’s so many divergent roads to take that even if you end up at the same ending, you’ll at least have taken a different path to get there. If you find yourself a big fan of the story and characters, it’s definitely a game worth keeping around and booting up every so often.
Replayability Rating: Great
Heavy Rain offers three difficulty setting and the level of skill between them is noticeably different with each one. For example, let’s take a scene where Scott Shelby has to shoot like a dozen people and the goal here is to get hit no more than twice, while not getting hit at all nets you a trophy. On hard, you’ll need to use all four of the shoulder buttons and you have very little time to do so. On normal, you’ll only use three of the shoulder buttons and you have more time. On easy, all you have to do is hit X and the time is double that of hard. These huge changes in difficulty make Heavy Rain accessible to anyone, even if it is their first ever video game. As well, the game rewards you for “failing” certain events or making “bad” choices with both trophies and full endings. They may be darker and depressing endings, but they are endings none the less. This is much better than a “Game Over” screen and it helps to make Heavy Rain a game that can be enjoyed by both diehard and casual gamers equally.
In fact, it reminds me of how mothers and daughters (decidedly not a target demographic in the 1980′s) would have the most fun with Dragon’s Lair at the local arcade while the males were would be playing things like Ikari Warriors or the like. Interactive Cinema games have always attracted a wide range of gamers but the difficulty and lack of any prompts tended to make that genre almost impossible to beat unless you obsessed over the game. Heavy Rain takes that classic style of gameplay and makes it accessible to any gamer out there with obvious directions as to what you can do and when. As much as I love Dirk the Daring, his games tend to frustrate people with little to no reward, while Heavy Rain can be picked up by anyone and leave them with a rewarding experience.
Balance Rating: Great
For a lot of younger gamers, Heavy Rain will seem like this innovative and highly original title that is truly outside of the box in a way they have never experienced before. For older gamers, Heavy Rain is just another entry into the cinematic adventure game sub-genre, albeit it the best title ever to come out of the genre in terms of engine and accessibility. This genre has its roots in the early 1980′s, and many PC point and click adventure games can have sequences that are reminiscent of this style of gameplay. This is the first full cinematic adventure game for consoles that I can think off since BrainDead 13 for the Sega Saturn and PSX and that came out nearly a decade and a half ago. Titles like Dracula: The Last Sanctuary, another French-developed game, had sequences that are similar to Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, quanticdream’s last game before this one, had a lot in common with Heavy Rain, only it did everything far worse. Looking back, Indigo Prophecy feels like a rough draft or test project for Heavy Rain.
What I’m trying to say here is that quanticdream didn’t reinvent the wheel here; they’ve just taken a nearly extinct genre and cleaned it up for the current generation of gamers. They’ve made a title that parallels the success and style of Don Bluth’s Dragon’s Lair, which I discussed in my Heavy Rain Chronicles review. It’s interactive cinema with a better engine and style of gameplay with some old fashioned PC adventure game elements thrown in order to keep the game from being a six hour active time event. It’s definitely a clever idea and one that redefines the genre, but it’s nowhere an innovative or original as people have been saying. It’s a new coat of paint and some remolding of an old but classic house.
Originality Rating: Above Average
In some ways, Heavy Rain reminds me of the French thriller Tell No One. Both feature an unlikeable main character. Both are trying to solve/prevent the murder of the one person in the world they love most. Both involve horrible policework that leaps to conclusions in the face of overwhelming evidence against who the police are targeting. Both have plots that have some severe issues if you look at things objectively. Yet both are amazingly enjoyable for what they are and hard to put down. Again, it is how the story is told rather than the strength of the plot alone. I ended up beating Heavy Rain is just two sittings and then after the credits finished, I played two more times in an attempt to get different endings. Thankfully you don’t have to play the game all the way from the beginning; you can just pick a specific chapter and run from there. Still it’s amazing at how much I’d make snarky comments about the voice acting only to play another five or so chapters in a row because I wanted to see what would happen next. I just could not stop playing because I enjoyed the experience so much.
That said, people who aren’t a fan of Active Time Event heavy games will probably not enjoy this one as much. People who haven’t honed their hand-to-eye coordination with classic shooters like Gradius or Raiden will probably be at a severe disadvantage while playing this, especially on the harder levels. People who grimace at the thought of a noir game that apes Space Ace probably shouldn’t pick this up. For everyone else, there is some X factor about the game that makes it hard to put down, even when you knowingly dislike things about the game. Even people I know who have bitched loud and hard about aspects of the game kept playing until they got at least one ending. Now that’s sucking you in.
Addictiveness Rating: Great
9. Appeal Factor
As I have mentioned throughout the review, as critically acclaimed as Heavy Rain has been, it’s also not for everyone. I happen to like a lot of French games and cinema, along with mystery adventure games and cinematic games, so this was right up my alley. Of course I thought the same thing would be true about Indigo Prophecy, and I never want to touch that thing again. I guess it just shows the power and importance of story in video games. At the same time, it’s a testament as to how improved quanticdream has gotten as I didn’t like IP or Omikron.
I definitely feel this is a game the vast majority of gamers will enjoy trying, even if it turns out not to be to their tastes or style preference. Again, there is that parallel with Dragon’s Lair, where everyone wanted to try it, everyone enjoyed experiencing the game at least once, but not everyone kept playing until they were able to beat the game.
Obviously from the overwhelming deluge of “GAME OF THE YEAR” comments we hear about this game online, it’s certainly popular. But then, if all the people who proclaimed Beyond Good and Evil had actually purchased the game, it wouldn’t have been one of the worst selling games of 2003, now would it. That’s the difference between internet commentary and reality.
Bottom line, Heavy Rain is a fun game and most people will be able to enjoy it, even if they’re not gamers. It probably will be the best exclusive title released for the PS3 this year, but come December I can’t see too many people still clinging to this as their favourite game of 2010.
Appeal Factor Rating: Good
Well, 4,500 words later, you would think I’ve said all I could about this game? Well, I want to take this section to talk about trophies. Long time readers know I think that trophies and achievements are about the stupidest thing introduced into gaming. This current generation of gamers seems more fixated on earning these stupid things rather than playing the game for its own merits. I’ve talked to people that have purchased awful and expensive games simply for easy trophies. It’s so alien to see people playing a game to get some little virtual reward that means absolutely nothing instead of relaxing and letting themselves be immersed in the video game itself.
So that’s why I love the trophies in Heavy Rain so much. Aside from two or three of them, you are not given any of the requirements or any information about them. This forces the trophy minded gamer to just play around with Heavy Rain and actually concentrate on the experience rather than the illusion of a reward. You don’t know what you’ll get or how to get them so it becomes all about playing the game for its own sake – something many a gamer seem to have forgotten how to do. So kudos to quanticdream for keeping this interactive cinema by cloaking how own earns the trophies here. Of course, people can always go to a site like GameFAQS for a guide on how to get each trophy, but in doing that you miss the point of the game entirely.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Story: Very Good
Control and Gameplay: Good
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: VERY GOOD GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Heavy Rain is a very good game in its own right as it is easily accessible to gamers from all walks of life, boasts an interesting story as well as some amazing visuals. At the same time, one can’t forget that the game is, as its basest essence, the same sort of cinematic adventure game we saw in arcades during the 1980′s like Dragon’s Lair or Space Ace, albeit it with a retooling to bring it into the modern era of gaming. The story also has some pretty big plotholes and the English voice acting is B-level at times. Still, Heavy Rain is totally unlike what most modern gamers have played (unless they are older frumps like myself) and it’s great to see a nearly extinct style of gaming get both a facelift and the positive a response from the general public. It’s definitely a game that needs to be experienced and at the end of the day it’s a very good game and a solid improvement over quanticdream’s previous titles, but one can’t deny the game isn’t for everyone.