Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain for the Playstation 3 is a title that tends to have a polarizing effect on gamers. Love it or hate it, it has generated a lot of discussion. Some deride it as a waste of time–a game that holds your hands with a long cutscene advanced by button presses. Others consider it to be an experience–a game that holds you in its hands through gripping interaction experienced through button presses.
It is the latter view that this gamer holds.
To me, there seems to be at least eight reasons good and bad why this game goes beyond a choose-your-own adventure, beyond the mindless action of popular selling games, and beyond just an interactive movie. Many of these reasons may overlap, but I think, to many, they stand on their own.
First, Heavy Rain is not a game but an experience. The deeper I got into the title, I began to realize that I was not playing the game. I was getting wrapped up in the four protagonists lives, making decisions on not what I think they would make, but more on what I would make if I were them. If you look at the title as a traditional game, you’ll be sorely disappointed. A better approach would be to ask, “What is Quantic Dream trying to get me to do?” Of course, a big question the game asks is, “How far would you go to save someone you love?”
Emotions are conveyed through button presses. This is the convention that sells the title. If your character is expected to do something difficult expect difficult controls. It’s a beautiful thing. Finding the controls frustrating conveys that emotion to you, the player. You feel what that character is feeling. Many critics of the game express that this is horrible controls hurting the gameplay. I don’t agree. This is for the simple reason, that it’s very easy to do the mundane things. Open a fridge door? One simple analog swipe. Climbing through a narrow window while someone is chasing you? Get ready for a lot of button presses.
Sixaxis controls are finally justified. I don’t believe that any other game comes close to the level of playability that Quantic Dream has introduced through the game using motion. Lifting, pulling, and shaking off are wonderfully executed motions. In many instances, these motions happen during a fight or during an intense situation. I caught myself many times grunting at actions and moving the control as if it had weight behind it. It was a weird immersion, but it was immersion.
Character movement is brutal. The game is not totally immerse, however. While many of the actions of the characters are lifelike, walking is disjointed. The control scheme of holding a button to walk is not bad, but the characters tend to move around stiff and erect occasionally turning their heads to look at something. In a lot of cases, their head turning is not humanly possible. Chins going past shoulders when turning and walking up steps is weird.
The narrative is full of cliches, but it is engrossing. There is nothing new here. It’s all been done before. I really cannot say much about this topic without giving anything away. However, Quantic Dream is able to use a mundane beginning that ramps up almost straight up at hour two or three into the title. I “finished” (more on that later) this game in three sittings roughly over ten hours. I think I’ve discussed and thought about it more. This works on a level of fiction that I’ve never experienced before. I felt like I was a part of the game. I was an overseer that lived four different lives.
On another note, I found that I lived my morality through many of the characters. When put in a situation where there were a lot of choices for a character to make I would take the moral high ground. This cost me in some areas in the game, but upon discussing with some other gamers, maybe it didn’t. The game really shines where there is no clear cut area of selection. What do I pick? Which option? If you wait to long to decide, the game picks an option for you or, better yet, you face a difference consequence for not deciding. This forces you to make snap judgments like a real person would. This hurt me in one part of the game because a character did something I did not want them to do. Did I go back and load a previous save?
The save system is for preserving the experience not the gameplay. The answer to my previous question is no. Not ever. There is something about Heavy Rain that causes you to play the title and “damn the consequences.” How many times in real life do we get to go back and remove the bullet (uh…), rewind and say something different, or choose a totally different response to something we decided? I think the same should be true here as well. In the particular instance I accidentally killed a person. I was devastated that I had done that with one of my favorite protagonists. However, it was neat to see that character deal with the guilt. It was more amazing to realize that I empathized with him. In discussing this with many friends who have played the title, not a single one went back when making a mistake. Just as an aside, it was easy for me to make that mistake because all the options where floating around on the screen, they were shaking (to convey the character’s fear) and the option that stuck out was the one big negative choice. This just didn’t happen once in that situation. It happened three times.
Intensity is done right. I’ve played a lot of action and racing games. Although they can be intense, I’ve never had a game get me on the edge of my seat like Heavy Rain. Literally. In two instances, I was standing and my wife had to notify me of it. The visual action, quick time events, music (really superb), sound design (like rain in your house), and narrative combine to make this explosive adrenaline rush. This happens quite often and in situations that you would not expect. Many times, I caught myself holding my breath (a big “heh” for those you have played it) or sitting back in my chair feeling my heart race.
Finally, every game is (almost) different. As of this writing, I have five close friends who have completed the game. Each and every experience was different. Each person connected to a different character. Being a father, I felt like I had a strong connection to Ethan, the character who’s son is kidnapped. I also felt a strong bond to the FBI agent. I wish I could explain what I felt about their respective endings in my gameplay, but I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. There are many different endings to this title and many different ways to get there. Even with just five people, I don’t think we’ve done them all. I would venture to play the game again and make different choices and actions, but I’m afraid that the second run through would be marred because of the emotions, joys, and pitfalls I have associated with the characters now.
Is Heavy Rain a revolutionary game? I don’t know. To me it is. However, it’s not a game but an experience to behold. Time will tell if the world catches on. The first round of DLC certainly kept things going. I’ll continue to follow the rest of the new experiences the game has to offer.
I’ve asked myself and discussed with my wife, how far would I go to save someone I love? The prospects are frightening and I hope I’m never put in that situation, but this game was able to get me to think about it a little deeper. Quantic Dream succeeded in making the title compelling all the way through.