Heavy Rain has been in development for what seems like forever. Showing its first signs at E3 in 2006, developer Quantic Dream has been working non-stop to ready the game for the masses, and finally after four years, it has been released. Heavy Rain takes place in the year 2011 and is based around the hunt for the Origami Killer, a serial killer who drowns his victims and always leaves the body with an origami figure in its hand and an Orchid on its chest.
There are four characters involved, but the main story revolves around Ethan Mars, an architect who, two years before the game takes place, lost one of his two sons in a car accident. Ethan and his wife separate after this, which leaves him a shell of his former self, having to deal with the grief and guilt over his older son’s death while trying to be a good father to his youngest son Shaun. One day at the park, Ethan has an episode relating to the effects of the accident and when he comes to, Shaun is gone. He soon realizes that Shaun has become the latest victim of the Origami Killer, who has set him goals to achieve in order to save his son. How far will Ethan go to ensure the safety of Shaun?
While this is going on, the FBI is launching its own investigation and has sent Agent Norman Jayden to help the local police catch the killer. Norman uses an ARI system, which is a pair of glasses and a glove that help aid in the investigation. As the clues add up, Norman and the local police try to figure out the identity of the Origami Killer before it's too late…and Norman has some issues of his own.
Ethan and Norman are not the only two on the case. Private Investigator Scott Shelby is trying to find the identity of the Origami Killer as well, going to the victims' families to see if he can put together the pieces that no one else has been able to connect.
The final playable character is a woman named Madison Paige, a single young photographer who suffers from chronic insomnia. In the beginning, her connection to the events is unknown but as the story progresses, she finds herself entangled with finding out who the Origami Killer for reasons she could have never imagined.
Ever since Heavy Rain was first shown to the masses, the graphics have been the big selling point, and it’s easy to see why. The character models and settings are scarily realistic, especially if you play the game in full 720p HD. During the load scenes, the game will get a close up one each character’s face (corresponding to the scene you are about to play) and you can see every imperfection on their skin, right down to the pores. It’s very impressive and downright jaw dropping at points, but while the graphics themselves look good, the animation itself is very iffy. Sometimes, the mouths don’t sync to the words or background characters will walk right through the main characters and random set pieces, which can take you out of an intense scene very quickly. Another issue is that the character movements are jerky at times, and occasionally when two characters are supposed to touch, it is very plain to see that they aren’t. For a game in development for two years, you would think these minor issues would have been solved right away, but there they are, and it can create for a weird game experience sometimes, invoking laughter as opposed to shock and awe.
Heavy Rain is also not a game for everyone. People who live their lives on first-person shooters and other such fast-paced games will most likely not find this game very fun. The way the game is played is more akin to the old Dragon’s Lair games or the Dreamcast classic Shenmue. Heavy Rain relies on Quick Time Events (QTEs), which are timed button presses to move forward the action. For example, if someone is attacking you, you will be shown different buttons to hit to fight back and the character will correspond based on if you hit it or missed it. The game also includes the use of the Sixaxis technology, asking you to tilt the controller at random points during these events, too.
Heavy Rain is more of an interactive movie than what people consider a true video game, so that will undoubtedly alienate the more casual gamer looking for quick thrills. The QTEs also vary from action to the mundane (for example, in the “tutorial” scene, you use the QTEs to brush your teeth and dry yourself off with a towel), and because of this, the game can get slow in some parts.
The main draw to Heavy Rain is the control you have over the story itself. Every action you make affects the outcomes in some way or another. You catch the bad guy at this point, or you have to wait and do it at a different point, or you kill the person instead of sparing their life, and either way, this affects the character psychologically in some way as well as the path he/she will take as the game goes on. This lends itself well to replay value, as you will want to go back and try things a new way to get another outcome and maybe even a different story altogether. Although Heavy Rain is a very linear game, it gives you enough wiggle room to mess around and act however you feel like acting. The only drawback to this is that there are a fair amount of plot holes in the story and characters will randomly vanish, never to be heard from again, and it can be a little frustrating at times.
Plot holes aside, the storyline itself is completely captivating. Heavy Rain sucks you in, plain and simple. You will pick up the game, hit some buttons, and watch the action fold, then look at the time and realize hours have passed by since you started. This is definitely not a pick up and play kind of game where you play for twenty minutes then go off to do something different.
David Cage has written a wonderful story that is filled to the brim with suspense, action, and tension. Heavy Rain is a very tense game, and because of this, instead of being bored playing the QTEs, you are frantically hitting them and hoping that the outcome you want occurs. Heavy Rain does a great job of heightening the tension and not letting you put the game down for any reason. The soundtrack by Normand Corbeil also adds to the tension and stirs your emotions. This isn’t a typical video game soundtrack; this is a full on movie score and it’s both haunting and beautiful at the same time.
If there’s one issue with the storytelling, besides the minor plot holes brought on by the game design itself, it’s the voice acting. Some of it, for lack of a better term, sucks. The supporting characters especially can get really groan inducing and if you’re a nerd for word pronunciation, the way half the characters say “origami” will drive you completely up the wall. For a good example, play the demo and just listen to how the people Scott Shelby interacts with sound, especially the bad guy he fights. It does get worse than that and can cause you to laugh or groan, depending on your sense of humor, but for a game that is presented like a giant interactive movie, the voice acting should have been kept top notch all around to keep adding to the experience.
Heavy Rain masters the game design set by Dragon’s Lair and Shenmue and creates one of the most unique experiences in the current generation of video games. There are still enough issues to avoid calling this a “masterpiece”, but it has laid a good foundation for video game storytelling in the future. Quantic Dream has created something wholly unlike anything on the current market, and for the patient serious gamer, it is a truly rewarding and stunning experience to be had.
Heavy Rain is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs.