It’s no secret that I bought the PS3 as a blu-ray player and my gaming has remained almost exclusively on the Xbox 360. However this year there are a couple of PS3 exclusives that have my full attention: the first is the newly released Heavy Rain, on my radar ever since its intriguing casting trailer in 2006 (the tech is now much improved), and later in the year comes The Last Guardian. I felt surprisingly comfortable splashing out on the special edition of Heavy Rain despite the lack of tangible incentives. The reason is simply that, even if the game turned out to be average, it needs to be a financial success because this is exactly where I want to see the medium evolve and more developers need to start experimenting in this space. As it turns out the packaging alone almost justified the extra cost, with its beautiful embossed rain-slick appearance.
Quantic Dream describe their creation as “interactive drama”, a title that will make sense to anyone who sampled their previous offering, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy, depending on your geographical location). Their creativity is evident from the installation sequence, a typically tedious affair that no one enjoys, which prompts you to remove a square of paper provided in the box and instructs you in making the origami creation on the cover (the killer’s calling card in the game). The game itself is often mis-perceived as a series of quick-time events that require a series of button presses those displayed on-screen. Although the visual stimulus is the same, the mechanics are very different because there is no defined scripted sequence through each scene. Instead you choose the actions to make, and not only is “failing” a series of actions not fatal to your progress, but it may even be intentional. For example in one early scene, surely any good father would let his own son beat him in a mock swordfight.
Very much an adult game, Heavy Rain is a noir thriller, with the player taking on the roles of four different characters investigating a serial killer called the Origami Killer. However the storyline can diverge depending on how you play out a scene, substantially altering the ending, particularly if a character dies or critically fails in their investigation. Adult themes extend to flawed characters: a grieving father trying to reconnect with his son; a drug-addicted FBI agent; an insomniac photographer. Their moods and perceptions are evoked through impressive performance capture and some neat camera tricks as much as voice acting. Where the game sometimes fails in its lofty goals is that the on-screen prompts are not always intuitive and one often triggers an action without real intent, somewhat breaking the intended immersion.
Nevertheless the style is pitch perfect, it’s rendered beautifully and Heavy Rain marks a real step forward for mature games. In a world where killing is still considered the chief gaming mechanic, it’s just a shame more people won’t be exposed to it.