Hands-on | Heavy Rain
It’s perhaps on this front that Heavy Rain is the most striking. Every prompt on-screen is exactly where you expect it to be. If you’re meant to pick something up, the prompt will hover over the item, with a simple command. As the action escalates, so does the difficulty of the commands, giving you less time, or a more complex shape to make with the analogue stick. It never feels unfair because you’re not expected to get every one.
There’s also the empathy with your characters. At any time you can press a button and have a bunch of monologue options hover around your head, providing a little insight into how your character is feeling at that time. When things get stressful or emotional, the HUD changes, becoming affected as if by static. Or dialogue options will fly around your head almost too quickly to read. Heavy Rain, more than almost any other game, is going to extra lengths to make you empathise with the player characters, to paint them as real human beings rather than two-dimensional stereotypes that litter the majority of gaming.
In the two scenes on show, the scrapyard – while it may have been the more impressive action-wise – was easily the less interesting of the two. A plain detective investigation into a missing person, your character is an FBI agent who stumbles across a body before having a drawn out fight with the owner of the scrapyard, which, if you don’t play it near-perfectly, ends up with you inside a car about to be crushed. You can escape, and these multiple failures can still seem to end up with the same result, except some people may feel differently towards you.
//A spot of shopping
The other scene, set in a corner shop, is the far more human of the two, starring an overweight private detective as the player character, searching for a missing boy in relation to the Origami Killer. The owner of the shop had his son taken away by the same killer, and is understandably reluctant to talk about it. Depending how you talk to him, he may help, but before long you’re at the back of the store having a look around when the place is held up at gunpoint. Having not been seen, you’re given the option of trying to sneak around behind the robber, or coming out in the open and trying to talk him out of it. Unless you get every prompt right, you seem to invariably end up talking to him, but the options of which direction to take it during the conversation seem far more emergent in the way they play out.
You can try to empathise with him, ask him his name, if he has children, what they would think if they saw him now. Maybe that will calm him down, get him to reassess and leave, or perhaps it’ll just give you enough time to get close enough to wrestle the gun free and subdue the criminal. Similarly, you can try to scare him into thinking that the police are coming, that you’re a private detective who has already called them. Or you can do nothing and let him shoot the cornershop owner. If you’re a bastard. Or a coward.
I saw the scene played maybe five times, and each time it ended differently, with people’s reactions afterwards similarly drastic in their differences. Without the continuity of seeing the game scene after scene, it’s impossible to tell whether these decisions will have the far-reaching consequences you’d think they do, but what we’ve seen so far is enourmously promising. Bar a few gripes with slightly ambiguous on-screen prompts, Heavy Rain seems to be an incredibly tailored experience, with an almost unprecedented level of player interaction – and, more importantly, player consequence. When you do something bad in Heavy Rain, you feel guilty about it.
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