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Review | Heavy Rain

Format: PlayStation 3 | Genre: Adventure | Publisher: Sony | Developer: Quantic Dream | Release date: 26/02/10 | RRP: £49.99

Forget what you know. Forget what you think you know. Forget what you think you’re not really sure you know. Basically, start fresh.

Surrounding the tumult of coverage of Heavy Rain before it was released, there was a lot of talk of whether this would be a game, or just a film that’s three times as long as most, and with some low level of interaction that makes you think you’re in control. The problem I’m facing, and that Heavy Rain faces when you’re presented with it, is that both of these assumptions are right.

It’s a issue of perspective; do you slip sympathetically into the shoes of the four leads of the game, or do you use your position of omniscience and power to manipulate and steer them into a more rewarding and involved narrative? The problem here is that, more than any other game I’ve played, Heavy Rain doesn’t explain itself. It doesn’t feel it needs to, and – in a way – that might be its undoing.

We’re competitive beings. We want to win, and I think gamers, more than most, have this urge planted deep within them. Losing a fight isn’t an option, so we do everything we possibly can to win it, and continue. This has been instilled in us over years of Game Over screens, limited lives and checkpoints. Games exist for the rule of trial and error; we try something, we fail, so we try something else. It’s worked for 30 years, and it’s understandable if, when presented with something that doesn’t follow those rules, we follow them anyway.

Heavy Rain isn’t challenging – at least, not in the traditional sense. The challenge here isn’t in whether you can press the buttons fast enough, or throw your controller to the left quickly enough to trigger the corresponding action on-screen. The challenge here is in choice. Do you choose to let Ethan succeed in this scene, or fail? Does Scott Shelby win this fight, or get his arse kicked? Does Norman Jayden find the essential clue in all of this, or miss it and fail to find the killer? These are questions you have to answer, but the game is placing both results in your hands.

Quantic Dream have made a big deal about the complete lack of fail state in the game, but only by focusing on the negatives. As in, they state that any and all of the four characters you play with can die. They set this out as if it’s a challenge, saying to the player, “see if you can make it through the game without anyone losing their life.” But that’s not the challenge. The challenge is seeing if you can bear to let any of them die.

They’re clever; they have created a set of pretty rounded characters, and given you enough scenes focusing on the peripherals of each of them for them to exist somewhat separate heavyrain11from the story they occupy. Ethan Mars is a man haunted by the horrific death of his son, Jason, to the extent where relations with his remaining son, Shaun, are strained. There’s an active lack of care about him that speaks to the crushing blow that losing his child has dealt him; he’s unshaven, and his house isn’t decorated, instead littered with moving boxes and dust. The architectural drawing you so joyously created in the first scene lies under a thick sheen of detritus.

Madison Paige is an insomniac, terrorised by dreams of rape and attack, fighting masked men in the fitful sleep she just about manages to claw free in the early hours of the morning. It’s rarely touched upon again, but it’s the theme of dependence that is the common thread between all of the characters. Mars is dependent on his children, Jayden on the drug Tripto, Madison on sleep, and Shelby somewhat on his asthma inhaler. It might seem like a cheap trick to instil vulnerability into each of them, but it works.

Before delving into the fidelity of the story, you need to look at the genesis of Heavy Rain. Its obvious predecessor was Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy outside of the EU), Quantic Dream’s previous work, filled with mysticism, zombies and the anthropomorphic projection of the Internet. Filled with intrusive Simon Says QTEs, it was a game stifled by the form; it seemed much more like Quantic Dream wanted to create a film, but didn’t have the budget. Regardless, it seemed to work, and despite its flaws it was an enjoyable story to engage with.


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    Wow, that was an amazing(ly long) read. This reminds me of Jim’s “Counting for Taste” article on RPS — just how much “game” is Heavy Rain? I actually had a talk with a friend on something he said about the game — “infinitely replayable,” he called it. Though I haven’t played it, I said that it seemed more replayable in the sense that books and movies are rereadable and rewatchable rather than being “replayable” in the traditional sense of a game.

    Now if only I had a playstation triple and could play it.

  • 1. Be frustrated at MS not Quantic Dream. MS built an inferior system with same last generation DVD, 5.1 sound, no HDD standard – instead of pushing gaming forward. This is the result.

    2. $299 for a long list of quality exclusives like this.

    3. Thanks for the read. I plan to start playing it this weekend.

  • I don’t think Phill’s placing the blame on anyone, wiseguy. It’s nothing to do with console capabilities; it’s just that he feels this is a game that deserves to be played by as many people as possible, and its being limited to release on one format prevents that.

  • What he (Lewis) said…

  • Amen – the fact this isn’t multiplatform is nothing short of ridiculous. I hate to sound like a dictator, but I’m leaning towards a world of one console, as time goes on.

  • 1. It has everything to do with console capabilities.

    2. People can buy better products if they want better games. It’s really simple. Nothing to get frustrated about.

    3. What multiple formats prevent is high quality games like this. You have it backwards. So if he wants more games like this he should be recommending people buy the higher quality consoles instead of misdirecting (unintentionally or not) that the problem is the game being on a single format. It would have been watered down to make it fit the limitations of the 360 and the publishers contracts that games be equivalent. IOW a race to the bottom. Go peddle that nonsense somewhere else.:)

  • I think you’re reading more deeply into the comment than was intended. You’re right: Heavy Rain is obviously very carefully tailored to the PlayStation 3’s processing power and control mechanism. All Phill – like myself, and Christos – is saying is that it’s a tremendous shame that people who don’t own a PS3 (can’t afford one, aren’t interested in its other games, whatever) won’t get the chance to play such an exceptional and exciting game.

  • If there was one platform there would have been no Wii motion controller that has expanded the market.

    Not sure how any intelligent consumer can see less innovation and fewer choices as a good thing.

    However I can see how corporate shills with monopolistic desires would be excited to push the idea of one console on the gullible. Under the current market they can’t get control with multiple consoles. So push for the idea of one console where they can.

    Let’s get rid of Pepsi because we only need one pop. It’s so frustrating having choices. And really what’s the difference between Root beer and Coke. Is it really that significant. Let’s just have Coke while we are at it.

    Nothing short of ridiculous is right.

  • No I understand and appreciate what your saying.

    My point is I don’t think I would ever hear you say it’s a shame we can’t only have a Yugo instead of 6 different Hondas because some people can’t afford one or the other. It’s a ridiculous premise that I’ve only seen raised in consoles. Not phones, not cars. NOWHERE else would a person suggest thats’ a good thing. One Cheese?

    The point is NOBODY would get a chance to drive that EXCEPTIONAL Honda because it would be a Yugo if one company controlled the market.

    If they want to drive something exceptional then they should have the choice to vote with their dollars as to which product is exceptional and which is not. One console removes that choice.

  • [...] You can get it from here. And in a rare moment of fairness, here’s Phill Cameron saying why he dug the hell out of Heavy Rain which is an exciting game for the PS… wait! We’ve been duped! It’s a Trap! EJECT! [...]

  • [...] 4, 2010 by thomasdowd Phil Cameron over at Resolution Magazine has a lengthy review of Heavy Rain up that I pretty much agree with. Phil’s a little more effusive in parts than I am, [...]

  • Thanks for the review. You’re a good writer.

    The reactions I’ve heard and read about this game are interesting. I haven’t played the game myself (which renders what follows quite hollow, but bare with me), but from what I’ve seen and read in reviews, Heavy Rain comes off as the most self-absorbed, pretentious piece of marketing strategy this console generation. Fahrenheit took that place last generation. I say marketing because this game has been hyped for about three years now, with the gaming press saying that Heavy Rain would redefine gaming, playing into the hands of the PR industry (hell, is there even a difference between press/journalism and PR?). And people are eating it up with a spoon, because, as it seems from my point of view, being told that “this is art, this is mature, this is unique”, a lot of gamers are going “ok!”.

    If you construct a game around the premise of story, and that story gets mangled by the gameplay and looses its potentially “emotionally engaging” moments, how can that be considered art at all? What has been said, and did you really have any control, and if so, how did the game acknowledge that without falling apart? And here I come back to what I said about PR and journalism: how can you review a game like this without discussing its story, behind the mantra we’ve come to know as “spoilers”?

    You mentioned whether you reviewed the content or the story, and kinda landed on acknowledging that the two can never be separate, which was very insightful. Yet you still come back that dichotomy over and over again. If the game is the story you make (like a lion in a big cage, right?) through decisions that either are smoke and mirrors, or completely mangles any credibility the story might have had, what game are you playing? Or more importantly, does it say something about the human condition; can we call this art?

  • There’s a difference in between being an “intelligent consumer,” as you so deftly put it, and being someone who’s simply sick of platform exclusives.

    I am no fan of monopolies – in fact, a quick search of my name or articles, some even on this website, would have told you as much. My point was simply that it would be nice to have a console that, in a more utopian environment, was owned by everyone, and everyone published on. I wasn’t seriously suggesting we wipe out Sony and Nintendo, but there’s a line between diversity/choice and constant bitching about a console you hate simply because you chose one you’re feeling more than insecure about.

    While you’re in the anti-corporate mindset, why not simply research into why one console might be a better idea in a future environment, rather than running with the idea that RIGHT NOW would actually work? I know it won’t, and I’d wager most people would agree. With one console, do you think massive – and imho, illegal – failures to meet customer rights, such as the RROD, would have existed for as long as they have? We live in a world where niche products are labelled “diverse” and are rife with customers suffering financially due to the possessive nature of platform manufacturers over new IPs, and where the only true unbiased platform – the PC – is still largely ignored because the idea of paying the amount X to keep a PC upgraded is ignored in favour of paying five times the amount, yearly, to buy new consoles and games on varying platforms simply because consumer choice stopped BEING choice once it became a weapon.

    It’s all well and good to take up the mantle of the righteous consumer, but when you’re not willing to think any deeper than “those evil bastard CEOs” and research the opinions of those you challenge so self-righteously, it does beg the question: is one console not ALSO a choice, and by your response, are you not monopolising the ideals of those sick of controversy?

  • “Which renders what follows quite hollow”.

  • :P

  • A tremendous read, thanks for that.

    But ‘innovative’? Weren’t the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books knocking about 40 years ago? Granted, you’re twirling a stick to represent fiddling about in your ear or something rather than turning to page 123, but it’s still the same principle.

    Mind you, there’s something to be said for transferring the concept to this medium. It would be great if this proved to be as popular (if not as prolific) a medium of storytelling as film or books.

  • I haven’t played the game yet either, and have been guilty of ’soapboxing’ about it myself, but asking a raft of speculative questions that you don’t even know are relevant… well it’s a bit silly. The proof is in the pudding, and I’m excited to play and find out for myself sometime soon.

  • well, we all know how valuable the opinion of people who think that “graphic quality = game quality” is.

  • If you think of games as you might books and music rather than cars and phones, the objection becomes a lot clearer. Sure, there are format issues in other mediums – VCR vs. Betamax, CD vs. vinyl, etc. – but games are uniquely tied to the platform they are targetting; there are no PS3 bootlegs for XBox. What this means is that people are limited with regards to what they can experience based on how much they’re willing to spend on consumer electronics, which is a boorish pragmatic consideration when faced with something that can change the medium.

    And frankly, I think you’re putting far too much emphasis on the quality of the platform. Rarely is it the case that the technical differences between platforms have anything more than an incremental effect on the final product (with the exception of actual qualitative differences, like Wii motion controls, or online stores making smaller games viable). I don’t think the correlation between what is possible technically and what is possible artistically is as strong as you think.

  • [...] something grand. I’m not sure how presumptuous that is, but if things like Sleep is Death and Heavy Rain are indicators of the future, this is the best time to jump on the band-wagon, so to [...]

  • [...] But first, because I’m a shameless self-promoter, please, indulge yourself in four and a half thousand words that I had to write about the game in question, w… [...]

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