Heavy Rain is the much anticipated psychological thriller from Sony and Quantic Dreams, anticipated not only because of the amazingly detailed screenshots we have all been pouring over at every opportunity we get, but also for the possibility of intrigue that the movie-like, branching story promises to deliver.
I got the chance to spend some hands-on time with the game thanks to the shiny new demo that landed on the PlayStation Network yesterday. The demo features two full chapters from the game – introducing players to Norman Jayden, a FBI profiler who has been brought in to help the local law enforcement to find and capture the Origami Killer, and Scott Shelby, a private investigator who has been hired by the families of past victims to see their killer brought to book.
The demo kicks off with Shelby sitting in his car which is parked next to an alleyway. This section serves as a tutorial of sorts, with commands flashing up on the screen demonstrating how to control the character’s movement and generally get around in the game. The first thing that you will notice is that the rain is pouring down, saturating everything in sight, trickling off the black garbage bags in the dumpster, pooling on the ground and making Shelby stamp his boots and adjust his coat in an effort to dry off a little in the relentless downpour. The second thing that you will notice is how incredibly well animated the character’s faces are. The attention to detail is simply incredible and definitely manages to not only raise the bar previously set by Naughty Dog in Uncharted 2, but completely blow that bar right out of the water. A feat not easily accomplished.
The control scheme may take a little getting used to, simply because it’s so unique and marks the first time a DualShock controller has been used in this manner. Controlling your character is as simple as pressing the R2 button while using the left analogue stick to dictate the direction he or she moves in. You can press L1 at any time to switch between camera angles and explore your surroundings a little, a transition that is handled completely flawlessly and never once disorientates you.
If you need to perform actions like opening a car door or taking something out of your pocket you simply follow the on-screen prompts, using the right analogue stick to mimic the direction of the movement. Sometimes you may also be required to shake the controller up and down to accomplish a movement, or hold down certain keys (for example, X then circle then R1) to perform an action.
You can also hold down L2 to listen to the character’s thoughts, selecting whichever thought you want to hear more about by pressing the relevant button. When you are near another character, you can choose to speak to them, thereby expanding the storyline. As with the thoughts, the questions hover around the character’s head, each allocated a button that when pressed will voice the thought or question out loud and prompt the answer to be spoken. You will soon discover that it’s well worth asking as many questions as you can and listening to as many thoughts as possible, simply because it gives you more insight into the character and reveals a bigger chunk of the story.
You will also be required to perform certain quick time events during the scene, and while a lot of gamers out there were nervous about the inclusion of these controversial controls, let me assure you that they are suitably toned down, enough to ensure the gameplay does not become annoying. By this I mean that you don’t require pinpoint accuracy to hit the right button at exactly the right moment or else your head will be torn off by a demon and you will die a horrible death (I’m looking at you God of War), rather if you don’t hit the button quickly enough the character will simply lose a little ground but you will be given the chance to remedy this and gain the upper hand again. More about this later.
Let me sum the control system up by saying that Heavy Rain takes the idea of an interactive movie to a whole new level. Thanks to the incredibly detailed graphics you will feel as if you are watching a movie, a movie that requires you to jump in every now and again with a button press and then you can relax for a little while as the next scene plays itself out. Of course the choices you make in the game affect how the story progresses so think before you decide what sort of a character you want to be, tough as nails or compassionate, because ultimately these decisions may impact on how the story unfolds.
Turning back to the ‘Sleazy Place’ scene now, after looking around the alleyway for a short while Shelby enters a motel and seeks to ask the mother of one of the victim’s of the Origami killer a couple of questions. As she answers the questions you deem important to ask her (selecting them from the aforementioned ‘cloud tag’), you can still look around the room. After you have what you want, you leave but soon must decide whether to interfere when an uninvited guest makes a late night call to the same dame. If you choose to step in and be the knight in shining armour you will get drawn into a brawl, and without wanting to give away too much, you will experience the full force of the quick time events. As mentioned earlier if you don’t hit the called for button at the precise moment you will merely find yourself not blocking a punch effectively or crashing to the table undefended. Based on this scene it will not mean the end of you, however, it just might mean you end up looking more than a little roughed up, but proves to be quite exhilarating too.
Just spending a few moments on the setting now, each and every detail of the motel room has been included, whether it be Shelby being able to draw back the motel curtain, or offer a tissue to the upset mother, no detail to small has been left out. And the motel room has been recreated perfectly, with amazing detail and everything that you would expect to be in a motel room is there. I have already mentioned the animation, each character has been so masterfully created, adding a depth to the videogame world that even I didn’t think was possible. You will notice the facial features first, every grimace, every tear faithfully recreated, but their movement is also so authentic and the fight is a great way to showcase this realism.
After spending a short time with Shelby you will step into the shoes of Norman Jayden at the ‘Crime Scene.’ He arrives at the crime scene in a deserted area next to the highway. Again the rain is pouring down but this time the sound of the roaring traffic fills your ears. Jayden investigates the crime scene, using some sort of recording device and investigation tool (a black glove on his left hand and dark glasses covering his eyes) known as an ARI to comb the area and the deceased’s body for clues.
You can see here how the story plays out differently depending on how you handle things. For example, the scene will unfold differently if you introduce yourself to the officer in charge before searching the body, or just barge right in and get stuck in without saying a word to him. When you are using the ARI equipment the area will be shown in a black and white colour scheme, with areas of interest being marked by an orange circle. You can look for further clues by pressing R1 when your ARI is activated, which will yield further spots to investigate. Again it’s well worth your while to listen to your character’s thoughts, ask the officer questions and generally spend as much time as you can looking around – it will reward you with more clues (footprints, pollen, blood, tire tracks) which will no doubt help the story to unfold, although we don’t know in what way yet.
When you remove your ARI equipment you will notice the colour come flooding back into the scene, a dramatic change that serves to highlight the wonderful graphics and animation once again. Although the scene is a little more subdued, colour wise, because of the outside night-time setting, it’s no less impressive and you will find yourself wanting to look around for more evidence, leaving no stone unturned, as you settle into the role of an FBI agent.
Although the demo is over all too quickly, it still manages to give you a good indication of what the game is all about. I would highly recommend anyone interested in Heavy Rain to download and try the demo for themselves. Although it’s quite a hefty download, weighing in at 1.7GB, it’s a wonderful example of what we can expect when the game launches, showing off the control scheme, graphical genius, moody environments and intriguing storyline that promises to deliver a captivating gaming experience when Heavy Rain launches in North America on February 23rd, February 26th in the UK, and February 24th in mainland Europe.
Until then you can browse through El33tonline’s previous coverage of Heavy Rain for videos, screenshots and information. You can also cast your glance below to get to know Scott and Norman a little better.