Heavy Rain (PS3)

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Heavy Rain is the much anticipated and talked about interactive psychological thriller from Sony and developer Quantic Dream. The genre of psychological thriller is intriguing in any videogame, but even more so in this case because of the unprecedented atmosphere created and the branching storylines. Every decision you make impacts on the story progression and bear in mind that some decisions are easier to make than others. You’ll be second guessing yourself the whole time playing the ‘what-if’ game in your mind, and the only way to silence the doubts is to play the game again.

The story goes a little something like this. A city on the East Coast of the United States is being terrorised by a serial killer who has come to be known as the Origami Killer as a result of his modus operandi of leaving an Origami figure on each of the bodies of his victims. The public’s panic escalates after a potential new victim disappears and the police appear no closer to identifying the killer. Time is against them as the victims are typically discovered drowned four days after they go missing.

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The story follows the lives of four different people, drawn into the investigation for diverse reasons and each following their own set of leads in an attempt to find the newest potential victim. Ethan Mars is an architect whose life already lies in tatters and who stands to lose even more than he already has if he doesn’t put everything he has on the line. For him it really becomes a case of how far would you go to save someone you love. Madison Paige is a photographer who suffers from insomnia and is unwittingly pulled into the story as a result of her practice of staying at motels to catch up on her sleep, perhaps appearing to be the least connected with the story.

And then we have two characters who are both desperately trying to uncover clues and the identity of the killer. Norman Jayden is an FBI Profiler, brought in to help the local law enforcement, who uses an interesting experimental device called ARI (Added Reality Interface) to investigate and analyse evidence. Scott Shelby is a former policeman turned Private Investigator, a cynical yet surprisingly caring character hired by the families of the previous victims of the killer to discover the truth behind their untimely deaths.

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Heavy Rain is like no other game that you have ever played before. For me there were a number of factors that really stood out, the graphics were simply amazing, the controls were innovative, the camera angles brilliant and the characters masterfully crafted with outstanding attention being paid to their mannerisms and the depth of emotion that their faces and bodies expressed was simply incredible. The storyline itself was brilliantly created, with the music and the sound effects going a long way to immerse you deeply into the story.

Choose wisely

The story unfolds depending on what choices you make, and you never forget this for one minute, ultimately never losing track of the fact that what you do now may have unforeseen consequences later and may even lead to the deaths of one or more of the characters in the game. Sometimes it may lead you to tread carefully, wanting to experience every facet of the story that Quantic Dream have thought to include, however, sometimes you may also be pressured to act quickly and your heart will be thumping in your chest wondering what will happen next.

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Ultimately you will be left with many questions swirling in your head, if I had to do this differently how would that affect the gameplay and story…and most definitely encouraging you to play the game through again (and again) but this time making different choices and seeing where they lead you.

I have not enjoyed the control system used in a game as much as Heavy Rain’s since I played Trauma Center: Second Opinion on the Wii. In that game you were a surgeon and needed to have a brilliant, simple control system otherwise the game would have failed. Atlus got it right in Second Opinion and Quantic Dream got it right in Heavy Rain, giving us an intuitive yet simple control mechanism to control a very wide range of actions.

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For instance some actions respond to variable pressure on the analogue stick so you need to press it slowly or quickly based on the action at the time. You get the standard mash the X button we are all used to and plenty of quick time events too. However, the quick time events are not like anything you have played before, you don’t need pinpoint accuracy to hit the right button at exactly the right moment. Instead 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 later.

The events are very important for pacing and certainly get your adrenaline pumping. There is generally some hectic stuff going down on screen and you have mere seconds to perform the next move in a sequence of moves…death or victory rushing to meet you. During these times I longed to be the spectator to appreciate the visuals as I was so completely focused on the next quick time clue that I had to zone out from the overall scene. I look forward to watching others play and dodge around the couch whilst I enjoy the action.

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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.

Flipping scary

The atmosphere draws you into the game to such a degree that you will find yourself emotionally connected to the characters you are controlling. You’ll be less willing to put them in harms way and try exceptionally hard to protect them. Don’t be surprised to find yourself ducking and weaving in front of the PlayStation as you try to evade something coming at you. You’ll literally have split seconds to make decisions on what to do, which can be even more challenging to do as those “back-seat” gamers shout what to do or, even worse, criticise after the fact with a ‘I told you so’ kind of attitude. So take the controller at your own peril and stay out of the kitchen if you can’t handle the heat.

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Heavy Rain explores a series of adult themes giving you the option to do some things that you really don’t want to be encouraging children to try. Some adults will even find some aspects upsetting, but you can choose not to do them, the decision is really in your thumbs. That said, you get to do some pretty mundane stuff like changing a diaper, burping a baby, hitting some golf balls or taking a shower. Whilst potentially boring, their effect is two-fold in that you become further immersed in the story as you are acting out the little things that your characters would need to do on a daily basis. Secondly, it is an important contrast between the action items of fighting bringing balance to the experience. Quantic Dream got the balance just right, not forcing you to do too many fights (ala Grand Theft Auto) and/or basic tasks (as in The Sims) resulting in a believable world.

Purchase it. Play it. Sit back and marvel at what you have just experienced. Play it again, making different decisions this time. It is that good an experience that you’ll be compelled to. You’ll be so in awe of it that copies of Quantic Dream’s Fahrenheit on the PS2 are suddenly going to be hot items on E-Bay as fans seek out their next fix. Fortunately there is DLC lurking in the PlayStation Network which is already available to those who preordered the game and for the rest of us we don’t have to wait more than a couple of weeks for it to be released. Use the time to stock-up on beverages, get through your chores and be ready to continue exploring the Heavy Rain environment.