Review: Freezing makes this Heavy Rain feel more like sleet.
Heavy Rain and I have always had a turbulent relationship. When I first heard about Quantic Dream's latest game, I scoffed at the control scheme, thinking it was just another gimmick with a pretty face. When I saw "The Casting", a tech demo presented by Quantic Dream to showcase what their engine can do, I was still unimpressed. Story information was slow in coming, but when it finally did, that was what began to inexplicably ? and irrevocably ? draw me in.
The idea behind the game is that you control four main characters, cycling through their storylines as they overlap and merge in their search for clues in finding the Origami Killer, a serial killer who has been drowning young boys and leaving their bodies to be found with origami in one hand and an orchid on their chest. The control scheme ? previously the source of my skepticism ? actually flows incredibly well. The player uses the left analog stick to control the character's direction, while pressing the R2 button to move. Initially, this is a little awkward, but once you get used to it, it feels very natural, and it is crucial to have a pressure-sensitive button like this controlling your movements in many situations. There's also a very unique feature in which the player can hit the L2 button to cycle through the character's thoughts, but be wary of this ? the thoughts you choose can occasionally color what your character says, changing what you felt were your initial intentions. Similar choices pop up in which the player can decide what the character is going to say, complicated slightly by single-word choices which may or may not express what you were hoping they would.
The majority of the game is spent controlling the player's more intimate movements ? everything from brushing Ethan's teeth, to slowly rocking a baby to sleep, to disinfecting wounds on a character's arm. There's even a scene in which Madison applies makeup, requiring precision and timing. Quick Time Events are also prevalent, popping up during the numerous fights, chase scenes, and other trials that occur throughout the game.
The four characters are as complex as they are beautifully rendered, presented through the dark lens of film noir while steeped in modern-day issues. Ethan Mars is the tortured and downtrodden father who could not prevent the death of his son, Jason, and is now working against the clock to save his only remaining son, Shawn, who has been kidnapped by the Origami Killer. His depression is further sharpened by his frequent blackouts and his paranoia that he may be suffering from schizophrenia. Scott Shelby is the hard-boiled detective, working for the families of the victims of the killer and trying to collect as many clues as he can to put the pieces of the puzzle together. His obsession with the killer oftentimes puts him in the wrong place at the wrong time, creating scenes rife with difficult decisions?and Quick Time Events. Norman Jayden is the FBI agent assigned to the case, struggling to work with the jaded and skeptical police officers while battling his own demon: an addiction to a fictional drug called triptocaine. Jayden brings in one of the ?coolest? aspects of the game with ARI, ?Added Reality Interface,? which makes him a walking episode of CSI. He can pick up bloodstains, footprints, tire treads, and, yes, even dead cats with his cool futuristic specs. Madison Paige, the fourth and final character the player is introduced to, is a photojournalist suffering from insomnia, a trait that brings her to a motel and draws her, too, into the orbit of the Origami Killer. And like the fragile and beautiful Rapture in Bioshock, like the sprawling and silent castle in Ico, like the terrifying nooks and crannies of the S.S. Ishimura in Dead Space, the rain itself is a character, as oppressive as it is omnipresent through your trials.
This intense mix of control scheme and complex characters makes the game incredibly immersive. I was drawn in by the Quick Time Events because, unlike other games in which the information is supplied on one side of the screen, jarringly yanking your view away from what's happening, the buttons in Heavy Rain pop up directly on top of the action, leading your eye to follow each and every movement on the screen, pulling you deeper and deeper into the story and characters. This was an entirely unique experience for me, highly effective and emotive. There were several scenes where I didn't realize I was holding my breath until the scene was over, leaving me giddy over having survived yet another attempt on the lives of my characters.
That being said, there are many flaws in the control scheme itself. The directional prompts can often be confusing and unintuitive. You want to open a door and instead find yourself turning on a light switch. You want to grab a beer and instead close the fridge (sacrilege!). You want to escape from a burning building and instead find yourself lying down in the flames. In two playthroughs, I could never figure out how to make the police lieutenant, Carter Blake, have anything but complete and utter contempt for Norman, and I found myself cringing as Carter watched him getting beaten with a crowbar. I'm sure subsequent playthroughs will pave the road to our becoming best friends and knitting each other Hogwarts scarves for Christmas, and I'll admit, it does give credit to the immersion of the gameplay and characters that I felt so alienated and disrespected, but it was frustrating to find that there were times in which my intentions never quite translated onto the screen. And I have to mention the multiple scenes in which the player must press and hold numerous buttons at a time, waiting for the timer to expire before they can release them. Holding X, then O, then L1, then R2, then yanking the Sixaxis up towards my face, not only scared my cats away, but also had me feeling like I was playing Twister on my controller.
The visuals and audio are unparalleled, even in today's generation of gaming. The intricate and intimate movements of the characters sometimes made me forget that I was watching a cut scene in a video game, and even gameplay had some intensely realistic moments. The music is haunting and flows perfectly with the heavy theme of the game, dark instrumentals that linger even after scenes finish. But the sudden transition between gameplay and cut scene could be a little too abrupt, and there was more than one occasion that I felt a character took a stance that looked almost silly because it was so out of place. I could always tell when I was back in charge of Ethan at the motel because his shoulders would slump almost comically, and Norman's unequivocal flailing about when he went into triptocaine withdrawal seemed absurd and out of place. The camera angles could be unforgiving, sending cycling decisions off the screen so I was flying blind and wondering what the hell I was supposed to be doing.
There were also a few scenes ? cut scenes ? in which there were glitches. At the end of the first scene in the police station, cops were walking through each other, yanking me out of the story in an annoying and unnecessary way. The music, too, would be interrupted according to player decisions, unexpectedly changing from crescendo to soft background music. The same thing happened when the character's thoughts were interrupted ? some cut scenes would still allow the thought to continue, while others would not just cut the thought, they would produce a whole new set of thoughts afterwards, erasing that one entirely. Another irritating complaint is that ? despite the fact that the game is loosely set in Philadelphia ? characters insist on saying ?oriGAMi? instead of ?oriGOMi,?drawing out the GAAAAM as if they were saying ?gambling? instead of the way it's supposed to be pronounced in its native Japanese. This isn't a deal breaker, but as a writer, editor, Philly native, and Japanese student, it sets my teeth on edge.
There is very little disappointment in the story itself, written and directed by David Cage, the genius founder of Quantic Dream who was also responsible for their earlier titles, Omikron: the Nomad Soul and Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in North America). The story is full of twists, turns, and suspense, taking the player on an emotional rollercoaster in search of the serial killer. I've heard it referred to as ?Seven
the video game,? and it does borrow more than that from director David Fincher ? the opening credits are startlingly similar to that of Panic Room
, and Ethan's episodes feel very much like those of Jack in Fight Club
. But, again, even the story is full of minor glitches. Without giving away too many spoilers, there were several scenes with major continuity issues, especially concerning Madison and Ethan. Granted, other playthroughs with other explanations may clear these up, but having them present in mine was confusing and disruptive, distracting me and pulling me out of the experience.
In spite of the negative aspects of the game, I highly recommend the interesting and unique experience that is Heavy Rain. Of note, however, is the fact that 10 hours into the game, during the final fight scene, the game froze on me and corrupted my save file. Hoping it was a simple glitch, I followed a Sony representative's advice - waited 5 minutes and restarted my PS3 - to no avail. After trying this three times, I accepted that the save could not be reloaded, yet I was wary to start a new game as I found evidence on the Internet that those similarly afflicted were unable to load other saves once this happened. I switched over to my back-up PS3, restarted the game, and was able to beat the game in just under 7.5 hours, but I was unable to replicate my first playthrough, in which I kept every single character alive.
The replay value is high, but I'll admit - I was eager to see the ending with all four characters alive, not to mention get the silver trophy for this accomplishment. Disappointment caused a certain detachment from the d?nouement, so to speak. As far as I can tell, Sony has only sparingly acknowledged this potentially crippling malfunction, and there has also been a mysterious delay on the release of the pre-order bonus, a prequel chapter entitled ?The Taxidermist? which goes into the back story of one of the main characters. The only word out there on the freeze is that you must thoroughly install the game properly - which I did - and there are also some rumors that suggest this won't happen if you have a PS3 slim - which I don't.
There is no word so far on a patch to fix the freezing issue, and despite the fact that it's not widespread, I have to admit I'm extremely disappointed in QD for such poor behavior with regards to their burgeoning fanbase. Even with such amazing visuals and audio, incredibly detailed and involved characters, and an immersive and well-written storyline, I can't in good conscience tell anyone to spend $60 until this storm passes and a patch is released...or, I don't know, the actor who played Ethan Mars calls my house and says "Nicole, I'm really sorry. Can you ever forgive us?" In French