Designed as an ‘interactive drama,’ Heavy Rain aims to give the player control of the actions, voice and decisions of the protagonists driving the story. It is certainly an ambitious concept. This story draws heavily on cinema; psychological thriller, pulp, noir and mystery, focusing on a father’s attempt to save his son from a serial killer. Three other protagonists under the player’s control are each investigating this ‘Origami Killer’ in their own way. These multiple perspectives and the game’s slow trickle of plot combine well to grab and hold your attention.
The branching storyline is the heart of the game and Quantic Dream have tried to make sure that whatever you want to do is possible whilst remaining manageable, splitting it into over fifty scenes set in almost as many stunningly detailed locations. Each scene presents the relevant protagonist with a task: Find the evidence, escape the police, save the suicide. Your character’s intentions and the results of their actions in a lot of these scenes can be fairly vague, partly because it takes some time for Heavy Rain to reveal, in detail, who its protagonists are but also to help slot scenes together, sometimes leaving you to fill in the blanks and gloss over any slight inconsistencies yourself.
Character actions throughout Heavy Rain are controlled through quick time events (QTEs). A prompt pops up over the item or character you can interact with; you might push the stick up to open a window or tap the shoulder buttons in time to keep your footing. More complex actions require more complex combinations. It allows the game to throw all sorts of situations at you, from brawls and chases to lock picking and boomerang throwing, without having to separately teach you how to play each one. It works well with the action sequences being fun but with the consequences of failure, due to the branching structure of the game, making these scenes very tense.
These QTEs are also used less successfully to pull you into the role of your character doing mundane tasks like getting dressed or cooking eggs. Some QTE challenges seem completely out of place like the golf game which interrupts a fairly threatening conversation. It’s almost as if Quantic Dream were scared to have any scenes of pure dialogue.
Other limitations present themselves with some being quite serious for a game with aspirations to interactive drama. Half of the character interaction happens in pre-scripted cutscenes which can be especially damaging to your immersion and enjoyment as your character does something you didn’t want him to do. Conversation options can feel very restricted too, only allowing you minor influence with them only having one possible outcome. Worse than that progress through the branching storyline is determined more by your success or failure in the action scenes than by the decisions you make in the more character driven sections.
A serious amount of design work has gone into Heavy Rain. The locations are fantastic, the atmosphere palpable and the plot will entice you. Unfortunately for every great set-piece there is another which doesn’t work or could have been a cut-scene. The impressive finale with the surviving characters tying up almost all the remaining plot is some achievement.
Heavy Rain was an ambitious project and solid progress from the template laid out in Fahrenheit. As an experiment in making games which focus on people rather than guns it is a success and also essential play for anyone with an interest in what the future of gaming holds. Heavy Rain is a unique and thrilling ride let down by the fact that sometimes you just don’t have the control you want.