Developers: Quantic Dream
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Plot: Four characters are affected by the rampage of feared serial killer, the Origami Killer. These events force each character to undertake a dangerous mission to uncover the murderer’s identity.
As a game critic, I really should be praising Heavy Rain. It is everything I want from a game: a fantastic storyline, the player’s total control over the narrative and brilliant graphics. This is a game that has had a lot of thought and time put into it and I love it for that. However, for those expecting a flattering review, I am afraid this is not what you will get.
When I play Heavy Rain, I see a step in the right direction, but a very flawed game. I should be loving what I am playing, but I am constantly being disrupted from being immersed in my gaming experience by the smaller flaws. It reminds me of Dead Island. Some would argue that on paper it is the perfect zombie game, yet players cannot quite get along with it. The truth is that it comes a lot closer to the ideal zombie survival horror than we have ever seen before and that is not a bad thing. There’s just some work that still needs to be done.
Right from the start, we are hit by the biggest flaw in the game for me. The first sequence is the lead character, Ethan Mars, enjoying family life, before the Origami Killer comes into it. It is an important part of the story, as it gives us the contrast between happy Ethan and the darker Ethan who mourns the loss of his family. It makes everything that happens to the character so much more hard-hitting. But god, does it take ages to get to the good stuff?! The first thirty minutes of this game are spent laying out the table for your family and then going shopping in a mall. Even later on in the game, your character spends the next thirty minutes moping, while the other three characters are being introduced to the game. The truth is that the average gamer does not have the time to spend this long on character development. I totally get what the game is doing and I not only respect that, I applaud it, but, without meaning to sound arrogant, I don’t have too much time in my life to spend sitting in my living room, playing the Xbox. I want to spend my little gaming time doing things, rather than coming to terms with the game’s characters. This game, with the intricate story, is designed for an older audience, which ironically, is the one demographic that hasn’t got the time to sit down and play the damn thing.
The prolonged introduction into the game does give you time to get to grips with the controls, which is needed, because these controls are some of the most annoying I have encountered with a game. It involves a lot of holding down and using every finger you possess, which is fine, in itself. However, to let the player know which manoeuvre to use, an icon flashes up on the screen. These icons are annoyingly never clear: I am often squinting to see what I am even meant to be doing and by that time, my FBI agent has already been kicked under a vehicle. And this isn’t even me being rubbish at games (which is a fair argument), because the game specifically goes out of the way to make these icons harder to read, when the game heats up. It can really get frustrating, especially when you are trying to enjoy and stay focused in the story at the same time.
There are other flaws as well. The game is often over-directed, using spilt screens to show the expression of each character, as the action plays out. However, this can make it really hard to actually play the game, as your eyes are darting around every inch of the screen, while you are trying to run from the cops. It also can make it hard to figure out where to actually go. This can be fantastic for the guy over your shoulder watching the action, but it can easily turn into a gamer’s nightmare.
Weirdly though, I am now going to fully recommend getting this game. At the very least, rent it, although there are so many possible narrative routes to the game it won’t get old. The story is amazing, really throwing you into a dark mystery. It feels like a movie; you are actively guessing who the killer is (and you will get it wrong), and, being a game, it is easier to feel connected to the characters around you (the same reason Tell-tales’ ‘Walking Dead’ is so amazing). My advice is to clear a couple of days to focus on this game. It is best enjoyed, when you fully throw yourself into it, rather than picking it up whenever you get a free hour or two.
Quantic Dream need to use this game to figure out the next step in this genre. I love the idea of a narrative that changes as the player progresses through the story, but the mystery side of things makes the action plod along too slowly. The ending is great, however, with some brilliant fight sequences, suggesting that this type of game has potential. Perhaps we just need a sharper story, like a cop thriller. It might be good to take a successful game (Call of Duty, Dead Island), and try and give those games a Quantic Dream twist. That could be pretty interesting.
Final verdict: A great idea and an encouraging start. However, this genre does need a lot of work, before it can really wow gamers.