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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Heavy Rain: The Spoiler Free Review

I'll be releasing two different Heavy Rain reviews. This one will be quick, and be 100% spoiler free. Later I'll publish a spoiler heavy review which is for people who have played the game but want to see how opinions might fare on Rain's actual storyline and execution.

Non-spoiler summary: Heavy Rain is an interesting evolution of interactive fiction. It bears a heavy resemblance to adventure games of the past, but uses the relatively modern concept of Quick Time Events (QTE's) to have the player keep their hand on the wheel, so to speak, of the story's plotline. I'm sure 99.9999% of readers know the idea - but for clarity, players are given an alloted time to match an input presented on the screen. Succeed and you move to one branch in the game, fail and you move to another branch.

QTE's have a mixed audience. Game designers have a love affair with them as it allows them to introduce cinematic moments which would normally have very little interactivity and give the player a hand in them. Depending on how narrowly you define the concept, you can blame Bluth for the entirety of Dragon's Lair's game mechanic or as recently as God of War for popularizing the notion.

David Cage first utilized this blend with the PS2 title, Fahrenheit (called Indigo Prophecy here in the States). Cage's take on QTE's is different than most - there is a real effort to match the motion being presented to the player to the one being portrayed on the screen. This was true in Fahrenheit and is extended in Heavy Rain. There's a large percentage of interatctions which aren't narrative as much as they are immersive. Quantic Dreams wants you to feel closer the protagonist on the screen, so when they open a car door ... you'll pull the controller stick to the left.

Dialogue is handled by options floating around the currently controlled character, as are the character's own thoughts to provide the player with insight and the occasional hint. The end result of all this is a character with their own brain that can be nudged, at times harshly, in one direction or another.

This is an important distinction. The characters in Heavy Rain are not avatars. You cannot go anywhere and do anything, you can move around, succeed, fail, have conversations and make basic choices. But you can't play someone like they are a jackass if the character isn't one. This is what places the game apart from most games - Heavy Rain is actively constructing a narrative for you - with real characters who are in conflict with each other, a plot which puts most any game plot to utter shame, and consequences which may not be apparent while you're playing out a scene.

The question of whether Heavy Rain is good relies a lot on the story - and in this spoiler free edition I'll just say: the story is good. If you're playing for the story, you'll get your money's worth.

The real question is whether Heavy Rain is for you ... because it certainly isn't for everyone. Even if it handles QTE's better than most every other game, they are still QTE's. Also, this isn't Max Payne ... you aren't going to run around shooting everything while occasionally getting punctuated with the storyline. The game is a essentially a 9-10 hour long movie with you pushing buttons.

And I think that's the bottom line: Heavy Rain isn't a game in the traditional sense. Or rather, it's a game in the sense of some very specific traditions - but more Zork or King's Quest than Halo or Final Fantasy. If that's intriguing, go play it. If it isn't, God of War III is due out next month.


JeFE said...

Nice review. Thanks for putting together a spoiler free version. Looking forward to the next, once I complete the game

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