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Monday, February 15, 2010

Demo Play: Heavy Rain

I was pretty iffy on the game play of Indigo Prophecy / Fahrenheit back on the PS2. One part of me wants anything which is trying to push the interactive adventure genre forward, since any game should be a bit weary about a world where we're only getting the next shooter, or next third person platformer, or the next rendition of a franchise, etc. While I mostly enjoyed the game, I felt the story kinda whimpered towards the end and the control system got to be a rather insane exercise in quick-time events.

QTE's are oddly controversial. In case the term is unfamiliar, this is where the "press button now" interface is displayed and the player generally has a pre-determined amount of time to respond. It was basically the only gameplay mechanic in Dragon's Lair and got a refresh in Shenmue and became widespread with God Of War. Many game developers and critics bemoan them, but players seem quite willing to devour them until they get truly abusive. Heavy Rain accepts this reality and moves forward in two ways - one: turn nearly every action in the game, from opening a door to swinging a punch, into a kind of QTE. And two, lessen the penalty for failing them.

I can't tell how the story will be from the demo, but it looks like at least a decent noir detective tale in the making. The graphics are good, the advantages of a controlled camera view clearly being put to use here. Sound and other production elements seem pretty high value, and even if the characters are somewhat stuck in the Uncanny Valley, the developers should get some credit for trying to add a layer of emotion to their performances.

But back to the QTE's. The first portion of the level will introduce you to the concept and partially because of the fact that it is being a tutorial, becomes instant overkill of the concept. It feels like a burden to literally move and breath in the beginning, but once the commands have all been put through their paces, the game feels more rational. I actually thought the fight scene was pretty impressive - it felt fluid and engaging, which is pretty rare for a QTE based game.

And yet during the investigation, I wonder when I have to perform a QTE and wait for animation to perform every time I want to switch between the cool cyberglasses (which, are actually pretty cool) and normal vision ... if the game isn't going to have components where it continues to lay it on too thick.

Heavy Rain is a difficult game to measure on the basis of the demo, simply because it hold a unique place in Sony's library. It's not like it can be recommended simply because it's a shooter, or based on a franchise or if "you like X" kind of thing. I would say it should be recommended because it is trying to do just that - be unique, but that's hardly enough for the average gamer. I can say I'm tempted by the game, but not sold - so my suggestion is that if you're a fan of the old adventure games or interactive fiction, certainly give the demo a try. I'll be keeping an eye out when the title comes out and may pick it up if I'm past my Bioshock 2/Assassin's Creed 2/Brutal Legend glut.

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