A Chilling Narrative-Driven Experience
Heavy Rain: A-
Heavy Rain is an interactive drama game by David Cage, head of Quantic Dreams. Heavy Rain was met with both critical and commercial success and brought interactive dramas into mainstream popularity. Thanks to Heavy Rain, games such as Until Dawn and Telltale’s: The Walking Dead are successful and well known. But despite it’s advancement of the genre, is Heavy Rain worth playing? In a word, yes.
Heavy Rain centers around Ethan Mars. Ethan is a man who has it all. He’s an architect with a lovely home, a beautiful wife, and two adorable young children. From the beginning, you know this won’t happen. In video games, our protagonists are not allowed such simple joys. But to the game’s credit, it’s a full hour until tragedy strikes. Heavy Rain distances itself from a majority of other games by having a boldly boring prologue. Instead of an action packed tutorial, Heavy Rain shows you the controls by having you go through Ethan’s morning routine. You shower, brush your teeth, make coffee, catch up on work, etc. It’s jarring, but ultimately succeeds in immersing you in the character.
Tragedy does strike, and Ethan’s life is turned upside down when his youngest son dies in a car accident. The game flashes forward three years. Ethan is now separated from his life, living in a squalid apartment, and sharing custody of his other, now sulky and depressed, son. The city is now drenched in constant downpour and Ethan fails to connect to his son in one of the more heartbreaking chapters of a game. Depressed yet? Don’t worry, it only gets worse. This son is kidnapped on Ethan’s watch by the mysterious Origami Killer. The Origami Killer kidnaps young boys and drowns them in rainwater. Each boy is found dead with a small origami figure clutched in his hand.
The game finally becomes a game in a proper sense at this point. Three new characters are introduced: Madison Paige, a young female reporter searching for her first story, Scott Shelby, a old P.I., and Norman Jayden, an intelligent FBI profiler with a few personal demons. The game seamlessly switches between characters as each search for the killer and try to rescue the boy before it’s too late.
The game claims that your choices has consequences and it means it. Not pressing the button at the right moment, or taking a wrong turn can lead to a character’s death or no longer being in the story. I accidentally killed Madison in my first playthrough while trying to escape a fire. And Jayden was left out of my story after I failed to flush his drugs in time. The knowledge that death is permanent makes your in game decisions all the more nervewracking
Despite an incredibly bad plot twist, the story is the selling point for the game. It’s gritty, realistic, and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The characters are engaging and you can connect to anyone of them. Being a recent father, I was heavily invested in Ethan’s story. However, the gameplay is seriously lacking. At best, its bi-polar. You’re either bumbling through a room looking for clues, selecting dialogue choices and watching your characters (badly) voice them, or suffering through intense QTE sessions. It’s like switching from a David Fincher film to Guitar Hero without warning.
The controls are also clunky and archaic. You have to hold down a button just to move your character. Even for a 2010 game, that’s awful. The game also has fixed camera angles that limit your ability to move or properly gauge your surroundings. If I had a dollar for every time I accidentally walked out a door after just walking through it because the camera randomly shifted, I wouldn’t have to be at work right now.
Despite all the problems mentioned above, you should absolutely play this game. Simply because it is so refreshing to see a game tackle such a serious and depressing topic. No games deal with grief, death, and loss like Heavy Rain does. Sure some games use the kidnapping of a child (Fallout 4) or death of a loved one (Max Payne) as motivation for the protagonist, but no game takes a magnifying glass and zooms in on your emotional pain and suffering. Heavy Rain is also worthwhile because it’s trying so desperately to elevate video games. David Cage is clearly a frustrated film maker. Even though he doesn’t succeed in creating an experience parallel to cinema, it’s a worthy effort.
For a more in depth review, click here