Heavy Rain Hands-on Preview

The cautionary tale(s) of Scott Shelby. VideoGamesDaily dissects a pre-release copy of Quantic Dream’s dark, daring PS3 adventure.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, December 14, 2009

My later tries at interrogating Lauren are far clumsier than my first. During my second playthrough I attempt to bribe her for evidence, which gets me immediately thrown out on my arse. During my third, I persuade her to give me ten minutes once again, but home in unsparingly on the grisly details – times, places, suspects. She breaks down in tears at one point, but handles the pressure a lot better than expected. Tough cookie. The immediate consequences either way are the same as before: “I didn’t learn squat”, the first footsteps back up that garish hallway, the cataclysmic contraction of Shelby’s airways.

Heavy Rain’s staunch refusal to show us a “game over” screen has been well-documented, and much celebrated. All four playable characters can die, we’re told, and the script will find its way to a plausible conclusion. Surely no pressing need, then, to spare this one from asphyxiation?

Sadly I can't show you Shelby suffocating. Here's another pic of Lauren instead.

Sadly I can't show you Shelby suffocating. Here's another pic of Lauren instead.

I put the controller down. Shelby coughs and spasms, gesticulates as if conducting the frenzied orchestral crescendo. I watch for a minute or two, then pop out to put the kettle on. Shelby’s still coughing and spasming, though the orchestra has apparently found better things to do. I whip his inhaler out of his pocket and leave it suspended in front of his nose for a good five minutes. No discernible decrease in liveliness. I make myself a cup of tea. The situation is unchanged.

Of course, untreated asthma attacks aren’t always fatal. Perhaps Captain Beefcake (who has now had a good 10 minutes to inflict the unthinkable on poor old Lauren) will be more obliging. So I give Shelby his meds, kick the door open and set the controller down once again. It’s painful to watch, but our chubby hero is still standing – or rather, kneeling – by the end of it, Troy having finally departed in a fit of macho pique. Lauren is unhurt, and once again cautiously thankful.

In short, unless you take the coward’s path of leaving the motel after Troy’s appearance, Shelby is destined to be the hero of the hour. That Quantic Dream steers the player inflexibly towards this goal underlines a quality some, myself included, have overlooked in the furore over branching narrative pathways and the consummate, multi-dimensional realism of the endeavor: in the “interactive story” that is Heavy Rain, the “story” part is as crucial as the “interactive” part. You will not be able to kill characters at the drop of a hat. Push the game’s causality too far, and you’ll discover that there will be times when you’re just going through the motions, keeping pace with Cage’s script.

Shelby will have the chance to help a civilian source out at least once more in Heavy Rain.

Shelby will have the chance to help a civilian source out at least once more in Heavy Rain.

Quantic’s potential triumph is to make even this “going through the motions” fun, to proffer game narratives which are entertaining despite their stretches of rigidity, not by virtue of production values or technical accomplishments alone, but by asking the player to step in as actor and director, not presiding over the script but always in charge of the action from moment to moment – how fast a character reaches for his wallet, whether he jams his foot in a closing door, whether he stays put while another speaks or leans on a nearby bed rail. The idea is less to bend a character and his or her actions to your will as to allow yourself to be bent to their will, getting to know them, accepting them, and filling out the minutiae of their behaviour accordingly.

It’s this layer of dramatic participation which keeps things interesting, however you bash against those narrative walls, which kept me playing and replaying despite the conveniently locked doors and Shelby’s infinitely extendable respiratory crisis – so much so, indeed, that I’ve managed to write about the fourth chapter at the expense of all the others. And it’s this, as much as the subject matter’s unheard-of sophistication, which will make Heavy Rain a watershed release even if Cage’s juggling of story pathways and finales comes crashing down around his ears on release day.

Heavy Rain is due out for PS3 only on 26th and 28th February 2010 in North America and Europe respectively.

2 Responses to “Heavy Rain Hands-on Preview”

  1. Dew says:

    Great preview! I really can’t wait to get my hands on this game.

  2. DisCoM says:

    Amazing game looks stunning i will buy this game day one as i allways do if its a good exclusive ps3 game..


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