Heavy Rain Review

The floodgates are open. VideoGamesDaily spends a rainy day in with Quantic Dream’s masterful PS3 debut.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, February 10, 2010


“How far will you go to save someone you love?” is the tagline, but the question Heavy Rain really asks is “what is a game, exactly, and how far can you push it before it becomes something else?” While all developers tackle this question to a certain extent, reshaping the concept in the act of creating an individual specimen, few have posed it as explicitly and doggedly as David Cage and Quantic Dream.

1999′s Omikron: Nomad Soul turned its own player into a character, building the interactive process into its fiction. 2005′s Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy, as North Americans and Canadians will know it) took a different tack, uniting lengthy scripted sequences and a heavy commitment to cinematic technique with a controlled, context dependent model of play. Both games contribute to the make-up of Heavy Rain, but it’s the latter and more controversial path, the path of the “interactive drama” as one of the game’s Trophies puts it, that the French studio’s third, fascinating project sets foot on.

Some have welcomed Quantic’s quarrying of the borderland between film and video game. Others have decried it as a capitulation to older, more entrenched, more “respectable” forms of expression. In crafting Heavy Rain, declare the nay-sayers, Cage has simply allied himself with the insecure nerd kid who pretends he enjoys football because all the bigger, older boys with hot girlfriends are into it. And in doing so, we’re told, he has relegated gaming to the cultural status of poor cousin. Lacking its rival’s fecund stockpile of stories and storytelling devices, hobbled by technical constraints and chronically short of real writers, the interactive entertainment industry cannot hope to surpass cinema on its own turf.

Split frame sequences are infrequent, perhaps to preserve performance, but memorable.

Split frame sequences are infrequent, perhaps to preserve performance, but memorable.

These critics are right, and they’re wrong. Heavy Rain would make a fairly forgettable film, the stuff of late night cable television, a hodgepodge of pseudo-psychology, highly strung orchestras and thinly justified voyeurism. Its tropes are immediately recognisable, if skillfully deployed. Hard-boiled cops. Soft-focus, shampoo commercial shower scenes. Seedy ethnicities. Over-cooked motives. Some convincing performances. The expected unexpected twist. It wouldn’t have been terrible, but it would have been terribly average, a watery reflection of the Fincher crime thrillers from whom Quantic leeches a plot and cast.

But Heavy Rain isn’t a film, or even a game trying to be a film. It’s proof of just how compellingly a game can use film, of how gripping a warmed-over scenario or humdrum script can become in the hands of a skilled design team. It filches ideas from cinema, doubtless – what big budget character-driven release doesn’t? – but it’s because it’s a game, in the final analysis, that it’s marvelous.

The plot brings together four characters in the hunt for a Zodiac-esque serial killer who drowns his infant victims in rainwater: Madison Paige, photojournalist and voluptuous insomniac; Scott Shelby, a paunchy private eye with asthma; Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler and recovering addict; and Ethan Mars, an architect haunted by the death of one of his sons. The 10 hour multiple-ending campaign distributes chapters even-handedly between the four, but Ethan soon emerges as the lynchpin. Not long after the intro his remaining son is abducted by the killer, leaving the cast with only a few days (as per the latter’s modus operandi) to effect a rescue.

12 Responses to “Heavy Rain Review”

  1. Stuart says:

    Great review Edwin, it’s just a shame we have so many quality titles out just now or this would be a definite for me. I’ll be picking it up at some point though, and trying my best to avoid any plot spoilers before I play it!

  2. Harold says:

    Birth of a genre? It’s a standard adventure game with nice cinematic trappings

    • Jack the Stripper says:

      This isnt a adventure. In a adventure you have to find and collect items and compine them and use them on the right spot to procced. But thi isnt so in Heavy Rain. You walk in that stages, talk to people, make a qte, maybe find somthing thats importend for the story and procced. That again and again and again.
      No brains needed!

      This is for people that prefer a graphics drama over the challenge of real gameplay to procced!

  3. Eric2929 says:

    Great stuff Edwin; informative as always. Have my copy pre-ordered (something I never do!).

  4. Edwin says:

    Thanks chaps, glad to be of service. I had to rush it a bit towards the end.

  5. Jack the Stripper says:

    Saying this game has a trivial/forgettable story and a almost non replay factor whereas the whole concept is based on storrytelling?
    That what this game is based on,the story, is its mayor flaw and it gets a 9/10? The the story must not be that important for your review! Its like saying the driving mechanics in Forza3 suck but the game is 9/10. Makes no sense to me!

  6. zarbor says:

    Seen a number of reviews of this game giving it high praises. That’s cool that its the birth of a new genre. Not my kinda game. Rental at best to see what all the hype is about. From what I’ve seen, I rather the more traditional gameplay. I like a good story but if I have to chose, I prefer great gameplay over story. None of the reviews give this game great review on the gameplay.

  7. Lawrence says:

    I can totally agree with Edwin’s view on Heavy Rain. It’s been my most wonderful gaming experience to date, be it a short one.
    Thanks Edwin!

  8. Christmas Ape says:

    Awkward jerks of the controller and painfully cramping finger layouts: the “slowly drag the mouse looking for the relevant pixel” of 21st century video games.

    I mean, it’s a novel control scheme, but I cut my teeth on the character-driven investigative adventure genre. It’s not ‘new’ or in any way ‘being born’.

  9. Core Yarn says:

    Truly masterful PS3 debut. My personal top game on playstation.

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