Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Review: Heavy Rain (PS3)

It's a good thing I picked up and played Heavy Rain after The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead. It makes those two games look sad by comparison.

These games fall into the category of "choose-your-own-adventure". The puzzles provided per-se aren't particularly challenging, so what I evaluate these games on is the deepness and richness of the content: how often are the decisions meaningful? How many different ways can the story end? Does the story provide emotional impact? Is the story coherent?

By those standards Heavy Rain is outstanding. In fact, if you own a PS3, just stop reading, find yourself a copy, and play!

Still with me? OK. Heavy Rain is a story about parenthood. It starts with Ethan Mars' interaction with his family, and a defining incident in which he fails to save his son from a traffic collision. Years later, we find him depressed and subject to occasional blackouts. During one of those blackouts, his second son disappears, kidnapped by the "origami killer", a serial killer who focuses on killing children. The rest of the game follows Ethan's attempt to rescue his son and uncover who the origami killer is.

There are 3 other playable characters: Madison Paige, a reporter, Scott Shelby, a private detective also investigating the case, and Jayden, the FBI agent assigned to the case. The viewpoint of the game shifts between these playable characters, and you see them cross-paths, or even watch one storyline uncover clues while another storyline is oblivious.

The script is exceedingly well written. The characters are believable, and their interaction choices don't leave me frustrated. Furthermore, when the reveal happens, not only was I surprised, when I thought back to all the clues previously provided I felt that the mystery was fair: I had enough clues to figure out who the killer was, but the misdirection and setup had distracted me enough that I didn't put them together. This is exceedingly hard to do, and Heavy Rain succeeds.

What's even more amazing is the game play. In The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us, if you fail at one of the "game" section, the game restarts at a checkpoint and then you play it over until you succeed. Heavy Rain throws away such conceits. If you fail at one point, your viewpoint character can die but the game carries on! The story changes, and you can get a different ending. I'm not a great game player, so by the time I finished the game two of my characters have died, and poor Ethan Mars was a mess of injuries. But the ending still satisfied me and didn't leave me feeling as though I was cheated of storyline that I should have observed but didn't.

What's more, the game did a fantastic job making me feel what the characters were going through. Because lives were at stake and because I could fail, the story was intense. At several points I winced as the killer put Ethan Mars through trials to see how far a father would go to save his son. Whenever I failed one of those trials, I felt devastated. Some of those scenes had me shaking while pushing buttons on the controller, events that never happened in other games.

When I bought the game, I thought I'd sell it when I'd finished. Now that I'm done, I realize that like a good movie, it's a game I wouldn't mind playing again, especially since you can get different endings. (If you want to shorten the time it takes to watch all the different endings, you should save frequently so you can try both success and failure scenarios --- I wasn't aware of this feature until it was too late) I liked this game enough that I'll probably hunt down Quantic Dream's other games in the future.

What are the nits in the game? The controls are a little painful: sometimes you have to hold down multiple buttons and then shake the controller in order to get certain things to happen. If your controller is broken in that the six-axis sensor is inconsistent this can drive you nuts. This game definitely depends on a low latency screen as well. My plasma screen even in game mode made this game harder because of the induced latency. The background music is not as enjoyable as I would like: the game uses the same themes too often, which makes it repetitive. Being a PS3 game, the graphics are fantastic for that era but of course cannot compare to the PS4. I'm looking forward to Quantic Dream's future games on the PS4. Finally, the adult situations and nudity means that this game is unsuitable for pre-teens.

But despite these faults, I'd say that this game is exhibit A in why a dedicated home console (especially Sony's) makes sense. You can't get games of this quality on any other platform, and it's clear that Quantic Dream's efforts are of a level of maturity, sophistication, and emotional impact that makes other efforts on competing platforms look like they're multiple decades behind. Highly recommended!
Post a Comment