Im exhausted, my heart is still racing. Heavy Rain is a punishing experience, both physically and emotionally. The roller-coaster of events, shocking twists and riveting action kept me very literally on the edge of my seat. This is a new form of narrative, an entirely different way to experience a story, to be drawn into its mystery have impact on its events.
Forgoing traditional controls, every action is performed with a context sensitive movement or timed button press. Every option from opening a door to starting a car is done with a twist or turn of the right analog stick. For every mundane routine there is a different input required, from holding multiple buttons down, to slowly, gently lowering the analog stick.
Motion control is finally being put to good use; I was smashing and heaving my controller in moments of intense pressure, exerting great force in my movements to produce the desired result.
Heavy Rain asked me to perform a lot of strange actions, things that are not scene in videogames; from slowly swinging the analog stick gently rocking a child to sleep. Brushing my teeth and shaving before dressing for work. By making me perform these commands for even mundane actions, I was brought inside the character, it was not a man running from the cops, it was me, I was running, panting, trying to catch my breath, I was dodging punches and talking opponents. I was responsible for these characters lives; from there every day functions to the life and death situations they were faced with.
The more elaborate routines required more fingers than I had available. Holding down what appears to be 73 buttons at one time, and then propelling the controller to the right, it does a great deal to make the deed tangible. A build up in input, slowly letting the gravity of a certain undertaking grow, a slow windup questioning my choice.
Movement can be slight cumbersome at times, occasionally the walking animation will get stuck on a piece of geometry and the models spin and move a bit awkwardly when cornered. But generally the animations are great, during action they really come to life. The onscreen indicators are placed at the center of a given movement, to draw your eye to the fist needing to be dodged, or the obstacle to be avoided.
Dialog options spin around, representing the responsive path of dialog rather than a specific phrase, with no HUD or guiding arrow to speak of, the clever use of an inner voiceover moves everything forward. Hold down R2 at nearly any time and a serious of options rotate round my head, choices and inner questions, thoughts on the particular question or goal of the moment. Control options bounce shakily if my character is nervous; they sway and jump during difficult decisions, fogging my choices.
An extremely impressive technical feat to say the least, human faces and expressions are very highly detailed and communicative. Rain obvious looks great as well; it drips from faces, soaks clothing and characters. Overall a very realistic graphical presentation, some slight awkwardness in a few characters, noticeably in the children, can be overlooked in the grand picture, as most faces appear incredibly life like.
Heavy Rain lives by it narrative, not only the focus, point but the entire point of the experience. Revealing any of its illusions would make the game entirely pointless. I will attempt to give a spoiler free look into this world, but that may be impossible. It may be better to know nothing of the world, and its characters, before entering it.
It's a great serial killer mystery, taking cues from some of Hollywoods great crime films. A remarkably tense and suspenseful story. As the four protagonists slowly uncover pieces of the puzzle, the larger picture is left up to me to discover. Each character finds signs and insight into the killer, but with my knowledge of other events I can see things in the larger scope. There are times when one character is investigating the actions I previously acted out. Do I find the clues that I myself left? Where does my loyalty lie? I can see both sides and yet cannot decide who is right and who is wrong.
The four individuals at the core of the story slow become intertwined, connections between them branch out as everyone is impacted by the killing. At times I suspected nearly every character, the drama unfolds with a remarkably cleaver reveal, a genuinely interesting twist on the previous events. My story ended in ways I could not for see.
I say my story because I cannot see how another play though could result in the same conclusions. There were thousands of small decisions that shaped the narrative; it really did become my story. The spirals and shocking conclusions left me breathless, unwilling to accept my own fate. My actions brought about great things, but at what cost?
I have never felt as connected with a group of characters before, the way I controlled the action lead me to form a link with them. I did not make choices as me but as them, I could hear their inner dialog, influence their thoughts and actions, but I didnt feel like I was playing a role, more like I was living someone elses life. Maybe it says a lot about me, but the chance at being inside another persons head, seeing the world through different eyes, has always intrigued me. I fell in love with Heavy Rain, and that was not easy, it is a hard game to love. The situations so disturbing, the decisions heart wrenching, but I loved it none the less. This is a new form of narrative, I became Ethan Mars, his thoughts were mine, the incredible choices he faced were put to me, and I felt for him and very nearly weep for him.
A moody and impactful orchestral score intensifies the already gloomy nature of the drama. It swells and rises with the action; ramps up the force of high stress scenes, slows and lingers on emotional dialog. The soundtrack is very well inserted into the game, not distracting but influencing every scene.
Heavy Rain asked a question, what are you willing to do to save someone you love? How you answer that question is the key to the experience. I became these characters, through the simplicities I shared with them, eating their lunch, playing with their kids I became responsible for their lives. The onus of their decisions are mine, I would be lying if I said I had no regrets. If only I could have a second chance, things might have turned out different, but the blood is own my hands. I won't forget the story I told, it was far too impactful, far too intense an experience.
Upon finishing the story, I was compelled to begin again. I stopped myself thinking about how many things would change, knowing what I know now. Much of the magic would be gone, in knowing the results I would make decision so very differently, they would be made as a means to an end, not as an emotional response to a situation. The split second responsive decisions are paramount to the experience, I would not have done the twisted things I had done were it not for the pressure, having time to think it out would have led to an entirely different and less involving tale.
I must give a lot of credit to director David Cage. This is a very impressive amalgamation of narrative and gameplay, the game design and filmmaking is of a top class. A pulse pounding adventure, I was riveted from the opening moment, I was responsible for my choices like no game before. The memories of my deeds will not be forgotten, they were too insane to be believed, and I will be haunted by my regretful rash choices, the things I did the heat of the moment will not be forgotten. David Cages dream of interactive narrative is realized.