The adventure game genre is hard to label. The most common interpretations of the genre are the old PC adventures games such as Monkey Island. My personal adventure game experience comes from PS1/N64 platformer games. However, it seems that the genre has tapered off in the past few years, replaced by first and third person shooters. Quantic Dream’s new game Heavy Rain breathes new life into the adventure genre, and blurs the line between video games and movies.
Heavy Rain follows 4 characters and their attempts to find the Origami Killer: a serial killer who drowns young boys and leaves origami figures on their corpses. The game's action focuses on the drama, and how your choices affect people within the game. For example, in the beginning of the game you are given the choice to make your son do his homework, or let him watch TV. If you force him to do his homework, he may become sullen and angry. If you let him ignore it, when you ask him about school he will say his teacher yelled at him for not doing his work. Almost every choice has an effect, even if the choice is insubstantial. You are given the freedom of how you achieve/get to your goal in every chapter. Do you sneak out the backyard to avoid paparazzi in front of your house, or go out the front door and confront them? Do you clean your fingerprints off of everything at the scene of a murder you have recently witnessed, or do you bolt quickly and risk being brought in for questioning later? These are the kinds of questions the game will throw at you all the time. The game records every big choice you make, and has multiple endings based on them. By letting the player directly influence the story, the game really creates a connection between the game and the gamer. It makes you think before you do anything.
The actual gameplay of Heavy Rain is an interesting experiment. All of the game’s actions, except for walking, are imputed with quick time events (QTE’s). You’ve probably seen this kind of input in action games, like God of War. In Heavy Rain, the quick time events are generally out of the way of the action, close to the limb or object being manipulated and many of the mundane ones like opening doors are done with the right analog stick. When a character gets into combat, the face buttons are added with different kinds of inputs (mashing, simply pressing the button, etc.) Occasionally, the game will ask you to hold down several buttons one after the other. It almost turns the game into Twister for your fingers. I came into the game expecting to be bored by this control method. After all, why would I want to give up control of my character to chance? However, it really adds a layer of intensity to the game, since you are given just as much time as the character to make a decision. If you miss an input, the game keeps moving, even if that means that your character dies. It’s like playing an interactive movie. The game also features the best use of sixaxis controls I’ve seen in a PS3 game. I also found this control scheme brought a sense of realism to the game. It would be hard to imagine ordinary people just being able to fight on the level of a martial arts master. The lack of a heads-up display also enhances the movie-style presentation.
More fun than it looks like
Heavy Rain desperately wants to be a movie. From the haunting score to the way the camera moves during the action, the game wants to be seen as a mature piece of art that can stand with the best pieces of cinema. However, the game’s story simply dosn’t support the vision that the developers are going for. The game is engrossing throughout the first half, but the story begins to show flaws when it should be building towards the climax. The game throws many red herrings as to who the Origami Killer is, but many of them don’t matter in the long run or just don’t simply make sense. The true identity of the Origami Killer is revealed in a very M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist that doesn’t hold up once you start thinking about it. It only works as shock value, as though the developers were trying to prove their story was deeply layered. There are also several inconsistencies late in the game where a character knows information another character also knows, yet the two have never interacted together. If the developers had focuses a little more on the script, they would have had a more cohesive narrative so gamers don't have to ignore logic to make it enjoyable.
The voice acting does not help the weak story. This is a game made by Europeans and voiced by Europeans. This causes a small problem as the game is supposed to be set in America. Some characters sound perfectly okay, while others (especially children) just sound odd, like there was no accent training before they stepped into the studio. The European/American divide is also apparent in the design of the environments. It seems like the developers were trying too hard to appeal worldwide audience. I believe where the game takes places and what the characters sound shouldn't matter if the game is good.
Expect to get a little stressed playing
Expect to get a little stressed playing
I'm sure by now you think I hated this game and to stay as far away from it as possible, but most of my comments are nitpicky. Quantic Dream’s creation is one of the most original, engaging, and fun games I’ve played in a long time. Their idea of doing something different with a video game is commendable. This is a game that everyone should at least play, and is open to a lot of different interpretations. However, the story and a few presentation points can't keep up with the ambition of the game. Overall, I give Heavy Rain a B+.
Special Thanks to Keb for editing help!