• When the first (now rather primitive looking) footage of Heavy Rain emerged onto the Internet, the “uncanny valley” like animation looked stunning and slightly disturbing.

    Now that David Cage / Quantic Dream have delivered their masterpiece, it stands as a brave and bold experiment in delivering a truly mature gaming experience to an audience that usually applies that tag to mindless shooters or games featuring laughably unsexy examples of tittilation. You’ll either be pleased or horrified (depending on your game tastes) to know that Heavy Rain features neither.

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    While I played the game, my long suffering other half remarked that the opening scenes of a man enjoying a wonderful sun-kissed perfect life meant that the poor guy’s world was about to come crashing down around his ears. She wasn’t wrong and in Heavy Rain we follow Ethan Mars and several other characters who become entangled in the hunt for the mysterious Origami Killer. A serial murderer with a particularly nasty modus operandi, The Origami Killer kidnaps boys, drowns them in rainwater, and then dumps their bodies on a wasteland leaving an origami figure and an orchid with the body.

    It’s a struggle to write a fully rounded review that doesn’t stray into spoiler territory but with the game’s tag line of “how far would you go to save the one you love”, you can guess that Ethan’s son becomes one of the kidnap victims, and the game becomes a race to thwart the origami killer and find him before it’s too late.

    After a lengthy installation sequence (which helped me to complete my first ever successful Origami model! Thanks Quantic Dream!), you get to grips with the game itself.

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    Heavy Rain features a novel method of interaction, heavily relying on quick time events (rapid button reaction test sequences), the age-old “track and field” button-mashing and some finer gestural control work to govern what actions your characters take. In some places you also directly control characters to move around scenes. Largely the control method sounds hateful and I’m really not a fan of Quick-time events or button mashing, but in Heavy Rain it’s definitely done with more subtlety and more attention to contextual use of the Playstation 3’s Sixaxis controller.

    Within the first hour of play I found a lot of extremely emotive and powerful stuff that might wash over you unless you’ve got kids of your own. It feels like tough decisions were made by David Cage on what to include and what to cut out of a game that requires a lot of soul-searching and tests of your moral fibre, but Heavy Rain does so without feeling too preachy and often without directly encouraging you to “play the goodie” all the time.

    As the story unfolds we meet other characters including a world-weary private detective, Scott Shelby, a gadget-toting FBI agent, Norman Jayden and a tough uncompromising journalist, Madison Paige. These are the main characters you play, along with Ethan Mars and each character has a link with The Origami Killer case.

    Exploring the narrative from several different points of view keeps things fresh and lends the project a more cinematic feel, particularly when characters are eventually drawn together in their quest to save Ethan’s son.

    Above all, characters feel realistically vulnerable and prone to mistakes and moments of triumph. In interviews, Cage expressly underlines the point that these are ordinary people thrown into extraordinary situations. No supernatural hocus-pocus as with Fahrenheit (Quantic Dream’s last game that had a similar experimental control system but a ludicrously surreal plot), just a dark, gritty and twisted tale.

    The PS3 is put through its paces, delivering some of the most detailed character models and backdrops I’ve seen in a PS3 game. There’s a fair amount of screen tearing, and there are still moments where your immersion is broken by odd character movements and animations (particularly in sequences where you directly control characters), but it’s extremely well done and makes the early show reels mentioned at the top of this review look extremely primitive.

    It’s worth watching the bonus footage included once you’ve completed the game, just to see how much work went into the project. 90 actors and over 800 hours of motion capture contributed to Heavy Rain’s distinct look and feel, and to compliment the visuals the sound work and dialogue acting are both equally as impressive.

    The plot is the star though, and several reviews have unfairly stated that Heavy Rain feels clichéd and cumbersome compared to the movies it draws its inspiration from. That’s an unfair criticism when you consider how rarely games tackle the issues and themes explored here. It’s an amateur psychologist’s dream, delving into aspects of human behaviour ranging from fatherly love to ego and ambition, right through to the very extremes of hate, psychosis and feelings of helplessness in situations of dire peril. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a particular scene and to feel genuine remorse if a character suffers because of your ineptitude with the joypad. Thankfully, the game does allow you to replay chapters once completed, but the chances are that you’ll want to dive straight back in and start the game from the beginning just to see if you can nail it perfectly.

    There are criticisms to be made. Some quick time sequences feel long and drawn out, and failure to press a button in time or worse – pressing the wrong button in a stressful situation – can completely change the outcome of a chapter, more often for the worse. Genius moments of innovation in the game like Norman Jayden’s fantastic augmented reality specs (The ARI system) make up for some of the clunky moments, and though the game is set in 2011 this is one of the only times where you’ll feel it strays into flights of fancy (I’d be the first to admit I’d love the opportunity to use those specs to change my office around though. You’ll see what I mean).

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    Above all, you’ll probably be surprised to find that the game’s main plot is a mere six or so hours long, but cannily it seems that Sony / Quantic Dream are following the route so many other games this year will take, dishing up a short main game to get you hooked enough so you’ll buy the (inevitable) downloadable content. The first mini chapter, The Taxidermist, will be arriving sometime in May so you haven’t got too long to wait.

    All in all, Heavy Rain offers enough interesting ideas and grown-up themes to put it head and shoulders above quite a few other so-called “mature” titles, leaving me wanting more. Who knows, it might even teach you something about yourself while you play too.

    Score: 9/10

    About The Author

    • This game looks amazing. It is one of the reasons I got a PS3.

    • Def was one of my reasons for picking up the Playstation 3, I seriously can’t wait to get my hands on this now after years of waiting!

    • In addition to the demo that is currently out I also got the chance to play it for a bit last year at PAX and I had a lot of fun with it.

    • Out on friday. You’d be daft to miss it. It’s not perfect by any means and some of the control issues might keep it from mainstream success but it’s definitely one of the best PS3 exclusives I’ve played since I bought the machine.

    • It’s out Tuesday in the US and I plan on going by my local Gamestop to pick up my copy.

    • I am picking it up in a bit – for anyone who doesn’t have the game (or money to buy it) just thought I would say I am going to be playing it over the next two days and updating my blog with impressions at 4 hour gameplay intervals (runs for 12 hours so this should give a decent commentary)

      Check me out at http://origamikid.wordpress.com

      I am heaving ALOT of issues with this game. freezing, save data not loading, game audio being out of sync with video… lets hope they have sorted this – i don’t want my gameplay to be tarnished by glitches

    • Just thought I would say : Completed it!

      Fucking incredible!

      Just an amazing game. I will post my final impressions of the last few hours up when I get up and then a review on monday or tuesday i would think/hope!

      For those of you who were reading my blog today I would like to say thank you! I know there were a few of you who did so I appreciate it 🙂

    • Currently on a second playthrough to hoover up some of the trophies. Amazingly it doesn’t seem to get tired even after you know all the little twists and secrets. Really can’t wait for the first DLC.

    • (btw Josh, I saw you had problems with Heavy Rain. Don’t know if the recent update sorted these out for you but the preview copy I played through didn’t have any of these problems – I’m extremely fussy about things like out-of-synchy audio and glitches – and the only one I noticed throughout the entire game was during the bit where your FBI guy is examining the first crime scene. He put his head straight through the solid wall of the tent covering the body 🙂

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