Heavy Rain is the Sony PS3′s big new exclusive. From David Cage and Quantic Dreams, the makers of the last console generation’s critical smash/commercial flop Fahrenheit, this is another attempt at an “interactive movie”. But can Cage pull off his Citizen Kane of games? Read our Heavy Rain review to find out.
Heavy Rain is the gripping story of four people’s lives as they intersect with the Origami Killer; a serial murderer abducting and drowning young boys, before dumping the bodies with an orchid and an origami figure. You play, in turns, a bereaved architect, drug-addicted FBI man, asthmatic private investigator and insomniac photojournalist as they hunt the city for the killer.
Just from that description, you can hopefully tell that Heavy Rain is an entirely different approach to games from, say, Gears Of War, Halo or even current game storytelling pinnacle Uncharted 2. It’s about real lives, real emotions, grown-up and complex characters and situations. There are few gun showdowns (and they tend to be the worst bit of the game when they do show). Instead, this is about making moral choices under pressure.
Read our Bioshock 2 for Xbox 360 review now
Read our Dante’s Inferno for Xbox 360 review now
How does Heavy Rain actually “play”? In two simple and fairly un-gamey ways. You look around areas and talk to people like an old-school point-and-click adventure. And in doing so, you trigger “Quick Time Event” sequences where you need to press buttons that flash up on-screen in time to swerve that car/shoot that bad guy/dodge that flying brick.
While it’s even possible to have central characters killed (and the story adapts around them), the honest truth is that most of Heavy Rain’s “action” sequences can be badly botched without making much actual difference to the story. But that won’t matter to all but the most nit-pickey gaming geeks.
Why not? Because in Heavy Rain you’ll see surviving the next fight as so vital, you’ll be so gripped by the characters and story, that you’ll be absolutely gutted if you don’t make that vital sequence of button-hits to dodge the roadblock. The implications for the story if you fail are so rivetingly, worryingly bad. (And the game’s ability to adapt makes for some great replayability.)
Ultimately, what makes Heavy Rain so absolutely ahead-of-the-pack is not just its resolutely gripping story, but also real, believable characters and dialogue, plus visually-realistic settings and stunning cinematography and direction, plus real moral choices you get to make – that change the story.
The last point is arguably the biggest difference between Heavy Rain and all other games. In Heavy Rain, the choice to kiss or not, the choice to lay a hand on a shoulder or just watch your son eat in silence, ultimately the choice of whether to kill or not, is imbued with far more emotional resonance and power than whether you have to reload that gun or not before the next wave of disposable enemies pops up from behind cover.
Heavy Rain isn’t quite Citizen Kane, but it’s better than the latest season of 24 – and every other videogame plot out there. A gripping, proper grown-up game – but perhaps, sadly, too arty to be the Sony PS3′s killer exclusive.