Follow thanklessgrind on Twitter

Love Letters Discovered

 
Daily Grind: A Heavy Rain Check Sam's avatar
 
Trigger Happy
First things first, a confession. I never really gave the Nomad Soul and Fahrenheit, Quantic Dream's first two offerings, much of a chance. If I'm totally honest, it was because in both 1999 and 2005, nearly all games had a linear narrative and I was a little bit scared about being given control over the plot, even in the limited fashion offered by the French Developer. However, in 2010 things have changed and with giants such as Bioware having championed the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure approach for the last few years, I feel I'm in a much better frame of mind to critique the Heavy Rain Demo.

As a self-proclaimed 'Interactive Film' it's hard to know whether to treat Heavy Rain as a game in the traditional sense and even harder to mentally separate it from the legacy of Dragon's Lair, which can only be considered a game in the very loosest sense of the word. However you look at it though, Heavy Rain promises to offer something a bit different to your average third person action-adventure and that along with French developers customarily putting a bit of the crazy into their games (just look at Little Big Adventure or Fury Of The Furries), the Heavy Rain demo should prove to be interesting if nothing else.

Awesome: Rain By Name, Rain By Nature

From the moment you hit the menu screen to the point the demo ends, the environments are literally dripping with character. Through a combination of murky scenes, gruff monologues and the ever audible crash of raindrops on anything and everything, Quantic Dream have managed to create an atmosphere that really lives up to the name of the game. The modern noir setting could easily have been the result of an illicit love affair between Blade Runner and Max Payne, a feat as impressive as it is gruesome.

Awesome: Uncanny Valley Characters

Not to be outdone by the compelling atmosphere, the visuals and animations are as good as anything seen on the current generation consoles. Opting for photo-realism, the graphics don't disappoint on any scale, especially with regards to the facial close-ups whose tactile textures mean that at times, the characters are sailing dangerous close to the uncanny valley. In addition to this, the detail of the idle animations and the way characters hold themselves when walking adds further realism, the fat detective noticeably uncomfortable in his own body as he coughs and splutters his way through the plot.

Boresome: The Ministry Of Silly Walks

Unfortunately, it appears that Quantic Dream have never played another third person game before because if they had, then surely no way would they have stuck with the control method of walking utilised in Heavy Rain. Instead of simply mapping movement to the left analogue stick, those crazy French developers have decided that people should be controlled like cars, with a trigger accelerating characters in the direction they are facing. Well, I say accelerate, but what I really mean is amble like an arthritic pensioner and the combination of these two issues make movement much more of a chore than it should be.

Awesome: QTE Heaven

Quick time events are often accused of being archaic remnants from a time when gameplay mechanics were in their infancy. When implemented poorly, they can be frustrating at best and responsible for sending many a control pad to an early grave. Thankfully, Quantic Dream have a pedigree in QTEs and their implementation in Heavy Rain really promotes a true feeling of interaction with the world. There is a palpable sense of urgency during the action scenes that makes you react as you would in reality and my only complaint is that there is a little too much fidelity in what you can do. Pressing left and triangle in order to relieve an overweight detective's itchy crotch is not my idea of a good time.

Awesome: Diagnosis Murder

Everyone loves a good crime scene to investigate. It doesn't matter whether you're more Murder She Wrote than CSI or prefer Quincy M.E. to Poirot, there's something ultimately satisfying about tracking down a murder from a selection of discordant clues. Even with the limited scope of the scenario contained within the demo, this sleuthing itch is definitely scratched, with the near future technology of ARI taking the monotony out of searching a crime scene and replacing it with a sexy Minority Report style user interface.

Boresome: Simon Says Press X

While not a problem in a thirty minute long, bite-sized chunk of Heavy Rain, I can't help but wonder how I'm going feel about a game consisting purely of QTEs eight or nine hours down the line. Of course, as an 'interactive film' my expectations have been adjusted accordingly, but at the same time, if the gameplay mechanics become boring and detract from the plot, you have to wonder whether a game was the right choice of medium for the story. If the narrative is not strong enough to make players forget they are essentially playing Follow The Leader with their TV, the experience is going to get pretty old, pretty fast.

Awesome: Rain By Name, Rain By Nature - Uncanny Valley Characters - QTE Heaven - Diagnosis Murder

Boresome: The Ministry Of Silly Walks - Simon Says Press X

Setting aside concerns about repetitiveness that might amount to nothing and minor control issues, the Heavy Rain demo has definitely convinced me that this is a game I need to buy on the day it comes out rather than borrowing or renting it in a few months time. There's something uniquely seductive about the game's atmosphere that makes me want to be a part of the filthy, miserable world Quantic Dream have created.

Heavy Rain makes its way to the UK on the 24th of February and I'm going to make sure that I get soaking wet.

Editor Opinions
 
Josh's avatar

Quantic Dream’s concept of a game consisting almost entirely of QTE sequences has never really bothered me, mainly because the developers have never placed emphasis upon raw gameplay, but rather the markedly more intriguing opportunities for narrative, decision making and carefully considered cinematography that it presents. Heavy Rain’s simplified controls serve as a conduit to the more appealing aspects of its design, so it’s hard to be disappointed by something which does just that with aplomb.

The context sensitive control scheme is elegant and responsive, with button presses that feel tight and punchy in relation to the animation, and a neatly integrated timer which is greatly appreciated in more desperate scenarios. Stick movements are nicely analogous to on-screen actions, whether you’re pantomiming something pleasingly banal like operating an inhaler or using a lamp to crush an interloper’s skull.

Speaking of which, during the fight scene found in the demo it quickly became apparent that one blow to the head of asthmatic gumshoe Scott Shelby would spell lights out forever. Where a great deal of game characters barely flinch at taking a munitions factory worth of bullets to the sternum (the eminently convincing Nathan Drake included), it’s refreshing to be entrusted with the survival of someone so fragile. The responsibility weighs heavily upon you, especially when every mistimed tap of the X button results in yet another volley of rib-cracking blows.

The contentious tank controls are certainly an interesting presence, and seem like a defiant and conscious decision by David Cage to drive a wedge between the player and characters in an attempt to reinforce the game’s cinematic ideals. More than ever in a videogame we’re an unseen (albeit powerful) third party who are observing the events playing out before us just as much as we’re controlling them. Given that not even a character’s death is enough to halt the story entirely, there’s a definite implication that the player is steering the narrative more than the protagonists themselves.

I’m definitely looking forwards to spending more time in the drenched alleyways and grim apartment complexes of Heavy Rain’s dank little world, and seeing to what extent players are able to shape the outcome of its noiresque parable.

 
Tags: