I know I am massively out of step with popular critical opinion here, but it is with a heavy heart that I must say, I didn’t like Heavy Rain, the PS3 exclusive title which has promised so much since it was announced at E3 2006. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that many fears people had about the game being nothing more than a series of QTE’s have proven correct. As I said in my last post, after a few hours of playing I had found the “drama” aspect fairly comical and heavy handed, and it didn’t improve from there, with multiple sequences that REALLY stretch all credibility, including a major plot twist that comes from nowhere, and is a far cry from being the game which would make you cry (see video below for Mega64's take on this!).
Admittedly, Heavy Rain does get you doing some novel things for a video game (brushing your teeth; applying mascara; changing a nappy) but none of them are fun or involving or emotional and all revolve around pressing the right control stick in various directions. Failure to get the prompt right usually just results in doing it again and the whole thing is completely pointless. If the intention is to make a drama which just happens to be a video game, then it completely fails on that level. If you play the game imagining it is a film then you are just left with the most hackneyed series of derivative thriller-movie sequences. The whole thing is also quite smug. It is almost insulting how clever Heavy Rain thinks it is whilst being nothing more than a boring Dragon’s Lair clone. I applaud the ambition, and think developer's should be encouraged to aim for the stars more often, but the opening credit sequence, with sad people standing in the rain, or the moment when a red balloon ascends into the sky, are super pretentious and laughable as a result.
Oh, and it is boring and then some. There were so many times when I wished I could run somewhere rather than slowly walk (however "cinematic" walking in the rain might be). There were so many times when I couldn’t care less about a conversation which was happening on screen. But where Heavy Rain really, truly fails is in an area so many ambitious games have failed to master before: that is in meeting actions with consequences, with the intended result of making choices difficult. There are apparently more than twenty possible outcomes, but these are mostly reflected in an end of game “news report”, similar to the bit at the end of Fallout 3 where a few sentences have been recorded for each variant and all get stuck together in the final speech to reflect your path. Most of the time Heavy Rain is asking you to choose whether you want to have orange juice or not... and this has no consequence whatsoever.
Indeed, there were many times I wanted to make a game changing choice (like shooting somebody you have pulled a gun on, rather than waiting for the obligatory bit where they hit it out of your hand and you have to scuffle about on the floor) only to find that there was no option. There was a (stupid) scene where a “bad cop” pulled a gun on my FBI agent during an interrogation of a suspect, and infuriatingly I couldn’t fight him, or tell anyone he’d done it, or turn on the video camera behind the two-way glass to show him beating the suspect... it was completely out of my control. I could go and make myself a coffee, but that would be POINTLESS!
I have nothing against pointless details if they add to an atmosphere (I’ll never forget standing at a bus stop on a cold Yokosuka morning in Shenmue, for example) but the lack of any choice in terms of where the characters go (I never knew why my characters were turning up at various locations for half the game) and generally not having any meaningful input in what will eventually happen (bar a few key moments) took me right out of the game and cut the atmosphere dead.
I don’t want to completely bash this game, however this reads. Heavy Rain is commendable for its ambition and for the fact that there isn’t another game quite like it (previous QTE games have generally used them for action and not tooth-brushing or French-kissing). The titular rain is really well realised and the motion capture work is superb. There were a couple of really entertaining moments, which usually involved running away from/after someone. I also quite liked using the FBI agent character, who has a pair of futuristic glasses that allow him to find forensic evidence quite easily. These bits felt the most like I was playing a game and not watching a generic Channel 5 thriller. I also liked the Kubrick-inspired art design in one key location, which I won't spoil here.
But most of the time the game is stupefyingly repetitive and bland. How many times must I check a bathroom medicine cabinet in a single video game? It felt like every other scene in Heavy Rain involved doing just that. Why is every fight sequence the same (people pick up objects and try to bash you with them or throw them at you, and when you fall to the floor you have to pummel ‘x’ to stand up again). The first time I had one of these fights, it was entertaining. But the novelty quickly wore off.
Basically, Heavy Rain is quite a stupid game with delusions of grandeur, aspiring clearly to win some sort of industry Oscars. If you want to watch a drama about a serial killer, then lord knows there are plenty of them and most of them are better than this one in more or less every way imaginable. Or if you want to see games as an art form than I would, again, direct you to Flower or Shadow of the Colossus. I would love to know someone who genuinely cried at some point during Heavy Rain. I am easily moved to tears, and yet I found myself laughing at every terribly acted “poignant” scene in the game. It takes a real effort to take the tragedy out of child murder, but hats off to the guys at developer Quantic Dream for making it happen.
In summary: top marks for trying... but please don’t try again. Also, the "sexy" female journalist character, Madison, looks unsettlingly like the 1980s Scotch tape skeleton.
Heavy Rain is out now and is rated '15' by the BBFC!