Heavy Rain, a new game from developer Quantic Dream (Indigo Prophecy) takes videogame storytelling to a new level. Centered around four characters, Heavy Rain tasks the player with mastering its unique control scheme and, ultimately, solving the mystery of the Origami Killer. Using the PlayStation 3's Sixaxis controller's motion sensitivity, Heavy Rain enables players to control the on-screen action in a more interactive way than many conventional action games permit.
The game opens with the player controlling tha actions of Ethan Mars, a happily married architect with two sons and a beautiful home. The player takes control of Ethan as he wakes up one morning. Through a series of tutorial-based sequences, the player controls Ethan as he brushes his teeth, takes a shower, and gets dressed for the day. Most actions are completed by moving the right analog stick. More complex tasks require the movement of the right analog stick along with a few button presses. Looking at an object will reveal the combination of stick movement and/or button combinations that are required to use it. As Ethan's kids arrive home with their mom, the game introduces the methods for interacting with people, which are handled in a similar manner as interacting with objects.
After the introduction, the game begins to move the plot forward. Without revealing any major details, a tragedy strikes Ethan's family and, one-by-one, the other three characters are introduced. They are Madison Paige, a photojournalist; Norman Jayden, an FBI agent; and Scott Shelby, a private investigator. Each character adds a different perspective to the game and each one provides or discovers clues to the identity of the Origami Killer.
The gameplay is akin to an interactive videogame version of a "choose your own adventure" book. Each character is given decisions to make at crucial points in the game and, based on those decisions, the story continues down the next path. There's no trying a path and then going back and trying another one. Each action leads to the next without the ability to try for the "best" outcome. The player will make mistakes. For example, I pressed the wrong button during one interaction and mistakenly shot and killed a suspect I was interviewing. I had no other choice but to deal the consequences of my mistake. There was no going back. According to the developers, each decision a player makes will have an impact on the final outcome of the game. Each of the four characters can die before the game is completed. In fact, in my first play through the game, one of the characters did die. (In a rather grisly fashion, I might add.) There was no getting him back. He was dead. Gone. Finito. Just like real life, the game continued without him.
Even though there are many positive things about Heavy Rain, there are some negatives. First, the game still has some bugs. At times, the audio would go silent for a few moments. Graphically, some objects would appear to float in mid-air or disappear. Sometimes they'll reappear in other locations. (For example, Ethan's son, Shaun, walked into the kitchen to get a a bag of chips. He got the bag out of the cupboard and it began to float above the kitchen table. Shaun seemed to ignore it and walked back to the living room, where it magically appeared in his hand.) Second, the game's control scheme, while innovative and intuitive most of the time, sometimes fails to respond in the desired manner. With the game's outcome hinging on each interaction, it becomes frustrating when the game doesn't pick up a shake of the controller or a character walks into a wall when you're trying to navigate a sparsely furnished room. Thankfully, these are just distractions that keep the game from being as immersive an experience as it ultimately could be rather than anything that ruins the fun.
Heavy Rain is definitely not a game for children. It's an adult game in virtually every aspect. The game's story of a killer that targets small children is certainly mature enough in nature to discourage children from playing. The game also includes a rather unflinching portrayal of mental illness and features unapologetic depictions of sexuality, including nudity. While it might sound like I'm warning people about these elements in order to dissuade people from purchasing Heavy Rain, the opposite is true. I'm glad they're presented without being glorified. Heavy Rain is a realistic adult game that doesn't pander to children. As an adult game player, I found this approach to the content to be quite refreshing.
For players looking to try something different, Heavy Rain provides an experience that is unlike any other game I've played. Some may fault it for being little more than an interactive movie but I found the game's strong story and interesting characters, along with the ablility to have multiple outcomes, make it much more than that. Heavy Rain is one of this year's best videogames so far.