PS3 Reviews

Heavy Rain Review (PS3)

By Hector Cortez May 3, 2010, 13:34 GMT

Heavy Rain Review (PS3)

If Hemingway had designed video games, they would look a lot like the first few hours of Heavy Rain.

Review by Ivone Alexandre

Hemingway once proved he could write a short story in only six words, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” If Hemingway had designed video games, they would look a lot like the first few hours of Heavy Rain. Now, while his six-word “story” implies tragedy, I'm not entirely sure he would buy into the whole serial killer narrative, but the natural, revealing dialogue and language of human relationships are still, I'm convinced, making his head spin in a minimalist grave.

The greatest challenge to writing a review for a game so intricate and delicate in construct, is that it's, “zero at the bone,” a completely shaved down, evocative experience, one that goes out of its way NOT to be overly verbose or riddled with action. To review it means taking one game and setting it up against a frame of reference of other expectations and experiences, a mechanism of judgment that Heavy Rain dances around gracefully.

For example, the biggest contention I've heard, and anticipated, was, “It starts out too slow.”  Hogwash. It starts out too slow for another game, a different one, where we're planting enemies' heads onto spears, or jumping through lava-ridden platforms, or shooting Commies. For a game entrenched in the authenticity of human interaction, starting out as the character that loves and inevitably fights tooth and nail for his family becomes paramount. How can you understand suffering if you don't first know what it was like for a character not to suffer?

Is quick-timing a glass of orange juice for breakfast boring? If that's all that was going on, maybe. It's in the context of the whole that the orange juice becomes important, becomes ominous, becomes the departure point for something else entirely. I mean, imagine a game in which you're homeless and are forced into quick-time stealing small amounts of a food in a grocery store. Then, that sip of orange juice becomes the holy grail, the slate upon which your wrist will be drawn and severed should you not execute the action most discretely. But I digress.

Those moments spent wandering through domesticity are meant to be, dare I say, small? Seemingly of little consequence? At one point, towards the very beginning of the game, you can look out of a window. That's it. A few cars go by, people can be seen on the street, but more importantly, for those seconds, that person becomes real. You and your interactions with the environment become real. It lends credibility to everything else that follows, including the other three digital human creations you'll be piggy backing for the rest of the game.

The paramount idea of the experience is influence. We've been experiencing the industry's take on a future of “choose your own digital adventure.” From Quantic Dream's previous work on Indigo Prophecy to Bioware's epic adventures into character altering decisions, we've been basking in the temptation of free, influential will. While Heavy Rain's storyline may not delineate drastically from play through to play through when it comes to the meat of the gameplay, the endings pack a wallop of difference. Replayability lies in one's love for the characters and the desire to experience the nuances of the story, not necessarily the promise of drastically branching versions of the same narrative. If you want to make it through a second or third time, the promise of seeing over and over the possibilities for the ending to your character become the saving grace.

As Darwin promises, there is strength in variation, however, no matter how small. Heavy Rain does deliver on the subtleties of human contact. You bounce around between the perspectives of four different people immersed in the narrative: a father, a private investigator, a Fed, and a woman. Your decisions and relationship building with the characters around you may not take you down another path all together, but it will definitely change the people and company you have going along the yellow brick road with you. Their reactions to you, their feelings and their dialogue do alter, and while this may be a bit to subtle for the “free influential will” bunch, it is a testament to Heavy Rain's dedication to fantastically written dialogue and storytelling.

This engrossment into the story melds deliciously with the mechanics. While we've all experienced the triumphs and failures of pressing a button that the exact moment that is necessary, Heavy Rain diverts from this success and failure motif in quick time events by making them more of a dance than a Jeopardy buzzer. There are a few indicators that are hazy: like whether to press a button repeatedly or to hold it down. But while some of the quick time events will inevitably catch you off guard or get away from you, there's a rope around your wrists through these sequences, forcing you to actually be these people, not the story, but the person. With this, the immersion turns to a kind of drowning. In one instance (don't worry, no spoilers), you have to execute particular button commands to slow down your breathing so that you can perform an action more efficiently, if at all.

This is where the line starts to get blurry and some will cry out that Heavy Rain isn't really a game. You can't die. You play people taking showers and control breathing. The story doesn't essentially rely on you to keep going. You are not necessary, thereby nullifying the extent that there has to be a player. You're along for the ride and the progression will go on even if you make a mistake or miss clues.

If it isn't a game, then it's something new and we should be thankful to see our futures branching into something wonderfully innovative. In homage to Hemingway: Play it, then play it again.

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