Storm's A-Comin'

We've finally gotten the chance to play a few hours of Heavy Rain. Want to hear what happened? Good, because we want to tell you. Oh how we want to tell you.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: December 14, 2009
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It's pretty clear from the very start of Heavy Rain that developer Quantic Dream is fully embracing the whole idea of immersion by way of doing something new. As the game starts a mandatory install, you're instructed to take the piece of paper that will come with the game out of the case and begin following the directions on screen. Step by step, you're given the means to make your own paper crane -- the very same object that appears in the hands of all the victims of the Origami Killer that serves as the mystery antagonist in this interlocking series of characters' stories.

We're not sure if that's a bit of tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing about the player ultimately being killed by the Origami Killer, becoming another of his quizzically placed and presented victims, but it is certainly a possibility. See, (and if you've heard this before, bear with us) in Heavy Rain any one of the four characters you control can meet their end, but rather than simply showing a Game Over screen and letting you re-try things, the story will simply move on, and that character's revelations and potential future meetings with the other three people in the story will simply be lost.

Understand that this won't really happen until fairly well into the story; there's definitely a bit of ground work that needs to be laid first, but what was made abundantly clear to us as we played through Heavy Rain's first couple hours was that the game will absolutely branch out according to how you handle certain events. Neglect your distant son now and he may end up hating you later. Play the aloof Fed and avoid being nice with your new cop buddies and they may not be there to help you out when your drug problem kicks into full swing at the worst possible time. Fail to properly protect yourself against a potential rapist and you could end up carrying a major wound throughout the rest of the game.

These are all potential scenarios in the game that may have repercussions later on down the line. As much as the preview build we've been toying with for a few weeks now has allowed us to finally see the start of things to come, we weren't really allowed enough of a peek to see how things will hit later on down the line. To be honest, that's actually a good thing; so compelled were we by the final events of the four characters' as-yet-unwoven story threads that to get more of the story at this point only to have it cut off would have been torturous.

Suffice it to say, we're officially hooked. There's a clear and very real sense that Quantic Dream may well have done the very thing they've been saying they're going to do since the game was first announced: deliver a compelling murder mystery that actually makes you feel something in the classic noir sense. Turns at dread, loss, compassion, fear, curiosity, hope, loneliness and tension were evoked during our short time with the game not just in passing, ham-fisted notes but in real, genuine emotional responses. Granted, some of this was powered by the game's fantastically melancholy soundtrack, but some of the actual performances were delivering the goods too -- and that's despite some of the immersion-robbing choices in voice acting.

The most impressive feeling that came out of playing the game, though, was that it was actually a startlingly mature attempt at storytelling. Not "mature" as in having bare breasts (though they're in there, certainly) nor gore (ditto) nor in adult language (naturally) but in being an earnest attempt to make an honest-to-goodness interactive movie while still keeping the conventions of a classic adventure game alive. It's an exceptionally gutsy move; old-school adventure games have been relegated to episodic, comedic fare, long since excused from the realm of a Gabriel Knight or a Blade Runner or The Dig. And this whole attempt at making a game that plays like a movie has been done before too, both by Quantic Dream themselves in their previous two games, Omikron and Indigo Prophecy going all the way back to those grainy, choppy FMV-based games from the dawn of the CD-ROM era. This is an attempt by a developer that has repeatedly reached beyond the technology to try to do something genuinely commendable but ultimately doomed from the start because of the scope and it's being funded by none other than Sony themselves.

Big balls all around.
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