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.
Published: December 14, 2009
Here's the thing, though; despite seeing plenty of instances where the game will need polish in things like animation and voice work, despite not quite slipping completely into the world (though we were nearly there by the end of the preview), despite not fully believing that the developer can pull this off, we were still treated to a glimpse at something that's well beyond what any other game maker is trying today. You can sense the potential... oh, and the game itself has some seriously awesome parts too.
Things start off rather innocuously. Despite a vaguely foreboding musical backdrop, Ethan Mars wakes to a sunny day and an empty house. The architect and father of two clumsily goes about shaving, moving from room to room, gulping some orange juice from the fridge, getting dressed and so on by way of our inputs. It's meant to be a rather open-ended tutorial, letting you understand how the right analog stick controls all motions shown as simple visual symbols on the screen. Walking is a simple matter of holding a trigger while looking in a particular direction, and while a little clunky at first, the benefit to having your main character not spaz out as they change direction is that it maintains the whole cinematic tone of things. It took us a bit of getting used to, but soon we noticed we were actively trying to steer characters around objects and in paths that would preserve the illusion that we were watching something approaching a movie. Weird how that happens.
After spending a few moments busying ourselves with gesture-based bits of hum-drummery, the wife and kids showed up and despite some seriously foreboding music, we guided Ethan Mars into the back yard to play with his kids (though you had to choose the order they were played with, indicating that even the smallest of actions could cause ripples down the line) and got a little frisky with the wife. Two things stood out here: first, the accents of all the characters were a bit... off -- particularly for the children given neither of their parents' accents were similar -- and secondly that the game wasn't afraid to give you the sense that one playthrough wasn't going to give you a glimpse at all the possibilities. During our limited amount of free time, we could have done some work, could have explored the house a little more and could have chosen a different series of interactions with the three new arrivals to the house that may well have made a difference. If nothing else, it certainly felt that way, which was interesting.
After jumping forward a bit, we explored a densely packed mall where the upstairs bits were fairly sparse but down below it seemed the entire city was lumped into the area, which made it difficult when Ethan's son went missing. What followed was a race to find him in a chaotic mass of bodies with only the red balloon we bought for the kid to indicate where he may be. Things went from tense to panicked, and by the time Ethan did find his son... well, let's just say the outcome was less than ideal and leave it at that.
The events of the mall lead directly to the game skipping ahead with Ethan left an absolute wreck and sitting in a rather futuristic psychiatrist's office. We experienced two different ways to go about this little talk, which seemed timed to end when Ethan's session was up. In one, we handled Rorschach tests, indicating what we saw from a couple of entries, and in the other Ethan sat up and chatted with the Head Shrinker. It should be noted that at any time while controlling any of the characters, the L1 Button can be held to bring up a list of what's currently on their mind. This could open up new dialogue options when used at the right time or just help add more depth to the characters' headspace.