Five Inches and Rising

Heavy Rain is a watershed moment for adventure games, combining familiar experiences into something that becomes remarkably fresh. And yes, "watershed" is a terrible pun.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 10, 2010
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It's literally impossible to talk about Heavy Rain without spoiling something. Truth be told, I've completely rewritten this review seven different times. Each time the start is different, the way of telling my way through my personal version of the events is different, but the ending is the same: you absolutely MUST buy this game. You must play it... and that's where I'm stuck. There are, at present count, somewhere over 20 different versions of the "ending" to experience.

But that's a little misleading. See, if you haven't been following Heavy Rain, you may not know about its biggest selling point: actions early in the game can have repercussions later on -- including the death of one of the four main characters. The gravity of having the sum of your choices rather than just a simple binary yes/no choice add up to something that can be remarkably subtle in how it ripples throughout the rest of the narrative is impressive to say the least. In some cases, one action can have a cascading effect that stretches beyond one simple "path" through the game.

This is Heavy Rain's greatest accomplishment. Oh, I'm sure I'll prattle on for a thousand words about the atmosphere or the presentation, but at its heart, this is a game about choices, about consequences and about pushing the limits of what you're willing to witness and in fact participate in to see things to that ultimate end. Played with the idea of owning up to your mistakes, Heavy Rain manages a kind of ownership and attachment to the characters that stretches well beyond any voice or motion capture acting. There's a transcendent quality to the experience that draws you despite flaws that in lesser games would regularly impede what the developers were trying to do.

And make no mistake, there are technical issues that exist here. Screen tearing is prevalent everywhere, but especially noticeable in densely-packed areas. Clipping can result in some characters actually fusing halfway with a map in a police station or a head clipping through the camera, revealing a bug-eyed freak from the inside of their head. Your characters can be pushed around as if standing atop an air hockey puck by the non-player characters in the game. Vocal performances on the kids (yeah, all of 'em) are off-puttingly accented (fine if the parents have thick ones, but where would two kids whose parents have mis-matched -- but subtle -- accents pick up thicker, robotic cadences that make them sound like they were adopted?), and there are times when it feels like you're fighting the controls.

Again, in a game that wasn't so damn committed to trying to suck you into its world, these would be things that not only rip the player from that comfy bubble of suspended disbelief, they'd prevent them from ever getting back in. This simply doesn't happen in Heavy Rain -- not for any appreciable length of time, and yet there are moments so intense that it's entirely forgivable for the player to put down the controller and take a breather. Much is asked of you as a gamer, and little is done to present any one option as the "right" one -- though that may only be something you discover after having finished the game.

Much of that immersion does in fact come from the simple little minutiae mapped to the right analog stick. Opening doors, turning keys, fishing things out of pockets, these are all action that start to become second nature by the time you've hid the mid-point in the 8-10 hours it'll take you to get through the story your first time. Motion-driven actions like flicking the controller up or down or to the sides come off as a bit hokey at first, but when integrated into larger action scenes, they feel like an additional layer to the challenge rather than an annoyance. And, of course, there are plenty of face button presses -- these (along with the shoulder buttons) are often the breakout moments of the game, instances of Finger Twister that are tough, but feel incredibly rewarding when you pull them off.
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