Sunday, February 28, 2010

PS3 - Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain by QuanticDream / Sony

Parents: This game is rated M for violence and blood.

Heavy Rain tries to be a new genre. Unfortunately, it isn't. The two things that it tries to do to set it apart (controls and storytelling) don't really work to actually set it apart and have been done before. That said, it is probably worth a play through. The first game that focused on interactive storytelling was Shenmue released in 1999 and then Shenmue II released in 2001 Dreamcast and 2002 Xbox. Flashback.. Shenmue was groundbreaking for its time. It had time flow (winter to spring) and led you through the story of a boy, Ryo, caught in circumstances first in Japan and then Hong Kong. The storytelling worked and the game was reasonably extensive. It promised interaction with 'everything' in the world, but really didn't deliver on that promise. Nevertheless, the game is one of my top games still for interactivity and play value. Shenmue was interactive cinema at its best. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain isn't nearly as good.


Flash forward to 2010 and here we have Heavy Rain. Heavy Rain is a detective story plain and simple. There are detectives in the story and the gamer is also a detective. You primarily watch as the story unfolds, but you can occasionally interact with various people as characters. The story, like a film, flips back and forth between several stories at once. You know when the character changes because the face of the current character will appear as the loading screen.

The game switches between 4 different characters that you can control. Ethan Mars (Architect), Madison Paige (Reporter), Norman Jayden (FBI Profiler) and Scott Shelby (Detective). As you control each of these characters, various pieces of the story unfold based on dialog choices and actions you make (or don't make).

The story starts out with Ethan Mars at home about to celebrate a birthday for his son Jason. After a short intro period to get you familiar with the controls and how the game works, it progresses from home to shopping at a mall. Here is where things go horribly wrong. Ethan lets Jason out of his sight while paying for a balloon and Jason leaves the mall after which Ethan chases only for Ethan and Jason to be hit by car. Jason dies from his injuries and Ethan is left in a coma. After 2 years, Ethan revives only to be tormented by guilt.

His second son is then kidnapped after one of his blackouts and is being held by the Origami killer. Here's where the detective story begins. As Ethan, you're following the clues from the Origami killer to find his second son before time runs out (the rain gauge reaches 6 inches). Hence, the title Heavy Rain. This leads to a series of trials for Ethan. As Madison, you help Ethan by patching him up and doing investigating as well. As Shelby, you're a detective following up on independent leads. As Norman, you're an FBI profiler using a high tech ARI sunglasses appliance that lets you see and analyze clues. The disparity between these stories is unclear and is never fully resolved at the end.

Anyway, after the mall (which this sequence cannot be changed), I'm not sure if the story unfolds in different ways based on choices, but it's possible. The way it unfolded for me left a lot of questions unanswered. So, the story writers didn't completely tie up all of the loose ends by the end. Kind of frustrating.

In my story, Ethan Mars kept blacking out and ending up on Carnaby Lane. Yet, later this story event stopped happening and was never explained based on the outcome of my game. So, it is kind of frustrating that this part of the story wasn't revealed or explained why it happened. Perhaps this will be revealed in Heavy Rain 2 (assuming there is a part 2). Also, I was expecting all four characters to interact at some point, but that also never happened (in my game).


To start, Quantic Dream made one of Gamezelot's bad game design faux pas'. That is specifically, messing with a good thing. Instead of camera on one stick and control on the other, they decided it would be best to require you to press the R2 button to actually walk. When you press the left stick, all you do is look around, but you do not move. This controller scheme is bad. Bad bad bad. There is no need to reinvent the controller wheel yet again. Again, don't mess with a good thing. The controller style that already works here is Walking on left or right stick and camera on the opposite from walking. You have complete control over pressure with the analog stick, so walking speed is not an issue. In fact, the part of the game where pressure is an issue, it's actually a lot harder to limit the pressure on the R2 button than it would be using the stick. Quantic Dream, if you're listening, you need to redo the stick layout (or let the gamer at least choose). Immediate 1.5 deduction for 'messing with a good thing'.


The thing that's most frustrating about this game's save system is that there is no 'Restart Checkpoint' option. Yes, this game uses checkpoints to save. Once a checkpoint is saved, you cannot easily and quickly reload a previous checkpoint. Instead, you're forced to quit to the main menu and then restart that way. How about we give a menu option for restarting the checkpoint next time, hmm? Also, checkpoint saves are fine IF you can also save your game separately at various points. With a proper save system, you can go back and make alternative choices from a previous save. No, can't do that in Heavy Rain. In an interactive story such as this one, this is the bare minimum of a save system. Another point deducted for not allowing saves.

Segment Types

The segment types in this game include cinematic (watch only), free roaming (interact with the environment) and action timing sequence (pressing specific buttons using specific sequences with timing events attached). The free roaming is really the best part of this game. It lets you interact with the world, people and objects. Unfortunately, there's so little of it in this game that you really feel cheated. The action timing sequences come out of nowhere and without warning. It starts and you better be ready. This is one of the downfalls of this game. If you're not prepared to start an action timing sequence, too bad. They start without warning whether you are ready or not. Of course, if you catch it in time, you can quit to the main menu and restart your checkpoint.

My least favorite part of this game, and any game really, is the action timing sequence portion. I really despise this style of gaming. Just give me real live action fighting. Don't throw a bunch of random sequenced button presses and require me to do them in order timed or not. Live action gaming is best. Timed button sequences only serve to frustrate and annoy. It means you have to know the controller by muscle memory. Worse, this game took this timed button sequence to a whole new level requiring contortion to not only press the buttons in order, but press them simultaneously in order. So, you may end up pressing X, O and Triangle buttons all together and then L1 and R2 and possibly even L2. But, you have to press and hold them in sequence. This is highly frustrating and annoying. As a game designer, don't do this. This entire gaming sequence completely gets in the way of storytelling. This is yet another Gamezelot faux pas. Perhaps Quantic Dream should read Gamezelot's Game Design from a Gamer's Perspective series of articles.

Controller Motion Sequences

Ok, while I know it's a novelty on the PS3. I really despise it. There is no need to use an accelerometer as part of the game controller system. This idea is long past its time and needs to go away. The novelty has long worn off and now it's just annoying when used. As such, any game the uses the accelerometer should also provide a way to not use it. That means that the gamer should be able to disable that part of the controller system and use a button in replacement of that controller event.

Character Interaction

The characters interact with much of their environment. However, characters can usually only interact with items that are necessary to move the story forward in most cases, as it should be. Of course, the more things you can interact with story-related or not, the more realistic your game becomes. Although there are some things you can do, like juggling, that never make a reappearance as something important later.


The soundtrack audio is typical of a modern thriller. The airy piano segments really set the somber mood of the scenes. The orchestra swells and undulates during action scenes. The music is probably one of the best parts of this game. It really brings out the action properly.


The characters are well done in features, textures and mesh design in most places. There is occasionally some letdown (bandages on Ethan). The lip sync is done reasonably well, but still a bit stilted in places. The character's textures, especially on the loading pages, look great.

However, instead of doing them in-game, Quantic Dream should have pre-rendered them in Vray or another higher resolution system to make them look spectacular. The PS3 does a reasonable job rendering characters, but if you're planning to have a closeup of a face, then do it using pre-rendered high res imagery. Make these graphics knock-your-socks off good. There's no need to sacrifice the quality of this imagery simply because you want to prove how good an in-game render can be. An in-game render will never look as good as something that comes out of Vray or any other professional 3D rendering system. Why sacrifice this part of the game?


This is basically interactive cinema. Although, it feels like Shenmue, it has a lot in common with the Sims and virtual character games. You watch much of the time and play part of the time. The timing action sequences start too often without warning. There are consequences to failing or winning (or even partway winning). So, depending on how the action timing sequence ends and whether you fail or succeed, the story moves on. This is good in that you get to see the events unfold no matter what, but it's frustrating that you can't always easily go back and redo the sequence exactly how you want it to be. If you catch it in time, you can quit to the main menu and reload the checkpoint to start that sequence over. But, this doesn't always work.

Finally, the game is very short. You can play through this game in only a few hours without even trying. The story event continues fail or succeed. If one of your characters dies, the game moves on without them. Overall, for as involved as this game should have been, the story was way too short.

  • Sound: 9/10
  • Graphics: 8.5/10 (good, but not perfect, lighting: excellent)
  • Gameplay: 7/10 (timing action sequences dragged this one down)
  • Story: 7/10 (plot holes left unfilled)
  • Bugginess: 5/10 (glitching and slowdowns)
  • Controls: 6/10 (badly mapped controls, no way to remap)
  • Bang-to-buck: 1/10
  • Play Value: $5 (too short, rent)
  • Overall: 5.6/10 (timing action sequences, poorly mapped controls, no way to turn off accelerometer controls, no player saves, checkpoint saves, way too short)

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