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Heavy Rain PS3 Review

09/08/2010 Thinking Soulful Gamer Review
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Heavy Rain PS3

Heavy Rain




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Other GamePeople columnists have reviewed this from their perspective - huh?:
Family Gamer (PS3)
Scared Gamer (PS3)
Considered Gamer (PS3)
Reporting Gamer (PS3)
Podcast (PS3)
Novel Gamer (PS3)
Soundtrack Gamer (OST)

On progressive and artistic grounds Heavy Rain falls at every hurdle with clumsy delivery of story and characters. Visually strong but without the script to back it up. Contrived emotional moments left me feeling cold and unaffected. The vision of an interactive film may have been achieved but its lack of soul made all those technical achievements meaningless.

I've always been intrigued with the prospect of video games tackling serious issues and dealing with them in a mature manner. Heavy Rain's tag line of 'How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?' gave me the impression that this game could show the world how emotional drama had a place within video games.

The main story follows Ethan Mars, a father to two boys wrecked by guilt after one of them dies in an accident. When his other son goes missing two years later it appears the infamous Origami Killer has kidnapped him and Ethan must go through various trials to save his son. Heavy Rain then riffs on familiar TV murder-mysteries with helpings of the film Se7en.

When the story takes a darker turn I felt the impact of those events as real father rather than just a video game player.

Even on paper this doesn't seem like a revolutionary story. But I hoped Heavy Rain would create fresh connections with its characters, so I could own the story and find a personal and intimate experience unlike any book or film.

From the off my disbelief was shattered. The tutorial paints you as a happy caring father and husband. Overly bright, cheery visuals and strong-arm forcing you to play dad, Heavy Rain pushes its blatant motives a little too hard for me. While is puts across the starting point for the story, it also made the character of Ethan feel as far removed from me as possible.

Time and again I found myself thinking back to Dragon Quest V on the DS. In that game you go through the process of growing up, finding a wife and eventually having children. When the story takes a darker turn I felt the impact of those events as real father rather than just a video game player. I felt no such connection to Ethan's sons in Heavy Rain and this is a fundamental flaw in the game's design. Connecting and sympathising with Ethan's plight is essential to making the story deep and emotional and when that process falls down the game is nothing more than a badly-directed soap opera.

Creating a universe like Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey or even Eternal Sonata means that the story and themes can be allegorical or applicable rather than just literal.

Though the visuals are stunning, this drive to portray realism comes with many breakable features. The illusion falters when characters are seen in motion or interacting with the environment. Though the facial animation is excellent, when characters talk, emotion often seems more grotesque than natural.

I can't help highlighting these petty concerns because the soul of the game is crushed under them. Its mantra of 'saving someone no matter what the cost' lost all meaning. Even ignoring the visuals, sound and game play issues still raise more concerns than praise and I begin to wonder if this drive for more 'realistic' experiences is actually misguided.

When I think about my recently played emotionally moving games they are all in fantastical worlds. Creating a universe like Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey or even Eternal Sonata means that the story and themes can be allegorical or applicable rather than just literal. By alluding to bigger issues or tackling subject in a fantasy setting I've found the meaning to be much more powerful and effective. Heavy Rain's insistence on realism within the real world brings up more issues than its weak themes could ever hope to outweigh.

Heavy Rain's other characters felt more believable though. Norman Jaden, the drug-addled FBI Agent had the most room for development. His futuristic-style investigations were obviously limited by the game's narrative but I felt I could spend much more time with him than anyone else.

They left out the one aspect that really mattered - motive.

The biggest misstep came with the potential love affair between Ethan and Madison. The semi-branching structure of the game means many outcomes are possible but there comes a point where they can get intimate. FOr me though this was just awkward as I hadn't spent enough time with either to make this relationship seem believable. Given that Ethan may have done something pretty terrible right before this moment, I found it laughable that Madison would even consider having feelings like this.

Though it can be argued that a French-developed game would of course have a sex scene in it (Quantic Dreams previous title, Fahrenheit, did as well) it also led me to more uncomfortable theories. Heavy Rain's experience rests entirely on being consistent enough to be believable. It needs a degree of attention that mustn't break the illusion that's it's a video game under any circumstances.

In my experience Heavy Rain dispelled that illusion from the off and the potential heart and soul evaporated away. It may prove a technological point that interactive storytelling and multiple endings can be work together, but they left out the one aspect that really mattered - motive. Without a reason to care for these characters or the story, Heavy Rain was nothing more than a glorified tech demo, an empty shell where a video game should have been but thanks to a flawed vision and poor implementation, was painfully absent.

Written by Adam Standing

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Adam Standing writes the Soulful Gamer column.

"Soulful gaming is found in a myriad of places. Games that tell a meaningful story with believable characters. Games that tackle issues larger than the latest run and gun technology. And for me in particular, games that connect me to an inspiring story often quietly overlooked by other players."

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