Wait… Why Did He… That Doesn't Make Any… Uggghhhhhh…
HIGH The Saw-esque anticipation of something horrifying.
LOW The weak, head-scratching reveal of the murderer's identity.
WTF The install screen that made me bitterly regret never learning how to properly fold a paper airplane.
"I don't know if this genre will be still called point-and-click adventure in the future but games where the story, puzzles and relaxed pace are the main characteristics, will definitely stay here."
The above excerpt is from an interview I did with Machinarium lead designer Jakub Dvorsky, responding to a question about the future of point-and-click adventure games. While I don't have any idea if Heavy Rain was the kind of game he was alluding to, it certainly fits the bill (along with its spiritual predecessor Indigo Prophecy) as an evolutionary step forward from the adventure games of ages past.
The player is in control of one of four main characters trying to find a serial killer before he/she claims their next victim. The film noir feeling the game is gunning for is expressed beautifully through the cinematography and the player-induced insights into the characters thoughts. Like Indigo Prophecy, traditional adventure mechanics like item usage and problem solving are integrated with QTEs to heighten the player's interaction. All the pieces are in place for Heavy Rain to be an absolute knockout that pushes forward into a new genre borne from adventuring's ashes. Make no mistake—Quantic Dream is swinging for the fences here. Unfortunately, they'll have to settle for a shallow pop fly in every sense of the term—eliciting the "ooos" and "ahhhs" of a home run at first, but eventually just lazily dropping into nothingness.
First, the game has a number of technical problems. While it never crashed on me, there were a lot of audio and frame skips which were particularly bad during QTEs when they caused me to miss a button. There were also several instances where the subtitles were badly out of sync with what the characters were saying, which wasn't so much of a problem for me, but I can imagine this causing a lot of confusion for non-English speakers who rely on the subtitles. Still none of these problems were bad enough to break the game. Those honors go elsewhere.
I'll be blunt about it—Heavy Rain has bad controls. The "hold button to move" mechanic is absolutely ridiculous, as every single action I took could've been handled better by a simple joystick push, like in…well…almost every other joystick-using game ever created. The fact that the mere action of moving around the world was a chore that left my finger sore is a crippling flaw big enough to derail the control scheme by itself, but unfortunately that isn't the end of the control problems.
I was constantly fighting my character to keep him/her facing in the right direction, as turning is extremely sluggish and unresponsive. All too often I would go right past an interaction point several times before I was finally in the right spot and facing the right direction. The problem magnifies itself when the camera angle suddenly shifts when I'm moving. It's very easy to get turned around during these shifts, and as I said, getting set in the right direction is a pain. The sequences involving moving and turning in tight quarters are brutal, and as a result I spent very little time reveling in the suspense that was intended in these spots.
Picture this: I see a potentially torturous situation in front of me, and I cringe a little at the thought of what my character is being asked to do. I take a deep breath and head on into something that will certainly be hard to watch. I take the first few steps into this trap, and after a while I reach an intersection. Fortunately the game gives me a way to figure out where to go, so I attempt to turn in the correct direction. Nope. I'm stuck. The suspense level is obviously meant to be rising, as the music's pitch is growing higher and higher the further I go, and the pain my character is being made to endure is increasing with each step I take. However, instead of reveling in all of the wonderful aesthetic that was so clearly intended to take me in here, I am instead stuck, cursing the inability to simply turn in the direction I want to go. This particular instance was the worst of its kind, but there were several others throughout the game, and they only serve to highlight the game's flaws rather than allowing me to take in what the game is doing right.
However, pinpoint controls aren't why one plays Heavy Rain. An adventure game is its narrative. It is the heart and soul of the game, and no other aspect can even come close to its importance. Even with poor controls, the story can still wash all that away and make me push on just to see what happens next. Surely this is where Heavy Rain truly excels, right?
Wrong. Heavy Rain manages to drench its narrative in mediocrity too. When the whole driving force behind a game is the story and the player's connection to the characters, those two elements damn well better be good, and in Heavy Rain they're far from it. Obviously I won't throw any spoilers out here, but the plot is so full of holes, out-of-place characters, and illogical decisions that one would think George Lucas was brought in to write the script. It seriously feels like this was written on a weekend (especially the reveal of the murderer's identity) and then put into production without anyone editing it or noticing that major plot developments made no sense.
The one thing Heavy Rain does do quite well is express the emotion and tension in the individual scenes. The game wields the threat of horrific acts like a weapon, slowly building up the tension in a Saw-like anticipation of something terrible happening and then bringing it down with the force of a sledgehammer. Again, I won't describe any of them specifically, but this is the one area where I think they really nailed what they were going for. When they hit the high notes with these scenes, they hit them hard. Unfortunately, even this aspect falls kind of flat without a strong overall story to support it.
Let's take a look at what we've got here. The controls and interaction with the game world are suspect at best and downright awful at worst. And even looking past that I still come away disappointed. The script is weak, the characters' interactions/motivations are often left unexplained, and the voice acting is mediocre in some places and bad in others. The only thing Heavy Rain really has going for it is the composition of some of the individual scenes, and that's not nearly enough to carry the whole game on its own. So in the end we don't have much of anything except the spectre of what might have been.
It's an important step forward to be sure, and I think when we look back on the history of adventure gaming Heavy Rain will be listed as a milestone in its own right. However, it succeeds only in showing us what might be possible, and not what is possible. I really, really wanted to like Heavy Rain, but it has far too much working against it. So here's my advice—play it. Take a look at where the genre is going and try to see the potential here. Then discard it while it's still worth something at GameStop or wherever else and wait for another game to truly fulfill that potential.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 8 hours of play was devoted to completing the game once on normal difficulty.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, intense violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language and use of drugs. Lots of disturbing imagery and other stuff going on here, folks—keep the kids away.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All audio is subtitled and I only saw one significant audio cue in the whole game. The cue was not a game-breaker. However, deaf players may have some trouble due to the occasional lack of sync between the text and the spoken lines.
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[quote=Richard Naik]I really appreciate all the feedback here. It was a good deal more constructive than I had anticipated. No matter how I look at it, Heavy Rain suffers from poor writing, filled with loose ends and questionable motivations. I understand that many players can look past this and revel in the emotional involvement that is brought by many of the scenes, but I just can’t. Maybe I just want to have my cake and eat it too (and why *wouldn’t* you want to eat a cake that you had) but simply trying something new or innovative is not enough… Read more »
thank you for mentioning lynch, was wondering if anyone would reference him I had absolutely no problem with the supposed plot holes (if we are going to be really nitpicky we could say everything makes non sense because we are dealing with a serial killer…a deranged man, a man who will do things that are unexplainable, even if a pattern up to a supposed illogical event has been consistent). That said, the story is really bad. But I didn’t play it for the story, maybe I’m one of the few. I played it for the mood. As has been almost… Read more »
well said ckz I had absolutely no problem with the supposed plot holes (if we are going to be really nitpicky we could say everything makes non sense because we are dealing with a serial killer…a deranged man, a man who will do things that are unexplainable, even if a pattern up to a supposed illogical event has been consistent). That said, the story is really bad. But I didn’t play it for the story, maybe I’m one of the few. I played it for the mood. As has been almost unanimously agreed upon, on a scene by scene basis,… Read more »
I know there’s enough praise going around for Heavy Rain that a review like this one isn’t going to hurt it too much. Still, this review is really off the mark on Heavy Rain. First off, I think it’s important to mention how risky this title is. It’s too slow and cerebral for the shooter crowd and it’s clearly not an ‘E’ rated party game. Heavy Rain is a game for grown-ups – for folks 35 and older. The fact that this game got made on a decent budget, and was supported by major marketing campaign is a big (but… Read more »
I played IP (which i liked) and thought HR was an improvement over it. Maybe Cage did hype it up but it was still a better game.
It’s worth mentioning that for the people who played and enjoyed Indigo Prophecy, there was high expectation for Heavy Rain to markedly improve on the formula they started with. Read the reviews for IP on this (or any) site… people had faith that better things were coming and David Cage has continued making romantic talk about doing different things with the medium for years. And it was just talk.
I really appreciate all the feedback here. It was a good deal more constructive than I had anticipated. No matter how I look at it, Heavy Rain suffers from poor writing, filled with loose ends and questionable motivations. I understand that many players can look past this and revel in the emotional involvement that is brought by many of the scenes, but I just can’t. Maybe I just want to have my cake and eat it too (and why *wouldn’t* you want to eat a cake that you had) but simply trying something new or innovative is not enough to… Read more »
George Lucas Kane seeks Indigo Child during Heavy Rain.
Wait, WHAT about George Lucas? There goes any respect I might’ve had for this review.
You are obviously entitled to your opinion.
there were definate problems with the controls and for me the game actually crashed on several occasions…
but really, you scored a game which tried something different and attempted to expand what a game can be less than dante’s inferno…
Ok, just for those asking about Shelby’s motive for the investigation. –Spoiler– It’s easy, and it’s explained through the history. One of the drowned kids, that everybody believe, was killed by the Origami Killer, was not in fact killed by him. –spoiler– –Spoiler– Him and Lauren partnership can be seen as him not wanting her to investigate on her own, after all, she could discover he had no conecction with the family of the victims, what would lead her to suspect of him. After all, you can let her die later or dont help her in the beggining, it was… Read more »
[quote=RandomRob]Seriously, this whole genre of ‘serial killers who judge the integrity of others’ is complete garbage. Serial killers by their lifestyle of action and consequence do not live in a world with a moral center. If they did they wouldn’t murder people. [/quote] This isn’t entirely true — there are serial killers who murder for ends they perceive as ‘moral’ (by killing prostitutes or homosexuals, for instance). However, I agree with you that the elaborate, moralizing murders that have become such a major part of the pop fiction landscape are irritating nonsense. I think Seven (and to a lesser extent,… Read more »
My view is that Heavy Rain is a happy accident. I agree that maybe the original idea was to have different killers resulting from devised narratives. However, when realizing that Angelo Badalamenti scored Fahrenheit and that Cage’s games have recurrently included hazy dream-like noirish sequences, it is also safe to assume that HR was equally influenced by the labyrinthian work of David Lynch. Even if the references are subtle, the assumed plot holes and partially solved mysteries are but an open door for storyline interpretation. As Lynch once said about Lost Highway “When most mysteries are solved, I feel tremendously… Read more »
There’s a lot to think about on this thread, but because it’s past midnight and I’m exhausted, I’m gonna keep it short. ^_^ SPOILERZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ 1> the bottom line here is that although some unexplained elements and enigmatic qualities can be fine and even positive, Heavy Rain has enough of those for at least six games. Players should not have to play through the game multiple times in order to make the story make sense, nor should they have to wait for DLC in order for the dots to be connected. Hypothesis: My gut feeling is that Cage ran into difficulties… Read more »
[quote=Richard Naik]@Andrew The killer’s identity still doesn’t fly with me. Even if he’s compassionate, why bother bringing Lauren with him at all? Even if she finds out who he is, she’ll still feel betrayed and wind up in even more pain (which she did in my ending). And if he cared about the rest of the family so much then why even let the boys die? Why not put the father through the trial, then if he fails free the boy? Yea The idea of Madison working for the story isn’t even clear until more than halfway through the game… Read more »
Expectation is the grain that can only be cut by Heavy Rain.
Seriously, this whole genre of ‘serial killers who judge the integrity of others’ is complete garbage. Serial killers by their lifestyle of action and consequence do not live in a world with a moral center. If they did they wouldn’t murder people.
@Andrew The killer’s identity still doesn’t fly with me. Even if he’s compassionate, why bother bringing Lauren with him at all? Even if she finds out who he is, she’ll still feel betrayed and wind up in even more pain (which she did in my ending). And if he cared about the rest of the family so much then why even let the boys die? Why not put the father through the trial, then if he fails free the boy? The idea of Madison working for the story isn’t even clear until more than halfway through the game though. And… Read more »
[quote=Richard Naik] @Andrew [SPOLIER WARNING] Here’s a rundown of my major problems with the story (which will probably show up on this site eventually) plus another article outlining a lot of the plot problems which I think is very accurate. [/quote] That’s exactly what I asked for. Thank you! Now, this will be a bit mind numbing, but I think I can actually resolve a lot of these, white knight for artistry that I am. ***NOTE: SPOILERS INCOMING. AVERT THINE EYES THEE WHO WISH NOT TO KNOW*** Your Gaggle: 1. He’s investigating for many reasons. a) he wants to recover… Read more »
Ohio’s agriculture is based on grains. Heavy Rain.
Some stay dry and others feel the pain. Heavy rain.
I’d recommend that people play it just to see the potential here, but that potential is the most noteworthy feature, thus the 4/10.
Yeah, for me this is also a one playthrough game. I got my story.
One more thing i would like to add Richard is this.
Richard – “So here’s my advice—play it”. For a game that receives a 4/10 that says a lot.
@ RandomRob & Shane
OK, so saying that multiple playthroughs was maybe the point was wrong. I’m just going by my personal experience being enhanced by seeing the story play out differently on my 2nd & 3rd completion.
Yes I know David Cage said to only play through it once but if he truly believed that himself, Why has he set up the trophies to require multiple playthroughs if you want to get the platinum (if you are so inclined to do so)?
Disagree completely. It does do a lot of new things that I hope will move throughout the industry, but it doesn’t do nearly enough to be able to stand on its own.
I tried starting another game after I finished, but without the mystery the thrill is just gone. I can look up the other endings if I’m that interested, but they aren’t worth going through the whole game again.
No need to think that was the point, it wasn’t.
David cage (game director,) was interviewed and said
“I would like people to play it once…because that’s life. Life you can only play once…I would like people to have this experience that way”.
He also stated is would ruin the magic. Just to let you know.
but the joy of the gameplay completely fizzles out after one playthrough. David Cage even said that people should only play it once, to have their own “personal experience” with it… which is a left-handed way of saying the experience is so linear, decision-trees aside, that there’s no POINT in replaying it. And as for the whole redefining the genre business… Indigo Prophecy already did what this game did. The redefinition is the graphics and choice of subject matter. Wanting to save a child is a universal wish fulfillment scenario for anyone, and the game exploits it for entertainment. What… Read more »
The only complaint I really have with your review is that you say its full of plot holes, yet given the vastly branching storyline based on your decisions and actions, you only played through the game once. Did you not think that maybe that was the point, to play through it again with different decisions, complete or fail the trials on purpose, or have the characters killed off to see how the story changes. To fill in any holes that you maybe experienced the first time round. With a game that that surely plays out differently for everyone on a… Read more »
Good review Richard because you really make it clear why you did not like the game and why you gave it the score you did. But i don’t agree with you. For starters i also did not like the movement controls but they were not game breaking. After a certain point i got used to them and stopped interfering with the enjoyment of the game. As for the plot holes while i would agree there may be some, i agree with Andrew that the game was not full of them. In spite of any plot holes the story rises above… Read more »
@Crofto I think they accomplished something in that they showed what *can* be done with some better writing and tighter controls-I really hope this spurs someone else to try their hand at this genre, although Indigo Prophecy didn’t really spawn any imitators either. @Anonymous I like Indigo Prophecy for the first 2/3 of the game, but after all the ridiculous crap started it lost me. Also totally agree about MGS4. @Andrew [SPOLIER WARNING] Here’s a rundown of my major problems with the story (which will probably show up on this site eventually) plus another article outlining a lot of the… Read more »
What galls me is that it’s getting acclaim for doing thematically what soap operas have done for years, and not even doing it very well, and that THAT’s being called ‘art’.
Heavy Rain should have been a serialized pay per chapter download on the PSN network.
Richard- a minor quibble.. the horror of finding the interaction point was lessened by using the stick to tilt the characters head in the desired direction- you could overshoot where you were standing, but turn your head and find the action icon. Once I figured this out the movement issues were marginal.
What’s really disappointing is that it sounds like the guys at Quantic Dreams didn’t take anything from the criticisms of Indigo Prophecy. While they should perhaps be commended for (hopefully) opening the way for a next generation of story-driven games, a part of me also resents them for exploiting the current immature state of video game story. Create a story for your video game that seems to reach beyond a mere excuse to kill hundreds of baddies and you will be praised to no end for it. Illusory interactivity is vital but actual good gameplay is expendable. See also: Metal… Read more »
Saying you are entitled to your opinion sounds snarky and disingenuous, but I’ll say it anyway. You are entitled to your opinion. Personally, I didn’t find the controls too difficult after just a little while, and had one or two freezes, but no big technical glitches. Still, that’s all utterly up to your personal experience. What I think is a little more troubling are your views on the story which you, understandably, had to be vague about. I can think of one unexplained pheneomena that everyone is wondering about, and that I hope can be explained in the DLC, that… Read more »
Nice work on this review; it’s definitely what I would consider informative and accurate. Unlike a lot of other “reviewers” you manage to highlight one big enough reason why this game fails and that is due to a poor story. Unfortunately a lot of people think that if a game tries to tell a story that is mature, even if it’s actually good or not, then that automatically means that it’s “superb”. I don’t think so. Heavy Rain would get absolutely destroyed if it were a film, and the fact that – as a game – it has technical problems… Read more »