The PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain is by far one of the best story based video games I have ever played. Hands down. I was sold on it during the install screen, before I even started playing, where I was taught to make an origami figure with paper included in the box.
Before you start getting all angry and shouting “Halo is the best game ever!” let me explain. First off, when I say story based I mean that quite literally. It doesn’t rely on having you run around shooting everything that moves for hours on end to advance the story but goes in the opposite direction. On average you’ll spend about 20 minutes on a scene before you move on to the next giving the game a very fast paced movie like feel. Really, Heavy Rain is so different from any other game I have ever played that there’s nothing to possibly compare it to.
Heavy Rain starts with you exploring your house and setting up for your son’s 10th birthday. You go through your tutorials learning the basic control scheme, how to beat your child fight, gently set plates, etc. After some backstory about your wife and two sons you end up at the local mall and are asked by your wife to watch your ten year old son while she buys shoes. He runs off and you suffer the classic “parent loses child in crowded place” scenario. After a few minutes of frantic searching (and I do mean frantic) you see him across the street, call out and he runs into traffic. The story picks up two years later with you now separated, depressed, and drifting away from your other son, a swift change from the happy-go-lucky tone of the prologue. After that, the story is up to you. You are introduced to three other playable characters (a hard boiled cop, female insomniac, and drug addicted FBI agent with sweet glasses)
and told that a serial killer known simply as the Origami Killer (he leaves bits of origami with those he kills) has killed seven children in the past 2 years. After that the story falls squarely into the players hands. From what I’ve seen so far, every major decision you make affects the story somehow. That’s not to say that whether you drink the orange juice or beer in the fridge will have a major impact on the story, but saving the hooker from certain doom probably will.
Advancing through the story also involves thinking quietly to yourself and talking to other people. At any time you have control of the character you can press the thoughts button to see what they are thinking. As you meditate on your thoughts they swirl around your head until you press one of the corresponding buttons to hear the full thought. Usually, these thoughts will entail your goal for the moment or the general mood but nonetheless they are cool. Conversation works much the same way, with your questions and responses floating around your head until you pick one (or don’t) but instead the words on screen are the subject of the question you are going to ask or the tone of your answer. At first this seems like nothing more than a cool effect and it is but it still greatly adds to a move when your responses are shaking wildly while a gun is pointing at your face.
On to something a bit more down to Earth: The control scheme. The controls for Heavy Rain were originally a point of contention for me but I have learned to love them in this game. First, like no other game before it, the only set controls are the walk button and the walk directional control. At first, the walk mechanic is somewhat odd and can lead to awkward situations with the character if you happen to want to turn around, which is a surprisingly daunting task most of the time, but eventually is something you get used to. Everything else in controlled by context sensitive quick time events, such as press x to punch bald guy in face, flick analog stick to right to open door, or shake controller to shake orange juice. Don’t dis the game just because I mentioned the dreaded QTE because this game is based around them. In Heavy Rain most QTEs are not necessarily time sensitive unless they logically should be, like when fighting or driving a car the wrong direction down a highway.
Even in such situations you wont die immediately if you miss a button but instead you drift slightly closer to death so that if you miss too many in a row you probably will die, which is still cool because then you play as one of the other characters just with the first one dead.
What this does introduce into the game are what can only be described as the most intense action scenes in a video game that I have ever experienced. In the first fight sequence, I feel like I am fighting for my life and am drawn into the game as you wrestle with the controller to hit the next button that flashes on screen. At the end, I was left with my heart pounding and my hands shaking from the adrenaline rush of the whole thing. You might think this would stop after you started learning where to expect such scenes but it doesn’t. Each fight, chase, etc. is just as exciting as the one before it if not more so.
With these scenes and some unexpectedly good voice acting, Heavy Rain is able to create moments of panic, sadness, fear, paranoia that manifest into the player to bring about a genuinely unique experience. Heavy Rain has been described as playing an interactive movie but it has more than a two hour trip to the theater can give. This PS3 exclusive (of which I’m now 6 hours into) is, for all intents and purposes, infinitely replayable and gives an experience far different from any other game available. It would be no surprise if in the future Heavy Rain was looked back upon as one of the first video games to be seen as an artistic masterpiece.