Certainly one of the more popular and well known of the games featured on You should have played, Heavy Rain is nonetheless a title that many people may have missed. As different a game from everything else on sale at the time, Heavy Rain remains one of the most original and ambitious games ever made. At a tough financial time when the only games being green lit are sequels or copycat titles, Heavy Rain stood out as an experiment that paid off for a talented developer and a brave publisher. With its recent upgrade to include Move support, it’s an absolute must play. Whether you give the new controllers a whizz or play with the equally effective standard sixaxis controller, Heavy Rain is your perfect antidote to samey, desert based Medal of Duty’s.
David Caige’s last game, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy in the US) was a trial run for Heavy Rain. Featuring a Mature, branching storyline with lots of options for the player to explore, each scene in the game could play out in many different ways. The introductory scene, where the player becomes possessed and kills a man in a toilet stall, showcased all that was good about the game. In that scene you had to choose how to proceed. Would you try to hide the body, wash your bloody hands, sneak out the back door or simply make a run for it? The whole scene played out with a dramatic soundtrack, tactile controls and 24-style cutaway camera shots to a police officer drinking coffee in the restaurant who could discover your crime at any moment.
Despite this early promise, Fahrenheit’s opening scene was only a taste of David Caige’s ambition and the game never reached a dramatic denouement to rival the introduction, descending into ridiculous, sub-Wachowski brother’s nonsense. Taking the positives from Fahrenheit, Caige went on to develop Heavy Rain with developer Quantic Dream.
To set the scene, I went back to Heavy Rain last night during a howling, windy, blustery rainstorm. I had just had a busy, enjoyable, strange, dramatic weekend and I needed something to take my mind off of it. Heavy Rain had been calling out to me for some time. When I had finished the game first time round, I had wanted to play it immediately again from the start. Something held me back though. It was partly the knowledge that the story is surprising and engrossing, and I knew that my second play through could never shock or confuse me like the first; the twists of the story would all be too fresh. I decided I’d come back to Heavy Rain, when I had forgotten some of the story and when I needed to play a game that would completely immerse me in its world and make me forget who I was. So last night, with the wind and rain beating against my window, I once again stopped being Tom and became by turns, Ethan Mars, Norman Jaden, Madison Paige and Scott Shelby.
Interactive fiction is a strange genre. Once briefly thought to be the future of films and TV, it was quickly dismissed as a gimmick. Offering too little interaction to be of interest to gamers and frustrating writer’s attempts to tell construct a solid narrative arc; it came and went as quickly as the laserdisc. Despite its dismissal as a genre by critics, there had been a few success stories. The excellent Blade Runner game by Westwood Studios had been a point and click adventure with a solid storyline and a branching narrative that is overlooked today and contained some elements of the successful formula Heavy Rain would rediscover ten years later.
It’s hard to discuss Heavy Rain without giving away spoilers, and spoilers will ruin this game worse than any other you could play. If you are tempted to read about the story before playing the game then I would strongly advise against it. I am jealous of anyone who has not yet experienced this story, because I would love to experience it again fresh, unaware of some of the twists and turns that were ahead of me. If you were to read about the story in advance of playing the game, it would seem trite and predictable. Only through playing the game, being teased by the red herrings and clues that it drops and eventually discovering the truth can you fully experience the whole story and reflect on the experience afterwards.
As with many experimental titles, there are some major issues with the game. The controls take hours to get used to. It’s often not clear what the onscreen prompts will cause your character to do, getting into and out of your car repeatedly because it’s not clear which command opens the door and which turns the ignition is an early indication of problems to come. It seems unlikely that the move controls will alleviate these issues, but the truth is the controls are as perhaps challenging because of their uniqueness as much as their awkward implementation. Call of Duty has controls that let you shoot, reload and sprint, but Heavy Rain’s controls have to be flexible enough to represent putting on a seatbelt, changing a baby or scrubbing a naked butt dry with a towel. In this respect the second play through of Heavy Rain is satisfying. Mastery of the control system meant that an early fist fight with a thug was tackled with Steven Segal-style competence rather than rather pitiful punch-absorption second time through.
I’m now around 4 hours into Heavy Rain, and the important plot points I forgot first time round are surprising and delighting me again. While the game has the same kind of tone as Se7en or The Vanishing, your second experience of the story sees you checking for plot holes, trying to see if the clever twists hold up like your second viewing of Sixth Sense or even Inception.
Most unique of all, Heavy Rain has some moments where you think to yourself, “I have never seen anything like that before”. While most developers are content to ape Hollywood movies and lift action scene or imagery wholesale, Heavy Rain’s tone and cinematography are so original that they don’t remind you of something from cinema. The moment when Jayden smashes the globe in the virtual reality world of ARI and changes the environment is genuinely draw dropping.
All of this originality and ambition was surprisingly met with success. Heavy Rain sold comparatively well and secured David Caige the license to go out and develop this unique genre of game further. Most impressively of all, despite guaranteed success Quanic Dream will not develop a sequel. Considering the storyline of Heavy Rain complete, they will take what they’ve learned and create a whole new game, a new world and a new experience for their next release.
So how important is it to experience Heavy Rain? Think of the first time you heard Vengelis playing to the view of flaming chimneys in the future, or when Neo woke up outside of the matrix or when the totem top wobbled on its axis. I remember all of these moments with wonder, but none of them affected me like Heavy Rain, when I dived in front of a car to save someone I loved….too late….too late.