Review – Heavy Rain (first impressions)….(PS3, 2010)

First impressions of heavy rain

It certainly is a unique experience – that is, it is rare that I shell out full price for a game. The last time I did so was for Resident Evil IV on the Gamecube. Like that game,I have not regretted this purchase one bit.

As for the game itself….the word ‘unique’ is underselling the experience somewhat. Thrilling, absorbing, and genuinely moving. They are words that most adequately describe the first couple of hours I have played on ‘Heavy Rain’.
Truly comparable to an interactive movie, the initial scenes slowly draw you into the life of Ethan Mars, an Architect with a seemingly idyllic life, happily married and with 2 sons. This rather languid opening also introduces you to the control system, which is basically a mix of reacting to onscreen prompts and some real time events. This control system is intuitive, and did not take me more than a few minutes to adapt to. Also, moving the character, via a shoulder button and the left analogue stick, is well developed.

There have been some complaints / concerns about the ‘slow’ opening of this game. I can see why there are concerns, that somehow this important and necessary scene setter may put off gamers more used to being dropped into the middle of war zone / crisis. All I can say is that if a gamers need for quick thrills and instant gratification means that this title is not going to have high critical praise met with commercial success, than it is a poor reflection on the gaming community as a whole.

UPDATE!!!! However, as I write this, I googled the following;

‘heavy rain sales’

and found this;

which just goes to show that sometimes a unique idea, coupled to a great gaming experience, can result in a commercial hit and critical plaudits. Well, there you are. My faith in gamers and gaming is restored – and maybe the perception of gamers and gaming changes a little as well.

Some quick observations on my first 2 hours of playing this game follow. Not particularly coherent or in any order, just things that come to mind about my first impressions of Heavy Rain. Here we go;

Cinematic styling is absolutely exquisite – examples being the wonderful split screen effects, the way the patrol cars’ flashing lights burn out into a sort of incandescent blur in the gloomy, rain sodden night, and the most realistic shopping mall scenes in videogame history (well, they beat Dead Rising hands down).

the switch from sun and light to rain and gloom is not particularly subtle in the context of what this game is trying to convey – it very much delineates the game to a ‘before’ and ‘after’ the event situation, but it is so well realised, with the furnishings taking on extra significance – before all clean, crisp and affluent, afterwards the furnishings are worn out, basic. Little remains of the ‘before’, just heartbreaking little snapshots. I will not mention them here – they are there for you to discover as you progress.

The mall scene is absolutely amazing – one of the most gripping, tense gaming scenarios I have experienced. And it is most definitely the most awful, involving and shocking.

But for genuine sadness – an emotion I do not believe I have ever experienced before – and yes, I played FFVII – – then the father son relationship between Ethan and Shaun is raw and heartbreakingly real.

The voice acting is – by videogame standards – more than adequate. I do not think that the quality is high, because the quality is variable. But I do not think that it detracts from the game, the drama or the emotion at all.

I noticed a slight lag on a couple of occasions when there was a lot going on split screen scenes. Especially when the Mars family were heading to the mall. Again, this is not something that detracts from the experience, it is just slightly irksome – a rare lapse in the overall high production values.

Although I have had less time with the 2 other characters that I have controlled (there are a total of 4 playable characters altogether), their importance to the game is vital, and you get that sense of importance very quickly. The way that these characters handle – especially the old, lumbering private investigator – is different to the way you handle Ethan. In that sense alone, you feel you are playing a different part in the overall story. Top marks for that.

Finally, I loved the fact you could just stand by the television in Ethan living room and watch a kids cartoon. It is reminiscent of the Shenmue arcade experience from 11 years ago. Remember that?

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