Shaun Mars is missing. He was last seen playing at a local park, before the rain started to pour. You might assume that he just ran away - his home life wasnít exactly perfect - and pray that heíll show up at the door any second now. But deep down, you know he wonít. You know better. Heís been abducted by the Origami Killer, a psychopath who drowns young boys in rainwater and leaves an orchid and a little figurine behind with the corpse. No one knows who this guy is. Thousands of potential leads to follow, hundreds of suspects to interrogate, and not a definitive clue about how to stop a single madman. Youíve got to find him. There is a child locked away somewhere, slowly dying as he clings to the hope that someone will save him.
Youíd better think fast, too. Itís raining hard, and the water is still rising.
The search begins with Ethan Mars, the father of the latest victim. His story is tragic; he devolves from a successful architect and family man into a miserable, gibbering shell of a man. You canít really blame him. How would you feel if your children were kidnapped? What would you do? What could you do? Thatís exactly what the Origami Killer wants to know. Heís sent Ethan some instructions, that, if followed correctly, will lead him to Shaun. They start off small, like retrieving another clue from a safebox. But each new task offers something more lethal; he has to choose between aiding or running from the authorities, attacking innocent people, and facing dangers that could easily kill him. They might, depending on how you play. Itís a dark, heart-wrenching tale of just how powerful a motivator love can be. Ethan will do anything to save his son. Itís just a matter of how far youíll let him go.
Heís not in it alone, either. Heavy Rain is presented through the perspectives of three additional characters. Not only do you get to see the story from the eyes of a desperate father, but from the people hunting the killer as well. Norman Jayden is an FBI profiler who struggles to resolve the case while dealing with a seemingly corrupt and bureaucratic police force. Scott Shelby works independently as a private investigator, interviewing previous victims while trying to uphold some sense of decency in the cityís seedy underbelly. Madison Paige, a journalist, spends her time connecting the evidence together and following her own leads. Though these characters donít suffer nearly as much as Ethan, their stories remain compelling right through the epilogue. Theyíll struggle with substance abuse, the pursuit of the truth, moral integrity, and the necessity of compassion. These dilemmas are compounded by all the clever plot twists and red herrings that pop up once the storylines start to converge. By the time the mystery is solved, none of them will escape unscathed.
Thatís assuming that theyíll make it that far. Progressing in this game doesnít revolve around open exploration, but interacting with everyday objects via quick-time events. All youíve got to do is follow the arrows on the screen. The tutorial level demonstrates this perfectly; you hold a control stick to get Ethan out of bed, shave and brush his teeth, take a shower, get dressed, and go about his daily business. Things that you take for granted - opening a door, taking a sip from a glass, kissing, using a phone - are all done with button commands. All youíve got to do is get close enough to the object, and follow the prompt that appears. You can even hold a button to look through the charactersí thoughts, which uncover more options and hints as to what you should do. By the time youíve manipulated everything, youíll have uncovered the next plot point. Even when youíre not in control, the commands still show up during the cutscenes; rather than attacking an enemy, youíll have to follow a prompt to shoot or dodge. It makes Heavy Rain feel less like a game and more like an interactive movie. The story is compelling and emotionally engaging enough to keep you from caring, though.
Most of the time, anyway. It takes a while to get used to the movement mechanics. Pressing a shoulder button lets the characters walk in whatever direction theyíre facing, and the analog stick can be used to turn their heads and move accordingly. It can be awkward, especially when youíre in a cramped space and youíre trying to focus on a single object. Even if you do get a handle on it, the characters move in a slow, almost drunken gait. Itís not horrendously bad, but it feels clunky compared to the quick-time events. You might pass up the item completely, forcing you to stumble around and try again. You might be facing the right direction, the game will occasionally ignore your inputs and force you to restart the animation sequence. Itís annoying, especially when youíve got to hold down multiple buttons at just the right time to work. These miscues rarely happen, but they are jarringly out of place in an otherwise amazing experience.
The game is usually forgiving of any input errors, but you shouldnít take it lightly. The choices and actions you perform can have a drastic effect on the rest of the story. Something insignificant, like making a phone call or finding a clue, might take things in a completely unexpected direction. The most significant ones donít show up until the latter half of the game, but even the smallest events could lead to something huge. Itís entirely possible for some of the characters to die far earlier than the final showdown, which can remove or alter whole chapters from the story. There are over twenty endings and alternate cutscenes, all of which are solely dependent on decisions you could have made hours ago. Not all of them are happy, either. Half the fun is going back and figuring out what you could have done differently, and watching things unfold in a new way. Itís this kind of impact that make you feel more connected with the story; youíre not just watching some movie, but playing an active role in its progression as well.
Itís easy to be fooled, though. The game looks amazing. Every last inch of it is stunningly detailed. Youíll understand once you get a screen-full of Ethanís face. The texture of the skin, the reflection of the light, pupil dilation, hairy chin, slightly furrowed brow, facial expressionsÖ no other game on the PS3 (MGS4, maybe) comes anywhere remotely close to that level of realism. Heavy Rain is an emotional game, so itís not surprising to see its characters present themselves as such. The stages and audio are just as engaging. Imagine walking through a train station. The bustling waves of people, a dull roar of footsteps, glowing information screens, and sunlight drifting through the windows. But youíre nervous; you canít handle crowds. You keep bumping into people. You start gasping for breath, and your hands wonĎt stop shaking. Itís not so easy to move anymore; you have to shake the entire controller just to take a step forward. And all the while, the music starts pounding louder and louder until you moan hoarsely and curl into a fetal position.
Now thatís atmosphere.
That doesnít mean this gameís for you. This is hardly the typical game, and you might prefer something a little more traditional. Maybe you donít want to care that much about the characters. Thatís great. Totally understandable. But if youíre open and willing to take a chance, Heavy Rain is worth it. The story is a twisted, chaotic tale of a murderer and the love of a father. Its dark themes force you to look at these ordinary characters in different ways. Youíll be drawn further into it with each passing scene. It turns something as simple as using a phone into a far more meaningful act. The game allows you to interact with its rain-drenched world, shaping its development in ways that youíll never expect until itís too late. The clunky movements and awkward controls kill some of the immersion, but the gorgeous graphics and emotionally assaultive scenes will keep you mesmerized. So go ahead, give it a try. Take a walk in the rain.
Nine out of ten
- A dark, emotional tale done in film noir style.
- The characters offer different and compelling perspectives about the case.
- The quick-time events are unorthodox, but draw you further into the scenes.
- You can alter the progression of the game, which leads to entirely different plot developments and endings.
- The graphics are among the best on the PS3.
- The controls take a while to get used to; the game doesn't always read your commands perfectly.
- The basic movement and walking mechanics are awkward and mess with the immersion.