Heavy Rain's tagline--"How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love?"--is the real message behind this upcoming story-driven thriller, according to writer and director David Cage. We've been eagerly waiting for a chance to see the game when it was announced in 2006, but all we saw at the time was an intriguing tech demo called "The Casting," in which a virtual actress delivered an emotionally charged monologue as part of an audition. Last year, behind closed doors at E3, we sat through a demo of a scenario created specifically to demonstrate the gameplay, but its story had nothing to do with the actual game itself. Finally, at a Sony-hosted PlayStation Gamers' Day event in April, we had a chance to play one scene taken from the game's side story. Cage told us that it wouldn't spoil the main story, and it doesn't represent Heavy Rain as a whole. He explained that each scene is supposed to be unique, with different ways of interacting, so this was just one of the many interactions that you'll experience in the game.
The only details we have regarding the story of Heavy Rain is that there is a deranged serial killer, labeled the "origami killer" by the media because the victims are always found with a piece of origami placed in their hand. Considering that the game is focused primarily on its powerful cinematic storytelling, Quantic Dream is keeping the story tightly under wraps. But what they did divulge is that there are four main characters in the game, and you'll take turns controlling them from one scene to another. Each character has their own detailed history and individual destiny, but their respective stories will be intertwined.
Our time with Heavy Rain began with an engaging presentation in which Cage and his colleague walked through one possible scenario in a scene titled "Mad Jack." Cage described this scene as a "classic dark thriller" and then introduced us to one of the main stars, Norman Jayden, a young FBI agent who has been called in to investigate the case of this peculiar murderer. Jayden is described as an organized and methodical man, with degrees in psychology and forensics. His particular background is most likely the reason that he has been asked to look into the case, given that he spent the last two years talking to serial killers in prison. Although he may look like a stellar candidate on paper, what the FBI doesn't know is that he has a substance-abuse problem. Regardless, they've armed him with an ARI (added reality interface) prototype, which consists of a pair of Matrix-like glasses and a black glove that can detect and analyze DNA, footprints, and pheromones in the environment--enhancing his CSI skills considerably.
The scene takes place in a typical crummy junkyard that Jayden decides to scope out because the man running it, Mad Jack, might have ties to the killer. As the rain poured down, we watched as our main character pulled up in the dismal-looking place, opened the car door, and stepped outside. The suspenseful atmosphere is what stands out the most in Heavy Rain, and it's enhanced by the details in the environment, such as the dreary weather, eerie music and a gloomy color palette. Everything was happening in real time, and we were struck by the actor's motion-captured face, specifically his incredibly lifelike eyes and subtle movements. But before he stepped out of the car, we noticed that the interface had changed. Last year, when an action was available, icons would appear at the bottom right corner of the screen. Now, a box with a small white arrow was prominently displayed on the side of the car to indicate that you could open the door by pressing the right analog stick. Symbols will appear onscreen when there is an action available, so it's worthwhile to carefully explore your surroundings. Our rain-drenched FBI agent then walked over to a mean-looking, burly man, presumably Mad Jack, who was operating a junkyard crane and seemed to have no interest in having a meaningful conversation. After a brief and unhelpful exchange, Jayden headed toward the hangar to inspect things more closely.
This was when we got to see the ARI in action. A curved arrow by Jayden's shoulder indicated that he could put his special specs on by pushing the right analog stick in a half-circle motion. Once he donned the slick shades, color faded from his vision until everything was tinged with a greenish hue. Data will appear onscreen by pressing the R1 button to indicate points of interest such as footprints, blood, and even orchid pollen. This handy gadget also spits out pertinent information after an area has been examined with the glove. Scattered clues eventually led Jayden to an acid bath with a human skull in it, but before he could get a closer look, Mad Jack appeared out of nowhere with a gun pressed to the back of his head. Through a series of intense quick-time events, we watched as Jayden deftly dodged out of harm's way and used his surroundings to distract Mad Jack long enough to disarm him. A series of well-choreographed punches were exchanged, and while the fast-paced action unfolded onscreen, the demonstrator was mashing the buttons that appeared as quickly as he could. There are three difficulty levels in the game, and it adjusts according to your performance. You generally have a few chances before you lose, which most likely results in death, but there are several ways to escape as well. Heavy Rain's appeal is that there are many ways in which a particular scene can play out; this demo was just one of them.
We watched as Jayden eventually got his hands on the gun and gained control of the situation. While pointing the gun at Mad Jack, we saw Jayden's frantic thoughts swirl around his head, giving you the option of what to do and say next. We mean this literally, too, because words with corresponding buttons are rotating around Jayden's head. Depending on his mental state, the words will move at a different pace. If he's really stressed out, it might even be difficult to read. The goal here was to get Mad Jack to talk, and after choosing several options which included a good punch to the face, a second chance, and a threat to shoot the nearby gasoline tanks, he caved and told Jayden everything he needed to know. But, remember Jayden's drug problem? Well, that comes into play here. His vision started to blur, and unless you're very quick with the button presses, Jayden will fumble with the stash in his pocket and then drop his much-needed pack of drugs. Mad Jack used this opportunity to knock the agent senseless, and when he came to, he was handcuffed to his own car--which was slowly moving toward the junkyard's crusher. A style we've seen in Quantic Dream's previous game, Indigo Prophecy, the screen will be split, giving you two camera angles so that you have a clear view of Jayden in his car, as well as a top-down view to show how quickly (or slowly) the crane moving toward the crusher. Luckily for Jayden, he left his gun in the glove compartment. So after fumbling clumsily around at the wheel and turning on the radio, he grabbed his gun, shot apart the handcuffs, and through a vigorous series of QTEs, barely scrambled out of the metallic jaws of death.
Without much time to think about what to do next, Mad Jack appeared out of nowhere once again and was ready to finish what he started. Jayden isn't a small man, but compared to Mad Jack, it didn't look like he stood much of a chance if it came down to a one-on-one fist fight. Given the discrepancy in size, the agent took quite a beating during this brutal match of kicks and punches, which were executed by well-timed button presses. As the intense struggle went on, we saw that a slow-moving crane was heading toward them, with no driver--giving you a clear idea of what's about to happen if you don't come out on top. At the last possible second, narrowly avoiding a nice print of tread marks on his face, the younger and faster FBI agent finally trounced his opponent in the fight, and Mad Jack disappeared with an audible crunching sound under the heavy machinery.
This was just one of the outcomes that could have happened in this scene. In the worst-case scenario, you could die in many unpleasant ways, which we tried to do when we got our hands-on time with it. Nevertheless, the game doesn't end. Cage explained that if Norman Jayden didn't survive this scene, he'd simply be removed from the game entirely, and the story would go on. However, you'd lose all of his perspective, his contributions, and any information that would have helped with the investigation. Cage told us that by then, you probably wouldn't want to lose a character anyway because you would have become attached to him or her. He wrapped up the demo by explaining how the game is meant to trigger your emotions, not just adrenaline, and that Heavy Rain is a new way of interacting in a video game.
After the presentation was over, we decided to put Norman Jayden's fate into our own hands. Considering that everyone seemed to be keen on keeping him alive, we purposely tried to find a way to off our poor junkie/FBI agent. Under the guidance of another representative from Quantic Dream, we decided to head straight for the acid bath and waited for Mad Jack to show up. Before our suicide mission, we had to do a bit of searching through the hangar to trigger the event. We were told that there are many ways to go about this scenario. You could always just leave the area without discovering anything, which would affect your story later on. There are other clues in the junkyard to find that will help your investigation, but how you approach it is up to you. We were told that in the interrogation sequence when you have the gun pointed at Mad Jack, it's possible for you to lose the gun to him by being too nice with your thought selection. So even though there are basically two endings to this scenario--either you live to get away or die miserably in a junkyard--the main path that you choose will carry over to the rest of the game.
From what we've played, the controls are very basic, considering that you're primarily hitting the buttons that appear onscreen. Moving your character is a bit awkward at first because you're using the left analog stick to turn the character's head and the R2 trigger to move forward in the direction that he is facing. There are only two camera angles, so you'll have to be paying attention to where your character is situated; after so many third-person games, it's easy to think that your analog stick will move your character in the direction of the stick. Visually, the animation and graphics are incredibly impressive at this stage, making Heavy Rain feel very much like an interactive movie. The voice actors were able to put on a convincing performance and the music is what drove the intensity of the action when it was needed.
We were told that there are going to be more than 60 scenes in Heavy Rain, and it should take about 8 to 10 hours to complete. The game looks fantastic at this point and we are eager to learn more about the story (or side stories) and see what other type of gameplay scenarios there will be. For those who have played Indigo Prophecy, there are definite similarities in which the primary focus is the engaging narrative and the critical choices that you make. Cage told us that Quantic Dream will be showing more scenes at E3 and in the months leading up to the yet-to-be-announced release date, so be sure to check back soon. We'll be updating you with additional information as soon as it becomes available.