E3 06: Heavy Rain Impressions

We take a look at one of the more fascinatingly perplexing demos at Sony's PlayStation 3 display at E3 2006.


LOS ANGELES--It's hard to nail down precisely what it is about the demo of developer Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain that makes it so beguiling. On display amid Sony's onslaught of PlayStation 3 demos at E3 2006, Hard Rain sits alone at a single video screen on the second floor of the display. The demo title card reads: "Hard Rain: The Casting," but this subtitle seems less indicative of anything relating to the game itself, but more to the fact that the demo itself is actually a "virtual actor" casting session. It's a very bizarre demo, but we'd expect nothing less from the developers of last year's best adventure game, Indigo Prophecy. Forgive us in advance for not being able to comment on the dialogue or audio of this demo, as the din of E3 made it impossible to make out anything but a few scattered words. We watched the demo from beginning to end, however, and played around with the few controllable elements that were available.

The demo begins with a blurry first-person shot of a woman standing in an innocuous white room. In the middle of the room sits a single stool. She walks over to it and sits down, and we realize that the first-person view is from the perspective of a camera man, filming a young actress as she auditions for a role, presumably for this game, Heavy Rain. The character model of the woman is rather striking. There's a great deal of facial detail, plenty of specific emotions and expressions, and very realistic movement of clothing, hair, and other ancillary details. It's quite realistic.

The woman gathers herself and begins to speak to the camera. Her tone immediately shifts to more serious. She talks and talks, and while she does so, the background completely switches from the innocuous white room to a kitchen. The woman carries on a conversation with the first-person-perspective character, going back and forth across the emotional spectrum. She goes from carrying on a pleasant conversation to exasperation to downright depression over the course of a couple of beats. Things get real, however, the moment she pulls a gun--a very realistically rendered gun, we might add! The woman puts the gun to her head, and begins to sob openly. Tears stream down her face as she pleads with the cameraman. Finally, a more spiteful look crosses her face, and the gun goes from her head to yours...er, the cameraman's. This goes on for a while, with her talking to you, clearly still upset while holding you at gunpoint. Finally, the background shifts back to the white room, and the video camera HUD returns; the woman smiles happily. Sheesh, we hope she got the part, after a display like that.

The really intriguing thing about the Heavy Rain demo is that purportedly, the whole thing was running in real time. Real-time facial expressions, real-time tears, real-time everything. Supporting this claim is the fact that you could kind of manipulate the demo renders. Specifically, you could totally change the color schemes of the scene at will. Sepia tone, black-and-white, night vision, and some other options were available, and simply cycling through them was possible with a single button press. The game was also supposedly running in 1080 HD quality, according to the tag at the bottom of the screen.

It's a real shame we couldn't get a better sense of the dialogue or story or anything to that effect from the demo of Heavy Rain, but seeing the technological possibilities of Quantic Dream's next project still have us very, very intrigued. Considering how unique a game Indigo Prophecy was, we hope for something similarly disarming this time around. We'll be sure to bring you more on Heavy Rain as it becomes available.

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