There's an age old question - can games qualify as art? That is a very subjective question as one needs to ascertain what qualifies as art. However, once in a while a game does show up that raises this very question yet again. Heavy Rain is one of those games. It is not an easy to task to craft a game that elicits a sense of melancholy or delight or a mixture in between but this game does a very good job at just that. There are many ways to look into this experience, this could be either from a game play or a story telling perspective. Either way, the game's responsibility is to make you feel immersed into each chapter. This is achieved by its interactive drama style. There won't be any moment where you'll be sitting around waiting for a cutscene to conclude, instead you'll have your hands on the controller waiting for the next prompt that could be the difference maker between life and death. That is one of the strong points of Heavy Rain, it might have its shortcoming in some areas but this is where it thrives, the ability to make you feel how it would be to be in the characters' shoes. And it's a simple question that forms the backbone of the game - How far would you go to save someone you love? It's a legitimate question, and this game will definitely make you think of the levels you would go to when placed in a similar scenario, or in the case of this game, several scenarios.
The story is where basically the gameplay lies as well. Very rarely would you find a game that has such a heavy focus on its story line, this one in fact plays out much like a thriller novel would wherein instead of quickly ruffling through the pages to uncover the next secret you'll anxiously ply through to uncover different possibilities that will ultimately lead you right into the intense finale. The plot that connects everything together is a mystery. A child has been abducted seemingly in plain site and has four days to live before the torrential downpour floods his cell and kills him. The Players will enter the lives of four characters - Scott Shelby, a private detective looking for the Origami killer. Norman Jayden, an FBI operative assigned to the Origami killer case and the only one with brains in the police force. Madison Paige, a journalist who undertakes her own private investigation into the case. And Ethan Mars, the father of the by that has been abducted and the one who has to prove the love he has for him by completing the trials laid out for him by the Origami killer.
These characters start out seemingly unconnected to one another with only the sole purpose of find the killer that connects them. But as will be obvious they do all end up meeting each other, that is if the player has been able to keep it that way. The most intriguing story telling aspect of Heavy Rain is the fact that it can be played in anyway. There is no Game Over prompt as there is no wrong way of playing it. Each character has their stories set out for them but if any of the were to meet an untimely demise the game would still continue. Therefore, it is up to the player's own competence level if he is able to complete the task in hand that is required to keep the story heading into the direction of their choice. And the game offers many chances for the player to either head in or any other direction, this is in the form of on screen button prompts that decides the outcome of an interaction which would ultimately become a matter of life or death. It's not just that, though, the method by which questions are asked in the characters' inquiries also depends on the player's choice of intensity, a pushy mode of inquiry will result in the character being dismissed and vital information not being gained. The game does a great job in putting us into each character's perspective, you'll end up relating to each of them in a different way, their personalities and scenarios differ enough for the player to have his own judgment of the character. This would help in deciding which route to take story wise.
But there are a few wholes in the plot too, unfortunately. Namely, the complete incompetence of the police force which is unrealistic. You'll scratch your head at the bizarreness by which the case is handled which would not be as such in real life. This might have been intentional so as to make the roles of the characters more important for the final showdown as well to present hurdles along the way but is still a pretty obvious flaw. Another thing left unaddressed is the catalyst of the story, namely the way the boy is abducted, the mystery being Ethan's involvement in the abduction is never addressed, instead it is used so as to raise suspicion over whether he is the Origami killer himself but is plainly obvious that it is not the case.
Game play consists of button prompts. These are easy enough to handle, sometimes the occasional surprise prompt might take you off guard but there are enough chances to undo your mistakes so that a lasting impact is not made. What is your personal choice, however, is whether you want to complete the prompt or not. Each prompt has different outcomes so it is clearly a matter of preference rather than dedication to game play. You'll have to complete even the most mundane of tasks, this is attributed to the interactive drama setting of the game, so if you truly want to feel as if you're immersed into the game then these tasks should be done willingly. However, on repeated playthrough's these tasks are sure to be tedious as they add nothing to the plot. There is an interesting side t the game play in the form of Jaydenn's ARI technology which consist of special glasses that act as interactive environmental interfaces that are to be used to zero in on the killer's actions and location. The ARI is also used for investigating crime scenes. Clearly, a lot of effort has been put in to make them interesting but it is not the result. The ARI sequences are exceptionally dull and very unclear. The parts where they are mandatory are a chore to play especially in the first playthrough as it hinders the experience by diminishing the rush of uncovering the story. Ethan's trials are one of the standout points as they consist of gruesome decisions that will keep you quick on your feet. The game can be finished extremely quickly if the route of killing off your characters is taken while if they are kept alive the timespan is extended. There is a guaranteed replay value here as up to eight endings are available which range from good to bad where justice can be served or the killer gets away with everything. However, it's unfair of the game to make us play the entire story all over again if one were to want the different scenarios to flow through seamlessly. While the option to replay previous levels is there the overall impact of the story can only be felt if the previous story is overwritten which means you cannot have more than one story at the same time. This is frustrating as playing through the entire game means repeating the mundane activities when all you want is to play particular parts of levels.
At the time of the game's release the graphics might have been considered good but they have not aged well. Character models have been given time to be crafted as far as recognition is concerned but that's just about it, when they speak or go for a more emotional response it just does not translate. Facials expressions look bland and quite unwelcoming even when lip movement is there while physical interactions aren't pretty either. These interactions look quite clunky wherein eve a simple handshake looks fake while a particular intimate scene looks plain awkward. The environment is well detailed but the brightness or murkiness just isn't realistic. Maneuvering the character isn't fluid either and guiding the character around feels fake as well. The soundtrack is amazing, the main reason you would feel the absolute intensity and gravity of Ethan's situation during his trials is the music that accompanies it. The hard choice is magnified when his pulse can be heard or a rapid music shines through that forces your hand perhaps prematurely as you would think you're running out of time. The quietness of a moment usually is a precursor for something big to come and the game delivers in keeping you aware of this. Sad moments are highlighted as well with slow emotional music. Voice actors should be commended on their abilities to make the characters come to life while injecting each character with his or her trope and personality. Although the rather awkward textures might not match the tone of the character with their expression, the voice actors cannot be held at fault for this. Some cliches are present, though, namely the sexualization of the only major female character, you would think many of her scenes have overtly gratuitous scenes that were simply not need and while the argument can be be put forth that it was done so as to make you realize the ugliness or the rawness of the situation it is still quite uncomfortable.
Heavy Rain is a game that has to be appreciated for its story telling ability. This has not been done by many other games and even though there are noticeable flaws, they can be forgiven for presenting a unique game play experience. More than that, it does a great job in keeping you immersed in the story waiting for the next chapter to unfold while providing you with some replay value to truly feel the consequence of each action.