Back when I first played Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain in high school, I loved it. The concept of a story based game where your decisions can impact how the story proceeds was new and amazing to me, and they weren't nearly as prevalent then as they are now. It was beautiful, with intense moral dilemmas and actually well done quick-time events (a rare feature indeed). However, as time passed, I began noticing more and more flaws in Heavy Rain. Characters' decisions made less sense, a lot of the choices seemed pointless, and I realized that one of the four main characters was horribly written. I began comparing it to other choice based games coming out, like Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, and Life is Strange. As I played and loved these stories, Heavy Rain's began to pale in comparison. I didn't just wanna say "it's bad" without giving it a fair shake though. So, against David Cage's advise, I decided to revisit Heavy Rain and play through it a second time. And through it, I came to a realization: I was right. And I'm not just comparing it to Telltale: Heavy Rain is a deeply flawed product.
Heavy Rain is a story based game, so obviously the storyline and characters take center stage. Ethan Mars is a father who used to live a happy life with his wife and his two sons, Jason and Shawn. Unfortunately, Ethan failed to save Jason from being run over by a car, resulting in him being in a coma for a bit while also losing his wife. Ethan now lives alone, sharing custody of Shawn with his wife and dealing with the guilt and depression caused by Jason's death. Unfortunately, Shawn is abducted by the Origami Killer, a serial killer who drowns children over the process of a few days. The only way to find Shawn is for Ethan to engage in multiple trials set up by the killer, putting his love for his son to the ultimate test. Not only will you follow Ethan's trials, but three other characters. I actually really like the basic premise of the story. The stakes are high, the villain is very easy to hate for the horrible things he's done, and the trials all carry a very heavy and disturbing tone all throughout. Strong setup.
The graphics in this game are beautiful, and honestly they still hold up really well today. The character models are all very well done, to the point where you can even see the pores in their skin on the loading screens (whether that creeps you out or not is up to you). The environments have a ton of detail to them and (as expected from the title) the water effects are gorgeous. From the city with streets filled with puddles, to the police precinct having constant foot traffic, to the run down and empty factories, Heavy Rain really nails its settings. The game's use of color is also really creative, as it's pale and heavy color palette compliments the emotionally depressing and tense situations very effectively. One touch I actually really like is that when you play through the intro before Jason dies, the color palette is vibrant and colorful before transitioning to it's more somber color scheme after the fact: it's a nice touch. The facial and body animations are also very well done for the time, and the scenes are well done composition wise. Visually, this game is still really impressive.
The music is also well done and matches the scenes very well. It helps establish the mood for both the quiet, emotional scenes as well as the action scenes. A few tracks are actually pretty chilly and unnerving. Unfortunately, it's also pretty repetitive and a lot of the soundtrack begins to sound similar, especially later on. The voice acting is also pretty hit or miss, usually miss. Ethan's actor has his moments, but overall does a pretty mediocre job. Particularly one performance of his has become famously bad *cough* JASON *cough* SHAWN. Most of the others are passable, and I actually like Scott Shelby's performance. Norman Jayden isn't too bad, but he has an obviously fake Boston accent on throughout the game. Ethan's sons' performances are... well they're horrible. They sound like robots that are trying to sound like children, and any attempt to emote from them sounds so lifeless.
Similar to Telltale, Heavy Rain's focus is on story rather than game mechanics. Instead, the game relies on quick time events to give the player control in many of the games various action scenes. Unlike most games, though, Heavy Rain actually handles quick time events very well. The button prompts flow gracefully with every scene their in for one reason: composition. You see, the prompts are always placed on what you would be interacting with or what your trying to avoid. For example, if your about to be punched, the prompt to stop it will be on the offending character's fist. If you want to turn your steering wheel in a car, you'll get left and right prompts on the upper left and right of your wheel. This always draws your eyes to where the action is, keeping you focused in the action scenes as well as making sure you don't miss anything visually. The game also makes use of a lot of different prompts, such as holding down multiple buttons for complex movements, lightly pushing directions for delicate movements, and using the PS3's six axis controller for various tug and push movements. These help keep the prompts a bit more varied and engaging. Heavy Rain also features Move controls, so there's another way to play if your interested. You also get to walk around and inspect objects in certain scenes, although the walking is a bit clunky. There are quite a few objects to interact with though. All in all, the quick-time events are actually done well, but don't expect the gameplay to evolve beyond that.
I know that I've actually been praising this game I gave a five out of ten quite a bit, but that's because we haven't really analyzed the part where this story-based game fails the most: . To start with, I feel it's important to have a bit of focus on Heavy Rain's playable characters. Ethan Mars, as mentioned above, is racing against the clock in order to complete five trials set by the Origami Killer in order to save his son Shawn. Each trial is explained via an origami animal, and will ask Ethan to perform a dangerous or brutal act in exchange for information on his son's location. Ethan's trials are actually the best parts of the game, particularly the third and fourth trials. Every trial is intense and asks Ethan to perform drastic deeds in order to get the information he needs, and you can even refuse to complete them. You might be keeping Ethan or others out of harms way by refusing, but doing so will make finding Shawn more difficult. Too many refusals will make it near impossible for him. However, while the trials and Ethan's plight are interesting, Ethan himself is not. Ultimately, his personality doesn't have any traits other than "father", making him feel like a one-note character. He also suffers from random black outs, but only goes through two early on in the game and their never really brought much. These were actually part of a huge plot line cut out from the game, and the fact that they remain creates a lot of plot holes later on. Despite the trials, Ethan is a pretty weak protagonist.
Next is Scott Shelby, a detective investigating the Origami Killer on behalf of the victims' families. Out of all the characters, I felt the most attached to Scott throughout the game. He's nothing special, but he's better developed and has the most interesting action scenes of the other three characters. Then there's Norman Jayden, an FBI agent working with a cop named Blake to save Shawn. Sadly Norman is pretty bland, and Blake is just a stereotypical bad cop. Norman also has a gadget called the ARI system, which allows him to scan crime scenes. While going through Norman's evidence, you can also choose from one of three environments to do it in, allowing you to pretend your on the surface of Mars. Yes you read that last sentence correctly. It's pretty out of place for the setting and it's never explained how it was made, but the investigation scenes are decent enough and you get some cool visuals out of it.
Remember how I mentioned in the beginning that one of the characters was horribly written? That little award goes to our final protagonist Madison Paige. Madison is a journalist who is trying to solve the mystery of the Origami killer. Her segments mainly consist of her finding and investigating leads. Out of the four, Madison's contribution to the plot feel the least important. Only one of her scenes throughout the entire game actually matters in the main story, and it's WAY down the line. And unfortunately in most scenes, she's placed into one of two roles: supporting the main hero, or even worse, being in A LOT of sexual situations. You can actually have an optional shower scene in the very first section you play as her (way to establish a "strong" character). Not only that, but the amount of sexual assault scenarios she's in during the time span of a few days is really disturbing. Obviously sexual assault is supposed to be disturbing, but the sheer amount of objectification she goes through makes it feels like the writers didn't know how to write women. She even has a forced and out of nowhere romance subplot, because of course the female lead needs one. Beyond that, pretty bland personality. Normally I'm not unnerved by overly sexualized characters, but Madison Paige doesn't just feel like a badly written character. Her sections literally make me feel disgusted and offended.
Many of the games choices ultimately don't matter in the long scheme of things. There are a lot of situations where it feels like the lives of side characters are in the balance, but most of those characters never appear again or are never mentioned again anyways. It takes away a lot of the weight away from a decision when the people your decisions are affecting suddenly leave the story.
I don't personally consider the next paragraph spoilers since it doesn't mention any characters or elements in the actual story, but it does talk about the nature of certain later story aspects and my biggest problem with Heavy Rain. If you don't want to be potentially spoiled in any way at all, skip to the last paragraph.
This story is obviously a murder mystery where you need to save Shawn and find out who the Origami Killer is. The great part of a mystery story is when the story gives subtle hints and evidence throughout the story that would allow players a chance to find out the truth before the game reveals it. This makes you feel more accomplished and invested in the journey, and even if you didn't figure it out before the reveal, it allows you to look back on several moments and see how it all adds up. I'm saying this because you will never guess the twist to this mystery before its reveal. Why? . During the big twist near the finale, it plays a scene that DIRECTLY and MASSIVELY contradicts a previous dramatic scene in the story. How can you solve a mystery when the very fabric of reality is lying to you? It even plays it really dramatically, as if to say "GOT YOU! What a great twist right?" when in reality it just reminds you how forced and unnatural it is. This moment was honestly the worst part of the entire game, and the remainder of the plot falls apart soon after.
I was a bit sad going back to Heavy Rain, as some parts of it are done really well. The graphics are beautiful, the timed prompts are well done, and while the soundtrack is a little repetitive, it's still effective. The story, even for all its faults, has some really powerful and well executed moments in it. Unfortunately, this is a story-based game, and it's story is deeply flawed. Most of the characters have little to no personality, a lot of the choices aren't important or memorable, and it's riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. It's a bit stronger in the earlier parts, but the plot holes just build up way too much by the end. I don't think it's a bad game, as it still has a lot of good things going for it. But it is far from the masterpiece of storytelling that it's built up to be, or that I used to think it was. I've realized that I didn't really love Heavy Rain, but the idea of what it was: a story revolved around choice. With the rise of other story based games like those by Bioware and Telltale, games that have actual deep choices with memorable and lovable characters, Heavy Rain just looks pale in comparison.
-Basic Premise is Strong
-Has Multiple Scenes that are Powerful and Memorable
-Very Well Done Quick Time Events
-Soundtrack can be Very Effective
-Weak, Bland Characters
-Many, Many Plot Holes and Pointless Choices
-Story Falls Apart By the End
-Mostly Mediocre to Bad Voice Acting
-Soundtrack can be Very Repetitive
-JASON! SHAWN! (This isn't just a joke, they're both bad game features.)