Heavy Rain (PS3) Preview
Heavy Rain was first announced at E3 2006 and was accompanied by a tech demo. In the three and a half years that have passed since then a lot has been uncovered about the game while still holding some mysterious. Since then, I have gone from casually curious to counting down the days until its release – but on February 11, 2010, Quantic Dream released a demo that answers a few of those questions while bringing up a whole lot more. I would like to start this preview by stating that there may be slight spoilers for the demo, although I can’t see how anything would ruin the retail game.
The demo is broken down into four separate parts; the tutorial, a sleazy place, a crime scene, and a trailer that shows off some new material. The tutorial sees you playing as private investigator Scott Shelby who has been hired by the families of the victims of the Origami Killer. His whole thing is killing people, waiting four days, drowning them, and leaving with just an orchid and origami figure on the body. It’s up to you to figure out what’s going on.
The first thing you’ll do in the demo is open a car door. This is done by moving the right analog stick in the specified direction, though how you move the stick does play a factor. Your speed will determine the speed of the character, and if you stop before the movement is completed the animation stops. After stepping outside (where it is always raining), you are asked to walk through an alleyway. In most games this would be pretty mundane and consist of nothing of particular interest. In Heavy Rain, however, things are a bit different.
First off, walking is done by moving the left analog stick while holding R2. Simply holding R2 will cause your character to walk in the way they’re facing, though most players will probably feel more comfortable holding R2 at all times and moving the left stick where they want to walk. It’s a bit weird at first, but you quickly adjust. As you walk through the alley it’s important to switch camera positions (using L1) to get a full look of your surroundings. Everything goes along swimmingly until you approach a dumpster. Most games would have you walk by the dumpster, or even jump over it (because dumpsters don’t mean shit), but, again, Heavy Rain is not most games. You’ll instead have to hold a series of buttons as they appear in sequence. If you fail, Shelby is unable to squeeze between the building exterior and dumpster.
Shelby is not a tiny man
After surviving the dumpster, you’ll take a few more steps before having a chance to listen in on Shelby’s thoughts by pressing L2. You’ll be presented with a series of topics that are on his mind, though at this particular time the only thing on his mind is his asthma. Seconds away from having an asthma attack, you pull out your inhaler, shake it (by shaking the controller), and inhale using R1. It’s a small thing, but it really makes you feel as though you have total control of the character. Calming yourself down, you make your way to a rather sleazy-looking hotel.
Shelby gives five bucks to the man working the reception desk of the hotel then heads up to Lauren Winter’s room, a call-girl and mother of a child who may have been killed by the Origami Killer. Though she offers a freebie (since you’re a man of the law and all), you turn it down and decide to investigate instead. You’re given a short period of time to ask the questions you want, and if you don’t find out what you need to know – tough luck. As she’s talking , you’ll have a variety of options at your disposal. You can lean on the bed, stand against her dresser, sit next to her to comfort her a bit, or just walk around. I cannot stress enough how even though they seem like small, meaningless details, the ability to do such things creates a more immersive experience than any other video game I’ve played.
Once the questioning is done and you realize you probably could have obtained better information, it’s time to leave the hotel. Except for one little problem – there’s a rather aggressive male who’s forcibly entering Lauren’s room. Sure, Scott may have asthma and be quite a few pounds overweight, but, damnit, Scott Shelby is a man’s man and a man’s man fights other men. While you can simply knock on the door, I prefer kicking it open. From there you and the man fight all over the room in what is the demo’s climax. Fighting is done by either pressing buttons as they appear on the screen fast enough, holding buttons down, or even shaking the controller. To some this may seem like the antithesis of immersive but they couldn’t be more wrong. My first playthrough of the fight had moments of “oh shit!” to “oh no!” to “that was badass!” all throughout. After taking a beating, the man runs off and Lauren thanks you.
With that, the first level of the demo ends and the “Crime Scene” portion begins. Taking the role of Norman Jayden, an FBI agent investigating a murder scene that has been linked to the Origami Killer, you’ll meet up with Lieutenant Blake and ask him some questions about the murder. Much like your questioning of Lauren earlier, you’ll only have a certain amount of time to ask the right questions. When you’re done talking to Blake you’ll get the chance to try out your Added Reality Interface (ARI) device, which allows you to scan the crime scene for clues and find the secrets they hide instantly. Some of the clues are useless, such as DNA from a cop on the scene, while others are quite helpful and even lead to new areas (this is a hint for those who haven’t played the demo, by the way). You’ll have to investigate the body of a young boy (the most recent victim of the Origami Killer), which can be quite powerful. After you’re done investigating the scene, you walk back to your car and from there you’ll be treated to the trailer of the game and the sad realization that you’re not playing the real game and just a demo.
Just a damn demo. And Lieutenant Blake doesn’t even care.
After three or four runs through the demo I have noticed a few differences. During the fight scene, the man will run away no matter how you perform, though the physical appearance of Scott Shelby and the dialogue will change based on the damage you received. If you let the character stand around, they will go a hand-warming animation, kicking water off of themselves, looking around and even reaching out to feel the rain drops. Every playthrough has been different enough to where I want to play through it again to figure out all of the possibilities and get all of the information. Luckily, the demo allows you to pick which part you’d like to play (or replay), and from what I understand the full game will have this function as well.
Graphically, the game is impressive as a whole. Some textures could stand to look better, but nothing was to the point of distraction. The voice acting is great for a video game, though due to the narrative direction of the game you will notice some occasional flaws and forced deliveries. Lauren Winter, for example, has a pretty shoddy voice actor while Scott Shelby and Norman Jayden have pretty good voice actors. Overall, the presentation of the game is absolutely marvelous and the atmosphere it creates is enough to suck you in and always wonder what will happen next.
Look at that rain. It’s so…heavy.
Heavy Rain is not a game for everyone, and some people may downright hate it. While I was explaining the story to a friend of mine, he found it pretty intriguing, though he hated the gameplay. The controls for some people will potentially turn a lot of people off to this game, which is a real shame. It may not be the action adventure type games that we’ve grown accustomed to, but for those of you waiting for a game that had a deep storyline that actually made you care about what you were doing, your prayers have been answered. Honestly, I find the game just as enthralling as any other action game with the only difference being a completely different control scheme.
Heavy Rain is filled with different outcomes, different possibilities, and represents the future of video game narratives. The demo is available now on the Playstation Network and you can pick the game up at retailers on February 23 in North America while Europe gets it on the 24th. Our friends in the UK can get it on the 25th.