Plenty has been said about what games can be and how far the medium has come in its 40-year-plus history. Quantic Dream is the latest to put its foot forward on the matter with Heavy Rain, a fully produced triple-A title that hopes to accomplish what's been solely the realm of the -- yes, sometimes pretentious -- indie game art scene. Did they succeed?
In many ways, HR is everything games have been striving for since they went 3D: The ability to relate to the characters we play as instead of just portraying our command presses as violent avatars is there. And there are even moments in the game that may not exactly be fun (i.e. crawling over glass in a vent labyrinth) but it pushes the fact that video games are interactive entertainment and the possibility to treat them as such. Not just as play toys with a high score.
Short of redefining the Shenmue-advanced genre, of course, Heavy Rain mostly succeeds in telling a narrative filled with believable characters going through a depressing spell and the hunt for a serial killer on the loose. Hardly original, I know, but never before have you been able to feel the story as is the case in Quantic Dream's latest.
You'll be put through the wringer when characters die; experience child responsibilities and the joys of playing with them; and, before the credits roll, struggle with mature themes of love and betrayal.
And those are just the themes made obvious through playing HR. What's left up to the player to discover of everyone's motivations and background through subtle dialogue is incredibly gratifying -- devoid of the overwrought exposition most other games are guilty of. Quantic Dream took the best bits of story telling and matched it to the gameplay seamlessly.
Pressing L2 takes you into each character's mindset and gives you further context as to what you're next goal in the environment is, not a gold arrow guiding the way. Multiple quick-time event choices give you the option to cheat when counting, kill or not kill, and augment sequences of emotional burden.
For that last one, think to the end of MGS4 where Old Snake struggles to get from one side of a hallway to the other. Heavy Rain takes that concept and expands on it ten-fold with the added gravity that you may fail and the story would continue -- with or without you.
That said, HR's "gameplay" is not perfect and definitely not for everyone. While the action scenes are some of the more intense moments in gaming history, sometimes I wished I was more in control of what was happening. Pressing left, right, square, triangle, whatever at the right time is handled well enough in the game, but I couldn't help to imagine what could've been if it was playable in real-time.
Other small gripes with the game include audio glitches and, even, the audio itself. For the most part, the game is well acted and voiced but certain moments -- especially all of the banter between Norman Jayden and Lt. Blake -- fall flat to the point where they come off as comical. Also, the trials you go through bring in an unwelcome "Saw" feeling to the, otherwise, excellent story, I thought.
Taking it as a whole, though, HR exceeds past its flaws to present a memorable package with lasting appeal that, surely, games will come to incorporate in the future. It is mature past the presumed M-rated status of other games that usually fall in the adult immaturity end of the category. And it has a daring save system that, while arduous for those of us into trophy hunting, gives you no easy way out once you've dug your own grave, so to speak.
How the game doesn't fit nicely in the aspects of a review -- i.e. visuals, gameplay -- and can, instead, be judged mostly on its cohesive whole is part of the brilliance of its design. Should it be considered a "game?" Doesn't matter.
HR is an interactive experience just as the developer proposed it to be as it is not always fun to play, but always engaging. An example of the culmination of what's come before in gaming and the maturation of the industry that's allowed this piece to be possible.
With Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream goes for not just redefining a genre but what a "game" is, in general. They tell a story of four different characters' interacting with a world that's failed them and how they progress through it. The choices you make -- some times in the blink of an eye -- carry over in hours of game play and creates dread and a sense of uneasiness made possible only by your direct impact on it. The controls can hinder that feeling at times but the overarching story in this effective "interactive drama" more than delivers on its lofty and innovative setup. It's one giant quick-time event, but one worth exploring.