Heavy Rain (spoiler-free)

I just finished my first play-through of Heavy Rain and wanted to capture some thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind.

My inner cynic really wants to tear the game apart. The controls are clunky in that survival-horror kind of way (not that the game is survival horror, mind you). Walking a character around can be really cumbersome, the mostly-fixed cameras (somethings you can pan a bit, and there’s always an alternate views) can make navigating even an open space tricky (particularly when the camera view changes unexpectedly, leading to disorientation) and OMG six-axis controls FTL. I hate it when a game makes me tilt, shake or yank my controller around. In general, the mechanics of the game are kind of janky.

And had I written about the game after the first 30 minutes I wouldn’t have had a thing good to say about it. And y’know, I still don’t have much good to say about Heavy Rain, the Game. But I *loved* Heavy Rain, the Experience.

Quantic Dream has really nailed graphical interactive fiction in this product. The varied pacing can frustrate you in a good way. The first hour or two is actually pretty slow but then there’s a payoff. And that happens throughout the game. Deep into the plotline you’ll have to do some really mundane action that’ll be ‘boring.’ That’s kind of unheard of in a game where the intensity generally ramps up from start to end. But in a movie or a book, having quiet times in between high action points is basic plot development 101, and it works well here.

There’s something about the way they make you hit QTEs that really makes the whole story compelling. For example, I tend to semi-recline a lot while I’m playing a video game. And I did so in some parts of Heavy Rain but when the tension mounted I had to sit up to be ready to shake my controller around. I know that sounds dumb and/or annoying but it really added to the feel of the game. I was leaning forward, attentive, a bit tense, waiting to do whatever I had to do, and that make the whole experience feel different.

So it’s definitely a game that’s worth a play-through. But what about replayability? I definitely plan to play through it again, though not right away. I’m both interested to see what will change if I make different decisions, but also hesitant about how engaged I’ll be by making them. In my first play through I made the decisions that I felt were correct. To go through again and make different ones might weaken my connection to the narrative in that I’m doing things I don’t really believe in. We’ll see what happens when the time comes. I won’t be replaying it soon. Like a book or a movie, I’ll put it on the shelf to enjoy again sometime in the future after my memory of events have faded a bit.

I got up at 7:30 am on a Sunday to jump back into Heavy Rain. I can’t remember the last time a product had engaged me on that level. And after I finished, I just had to sit and think about it for a while. I had to ponder what I’d just experienced. Again, that’s a rare feeling.

Heavy Rain isn’t perfect; there were some plot connections that didn’t make sense (a few times a character referred to another character that, insofar as I know, s/he’d never met…maybe a branch of storyline I somehow skipped?) and the controls were frustrating at times. If the story had been in a movie it wouldn’t have been *that* special (and in fact someone just snapped up the movie rights to the game). But your interaction with the story gives it more power than it would have as a passive experience. There are decisions you have to make that are…disturbing, and you don’t have a lot of time to make them.

In spite of the flaws, Quantic Dream has created something pretty special here. If you decide to play it, just go with it. Set your skepticism and cynicism aside and just experience the ride. I think you’ll really enjoy it. I know I did.