In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Bring On The Rain.

Last week, after years of growing anticipation, Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain finally got released on the PS3. After a lengthy install process, which included a tutorial on how to make an origami swan while I waited, I was away to the races.

I made this!

Playing Heavy Rain was a remarkable experience. ‘Interactive movie’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but there really are no others words that truly describe it. A cinematic story unfolds, and you are right in it, controlling the fate of four different characters. With most games, save points are ubiquitous, some nowadays don’t even let you die – and that’s fine, as most gamers don’t have the time or patience to redo the same parts over and over anymore – but this is not the case here. Heavy Rain is a game of consequence. Every choice you make matters and sometimes you might only have a split second to decide. You die, the game, the world goes on without you and shifts to your next character. I mean, sure, you could go back a chapter and do it over, but doing so would portray the wonderfully unique mechanic Quantic Dream has designed here. Another dimension Heavy Rain brings to the table is how the experience continues even after you have finished it. I can't tell you how much fun it was speaking with other gamers and hearing about how differently things played out for them. The more stories I hear, the more I realize just how many permutations are available. I’ve also spent a lot of time comparing trophy collections, trying to figure out where I might have missed something.

So, how’s the story? Well, pretty good actually. It mixes elements of genre films like Seven, Saw and The Cell to form a tale that would’ve been at home in a giallo. I was quite impressed. If I really looked closely, I’m sure its cracks would start to show, but it’s quite possible they could be filled in by subsequent playthroughs. I know I keep bringing up how cinematic this game is, but let me put it to you like this. When I look back on some of Heavy Rain’s action sequences, my mind recalls them like I was watching a movie and not playing a video game. That is how fluid those bits seemed to me. It is extremely intense in some sections and this is in no small part due to how invested I became in the characters, especially the female journalist Madison Paige (below) and private detective Scott Shelby (above).

Some of the stuff Madison – and therefore I – went through in this game was extremely stressful and will likely stay with me for some time. Scott’s hard-boiled private eye storyline was as film noir as it gets and it was a joy to pad the rain-soaked pavement alongside him. The FBI agent Norman Jayden shines mainly because you get to play with his cool gadgets. His “Added Reality Interface” or ARI is some of the raddest shit I’ve seen in a long time. I must have taken almost a half-hour just choosing which virtual environment to use. I finally decided on the surface of Mars.

The fourth character Ethan Mars (below), the troubled architect, was probably my least favourite, likely because his 'performance' was the weakest of the four. However, it was his sections that were often the most exciting. His first ‘trial’ was where Heavy Rain really made me go ’ok, THIS is awesome and exactly what I was hoping for!’ Perhaps most surprising is it’s not just the action stuff that is engaging. If you’d told me a year ago I would be playing a game where you babysit and change diapers, I’d have laughed in your face. But there I was, burping infants and microwaving pizza for my ten-year-old. In the context of the game, you want to do it because you WANT the character to succeed. I guess this must be what those people who play The Sims must feel like.

That’s not to say the game isn’t flawed. Some of the voice acting was not where it should have been, though the roughest spots were early on in the game. The graphics, though not equal to the impossibly attainable levels of the demos at past E3’s, were still pretty solid, but range in quality from character to character. There were a few problems with continuity, as well. The animations – even though the motion capturing was spot on – were sometimes not completely reflective of the accompanying dialogue and a couple of times instances from one scene did not carry over to the next. There was a scene where I got shot at least twice and then the following scene, I was totally fine. My quibbles with the controls were pretty minor. Every once and a while I would revert back to my learned behaviour of using the analog sticks to move, which could be quite maddening at the tenser parts of the game, but that was more my fault than the game’s. Mostly I just appreciated how closely the controls mimicked the actions in-game, which often led to some diabolical games of Twister with my Dualshock.

After Uncharted 2 last year and now Heavy Rain, the Playstation 3 is really on a roll when it comes to offering cinematic level gaming experiences. I’ve heard a few stories about spouses and non-gamers walking in on Heavy Rain and saying “what is that?” They would then end up spectating and getting as involved as the one with the controller in their hands. It is like we’ve almost come full circle. When Dragon’s Lair – technically the first ‘interactive movie’ – first graced arcades in 1983, it was one of the few games that you could say was almost as fun to watch as it was to play. It was certainly cheaper, that’s for sure. Now, over twenty-five years later, I was at my buddy’s place after the gold medal hockey game and he said, “so, what now?”, to which I replied, “Well, I’d kinda like to watch you play Heavy Rain to be honest.” That tells me that it is not your average video game.

I’m really excited to see where not only Quantic Dream goes from here, but other game makers, as well. I realize that a production like this requires a good deal of time and money, but I can’t believe at least a few developers haven't wanted to expand and improve on the framework that Heavy Rain has laid down here.

While I can relent that Heavy Rain might not appeal to all, I still urge anyone who’s interested in gaming – and I assume you are if you own a PS3 – to give it a whirl.

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