Monday, March 1, 2010

Heavy Rain - Rated 'R' for 'Real'

3 months in and no posts in 2010. Let's fix that.

Last night I finished Heavy Rain, a game I'd been itching to get my hands on since 'the casting' tech-demo was unveiled at E32006. The lead up to its release was tense, with Quantic Dream showcasing what was easily one of the best marketing campaigns I'd seen in a game for years. From the deliciously-vague profiling of the four characters (and the appearance of half their faces in several magazine ads) to the 'four days' viral campaign which sent myself and countless others on a hunt for what turned out to be the demo for the game, it was clear that thought had gone into this, and most-likely every other facet of the product.

Having read through several reviews of Heavy Rain (some glowing, some flickering) I think I have a reasonably good handle on both sides of the argument. Yes, the game does rely quite heavily on QTEs. Yes, there are technical issues. No, the control system isn't perfectly tuned. The game definitely has its faults and is far from perfect. But I cant help but feel that these critics are somehow missing the point. For me, the issues that occasionally cropped up during my experience with the origami killer were not enough to break my immersion (although a trip or two through the uncanny valley certainly came very close) or impede my enjoyment. Far from proving that Heavy Rain is not perfect, these imperfections simply reiterated to me the idea that perfection is impossible to achieve.

The QTEs didn't bother me. They've bothered me in other games, Wet being one of them, and I'm definitely of the opinion that they are overused by lazy designers. That said I can't believe this to be the case with Heavy Rain. What the team at Quantic Dream has done here is special. I actually panicked as my avatar did. When characters began freaking-out, the action and emotion was mirrored almost exactly by me, an experience which disturbed and enthralled me in equal measure, and this is where the QTEs made sense to me. Far from being tacked in without thought, these were the exact decisions that you or I would have to make in the situations presented to us, all of which, it's worth noting, are just within the realms of possibility. We're being chased, do we go left or right? Before we have time to think about the choice we just made we are asked again, left or right? Up or down? In or out? Life or death? Heavy Rain isn't just another action/adventure game full of QTEs, Heavy Rain is aware that in life, real life, quick thinking can be the difference between success and failure. Life and death.

My current benchmark for games is the consistently astonishing Assassins Creed II, and as a barometer of quality it's particularly useful here. Did I enjoy the experience of playing Heavy Rain as much as I did ACII? No, I didn't. Heavy Rain wasn't particularly heavy on fun. Is Heavy Rain more important than ACII? Absolutely. 'Fun' is a subjective term, and even to the one person can mean many different things. Heavy Rain is an experience. My heart has never pounded playing a game like it did during sequences of Heavy Rain (possible exception of Silent Hill 2), rarely have I connected so much with characters, a connection consistently strengthened by the very real possibility that any of them could die at any moment and it would be entirely my fault. From beginning to end I was on the edge of my seat, aching with anticipation at every potential plot-turn and pitfall.

Reality or 'realism' is something the game industry has been fascinated with this generation. While developers are insistent this is where we should be going, critics and fans haven't been so eager to agree (GTIV anyone?). With so many games having 'realism' thrust upon them as an idea, as alien to them as it is to their audience, it is refreshing to see a game finally nail the formula and be truly deserving of the term 'Mature'. Heavy Rain is not perfect. Heavy Rain is real.

TL;DR: Heavy Rain is a flawed masterpiece. A step-forward for games as a narrative medium that is worthy of your time and money.

Andy x

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