When Heavy Rain first emerged from the main directive of the David Cage bot, the PlayStation 3 was already well behind to the Nintendo Wii. It was the first time in their rivalry where Sony had fallen behind the Big N. A large, heavy, clunky PS3 console that could spit out the best graphics on the market could do nothing against what was simple and accessible with Wii. It was conventional wisdom that won out in the end: might does not always make right.
Heavy Rain serves as a wonderful axiom of that generation. Graphically, it’s a complete triumph of the time. If we talk about ease of control and approachability, well, we need to have a heart-to-heart.
Quantic Dreams detonated a water bomb on the then-overused QTE schemes, creating something wholly new as a layer for a generation of gamers. I can respect giving that vision life and shaping your game around the idea that every small action needed your input to succeed. After I’ve walked down that pier though, I have to leave you at the dock when it comes to how jumbled their approach comes across visually.
Each of your four characters will be tasked with navigating active-but-clear environments where the pathways are good and wide using the square prompt boxes that pop to the screen. There’s clearly intelligent design behind the configuration of smaller open spaces, but indicator boxes can never be reliably found. Their font and color will blend into the background or be turned to inexplicable angles to where it’s basically two-dimensional. For the early game, these sections aren’t too hindering.
True to the word of consequence though, later game mishandlings can be lethal to a playthrough, in a sense. One of the unique aspects I’ve always loved about Quantic games is that there isn’t a traditional “game over” screen. You simply march on with your consequences heaped into your emotional baggage. That being said, if a control prompt lasts approximately a second and you can’t see it in time, that’s a decision the game’s design makes for you. If you want a character to succeed in a choice-driven game, this can be devastating.
Speaking of devastating, how about that devastatingly slow opening, eh? Heavy Rain receives a lot of metaphorical points from me because of how seamless that beginning section of chores and homebody work ties into the rest of the experience. It’s a tutorial that exposits without caving in your skull. For all of the faults of control, right here is where the controls glow with the warmth of a family man.
The four controllable characters will take you to various locations within the same city. The story doesn’t really allow for travel so this venue or that scene can become visually numbing after so much grey and muted colors. Even so, a few visual twists are thrown in to keep your eyes attentive and the QTEs do keep you engaged at all times. Coming back to the unintended consequences of apathy, missing a few key components could be a player’s worst fear come true when a certain branch is reached. Please see the tragic story of my personal Norman Hayden for reference.
I’ve avoided talking about the characters and direct story pieces because the soul is in the discovery. One part I truly love about Heavy Rain is how each of the four gives you something different from a character standpoint. From one’s perspective, you may be anxious at all times, feeling pressure with each tick of the clock. Another may give you a growing curiosity that turns deadly a time or two. This is one of the great, subtle weaves of thread Quantic Dreams pulls off here.
I’d be a full on fibber if I said that the awkwardness of the character models now doesn’t give more than one chuckle. The mechanical lunacy of pressing a button to scream a name in a heart-pounding scenario is a direct example. That said, there are still impressive strings at work in facial animations and some of the setpieces. I’m accepting that some of the setups may just be too simple to fail, but I do love some of the ominously low-key takes on some super icky activities present within too.
Heavy Rain has a cauldron of wonderful storytelling ideas wherein about 79 percent of them come through with impact. On the other hand, there are creative decisions that bled scenes dry and serious command prompt issues. Here we have a game that faced a new generation with graphical poise and story competency that some took to greedily. Others just saw that it couldn’t do the most simple of tasks and chose to look elsewhere.
I’d like to think Heavy Rain is worth somewhere in the middle, which in this metaphor means port it to the Wii. Will you approve of that crossplay, Sony?
Heavy Rain Score