maanantai 17. tammikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Heavy Rain (2010)

Genre(s): Interactive / Adventure
Released: 2010
Available on: PS3
Developer(s): Quantic Dream
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Players: 1

Even in these golden times of indifference, someone or something might come along and blow your mind with its originality. You might not see the flesh behind all the hype at first by reading about it, but when you finally try the game, you'll see what the fuss is all about. You're not just playing it or interacting with it, you're living it. These were exactly my feelings after conquering the worst case of rain ever, for the first time. I had to return to it - I had to make things right. What kind of a father simply allows his son to die? Why did I carelessly toy with the lives of those in need of help, why didn't I do everything in my power to save them? Why was I so weak? I don't remember any other game bringing on these kinds of strong emotions. In 2005, Parisian developer Quantic Dream brought us Fahrenheit (a.k.a. Indigo Prophecy), a cult classic of an interactive thriller, which had an incredible story for its greatest strength. Five years later, Quantic Dream returned with another incredibly written interactive thriller... in which each decision you make counts. In which each step you take brings the characters closer to a happier life, or an unceremonious death. Drawing influence from movies like Se7en, Saw, The Silence of the Lambs and Zodiac, but not really any game that came before it, Heavy Rain is an experience every PS3 owner must have at least once in their lifetimes. Forget your skepticism and get to work - the Origami Killer is at large, and he has your son.

How far would you go to save someone you love?

Pascal Langdale : Ethan Mars
Jacqui Ainsley / Judi Beecher : Madison Paige
Sam Douglas : Scott Shelby
Leon Ockenden : Norman Jayden
Mike Powers : Lt. Carter Blake
Aurelie Bancilhon : Lauren Winter
Ginnie Watson : Grace Mars / Hospital Nurse / Trendy Woman
Leslie Clack : Charles Kramer
Antony Hickling : Gordi Kramer / Ash / Trendy Man
Taylor Gasman : Jason Mars / John Sheppard

A systematic child-murdering menace calling himself the Origami Killer is at large. Ethan Mars is an architect suffering from depression and periodical blackouts caused by mental trauma; he lost one of his two sons a couple of years back in an unfortunate accident, and when his surviving son becomes the Origami Killer's target, he doesn't hesitate to take part in a deadly game set up by the killer to save his life. Madison Paige is a beautiful, insomniac journalist, who looks to break new ground by covering the killer's story once it unfolds. Norman Jayden is a well-equipped FBI profiler, who suffers from a severe drug problem. Scott Shelby is a compassionate, middle-aged private detective hired by the victims' relatives to conduct very unofficial and very dangerous research on all of the Origami Killer's movements. What happens when these four unique individuals cross paths?

I went into Heavy Rain with conflicted emotions. I was not quite sure how a movie would feel like as a game. I've played many games that have practically been movies instead of games, but Heavy Rain is at a whole new level on that front. IGN crowned Heavy Rain 2010's best horror game on the PS3, and not only that, but the PS3 game of the year altogether. That's quite a feat, considering that Red Dead Redemption and if you want exclusives, God of War III, came out around the same time. Also, Finland's top video game magazine at the moment had Heavy Rain on their list of the top 100 video games of ALL TIME - and it surpassed many bonafide video game classics, at that. Now I'm not into critical hype like a dog - if I was, I would probably try every racing and FPS game there is, and hate them. And people would look at me strangely when I blast out my opinion. Heavy Rain, though, is such a different game that I had to borrow it as soon as I had the chance. I had to see how it worked. Now this kind of thesis has been thrown around a lot, but it has to be said: you won't get Heavy Rain and its awesomeness, if you haven't tried it yourself.

Ethan might seem a little careless, but he's a
great dad. He really is. How great? He'll soon
show you.
The graphics are amazing at the very least when it comes to facial modelling and human movement. The movement in Heavy Rain was more or less recorded in a real studio, with real actors performing each character's every move, and of course, giving them their voices. There are very few late additions with CGI, nearly everything you see was real at some point of development. Even during the most free form of gameplay - walking around and going through your character's thoughts - you'll have to remind yourself that you're playing a game and not watching a feature film, from time to time. Screenshots can't possibly capture the game's realism.

The score's composed by the Parisian Normand Corbeil, but most of the time it feels like Bernard Herrmann has risen from his grave and come to give us one last Hitchcock soundtrack he never had time to complete. This collection of precise and menacing panic music's straight from the golden age of psychological thrillers, with a modern touch, of course.

The voice acting is awesome, there are a few bad apples though - like a bunch of British and French actors selling themselves as Americans, and more or less failing. Take Norman Jayden, for example. He's basically one of my favourite characters in the game, but I can't take a guy, that can't even pronounce his name like an American would, 100% seriously ("NAHMAN"). I'll give him props for trying to keep his accent in control, but every time the character raises his voice the slightest bit, I can't help but snicker. His voice actor's British, by the way. If you want some altogether bad acting, take the character of Gordi Kramer. This guy's supposed to be an American, but it's clear as day that the actor's French! He can't even pronounce "Origami" right. What's "origarmi"? Luckily there aren't many scenes with this dude around, but actually the voice actor does the voice of a cop, too. He sounded the same, I had to check it up... and it was true. Before wrapping this up, I have to riddle you some. What's worse than a French voice actor portraying an American? The answer: a French CHILD voice actor portraying an American. 'Nuff said. Listen for yourself.

Gameplay in Heavy Rain is wholly based on Quick Time Events and utilizing the motion detecting properties of the Sixaxis controller. You can walk around quite normally, if you count R2 as the walking button as being normal, but everything else is done according to icons appearing on the screen. There are many different types of icons, and the first thing you need to do is figure out the meaning of each. The first chapter works as a tutorial, during which you have the opportunity to try all different sequences with no danger involved. A quick and precise "fighting" sequence, free sequences in which you are in total control of the speed of your actions, sequences in which you have to be extra careful and radically slow down your movement, and a couple which demand physical power - they usually involve pressing down several buttons at once until the game allows you to let go, or mashing a certain button for a given time.

Who needs organizing skills when you've got
glasses like Norman's? ...Wonder if they have
x-ray vision, too?
The character's stress level has an effect on both his actions and dialogue options. If they're scared out of their socks, the timing for each action is more precise and unforgiving, and for the player, it's sometimes intentionally hard to see the options at hand; the icons are blurred and shaky. If you're not fast enough to choose a correct dialogue option, one is chosen at random. If you're not fast enough to perform an action, well... in the worst case you die. It's not like punishment for one mistake is death, though - you are usually allowed to make a few. If the characters are completely calm and not in a stressing situation, there usually is no time limit to dialogue or action at all.

Although it's more or less just a tutorial as far as gameplay goes - you can't really manipulate the events of the game just yet - the prologue to Heavy Rain is possibly the most depressive introduction to any game, ever. But, it's also instantly captivating. You've seen many games starting off with your character waking up from a bed on a seemingly ordinary day, but I believe you haven't seen that many games that continue with that character walking buck naked into the shower, shaving, putting on his clothes, enjoying a cup of coffee, listening to some music, watching TV, doing some work in his workshop, taking a nap in the garden, all the while waiting for his wife and children to come home. From the very start, although the credits haven't even turned up yet, you just know this game is going to be an experience like no other. It offers up cinematic climaxes from the very beginning; the better acting in this game is so real, that when that introduction came to its tragic end, I actually had to fight tears. It's clever how the developers based the game on the idea of being able to manipulate every event in the game, but started the game with a tragic event that simply couldn't be prevented. It's like: happy family -> devastating tragedy -> depression and trauma -> thoughts of "why couldn't I do anything?". The developers' answer: well, from now on you can, you won't ever have to witness something like that again. It's up to you. Welcome to Heavy Rain.

Although Heavy Rain isn't exactly a horror game, I can safely say I've never felt as much fear and anxiety playing anything such as the fear and anxiety I feel driving five miles against traffic in pouring rain, shaking the Sixaxis controller and quickly pressing each button indicated, desperately trying to keep myself alive and passing the test, getting me one step closer to finding my son. Or being forced to cut off the tip of one of my fingers to pass another test. Or fighting a mad surgeon as the definite underdog when he's aiming to drive a power drill through my skull. You see, I'm not talking about the characters, I'm talking about myself. The characters are so real, that as narrow minded as you might be towards role-playing, you'll find yourself in their boots if you have any sense for life. A moment ago, you were at home making an omelet. Now you're in the bottom of a lake, strapped to the steering wheel of your car by your wrists, with an unconscious woman by your side. Whatcha gonna do? Are you gonna give in? Will you attempt to save yourself? How about your companion, do you care for her enough to attempt to save her as well? Heavy Rain offers you an endless array of choices. What choices would you make as a person? Once again, how far are you willing to go to save someone you love?

Scott Shelby: "How to stop a robbery in 24-cam".
"Someone you love" doesn't just mean Ethan basically butchering himself to save his son, but it also means your relationship with the characters. You'll grow to love them, and you'd do anything to keep them alive. That's right, if they die - they DIE. There's no coming back. They simply die, and are never seen again. If all of the playable characters die because of your mistakes, congratulations. You've "beaten" the game. Not the most graceful completion, but that's just the way it is - the Origami Killer still lives and roams free, and the 10-year old, innocent little Shaun Mars will become his ninth victim. Think about it. It's hard to get the best possible ending, but it's totally worth fighting for, considering how depressing an ending to this game can be at its very worst. Since it's mostly an interactive movie, Heavy Rain lives on its main characters. Here they are.

Ethan Mars is by all means the main character of the game, a classic Saw victim. The Origami Killer is considered to target children, but actually he doesn't kill them directly. Actually, he doesn't kill anyone directly, but fathers are much closer to being his real targets. He holds the children captive, and lures their fathers to play his games, which would spell death for any normal human being - you'd have to be quite the dedicated daddy to survive what he calls "trials". Failure most likely results in the deaths of both father and son. Ethan goes through some incredible shit throughout the game. Losing his son, separating from his wife and not being able to get any work done are child's play compared to what the Origami Killer puts him through. Most of the gameplay in Ethan's case is based on his trials, which all differ from each other. Ethan's gameplay is the most balanced of them all, you have to learn every trick in the game to keep him alive throughout the ordeal.

Norman Jayden is a very efficient crime scene investigator that has these cool VR sunglasses. He's an amazing profiler with a good sense of justice and formidable hand-to-hand combat skills, but he also has a very difficult drug problem, which he is trying to shake off throughout the game. The gameplay as Norman starts off very smoothly: most of the time during the first half of the game you gather evidence, then sit in the office and browse through it all, interrogate people and do stuff which office rats usually do, but later on Norman heads to the field and gets into trouble with an array of shady characters. What makes his combat sequences harder than most is, of course, his little problem with dope. Detox can be a fateful thing...

Scott Shelby is simply one of the best characters in video game history. The first time we see him, we go all "what the hell?". It's not often that a hero is a middle-aged, fat private detective. The more Scott speaks and the more he does, we grow to love him. He's so adorable, and so gentle, and still one tough, not to mention clever and diverse son of a bitch when it comes to rescuing damsels in distress, kicking ass for the fun of it, or simply taking care of a baby. Yeah, you read right. Scott is the kind of guy we all want to be... or so it seems. He also has the one of the most frightening cases of character development in video game history. But that, you'll have to see for yourself.

I'll gladly get myself in more trouble if I keep
getting help from nurses who look like that!
Finally, we have Madison Paige. The only female character of the main cast is usually promoted as the main character of the game, but to me, she's just extra support and here to provide us with potentially several moments of female frontal nudity. Her gameplay sequences are, in my opinion, the dullest in the game. She's more of a talker than a doer, but there are a few optional sequences that have her kicking ass like the rest of them. On my second playthrough, I actually yawned through Mad's chapters until I figured to do some crucial things differently, and ended up in quite tight spots, which I thoroughly enjoyed even more than being able to see a CGI model of how good the insanely hot Jacqui Ainsley looks naked. And that's a lot.

Having clashed through Heavy Rain twice, and as a dedicated fan of psychological thrillers and horror movies, I must point out a few negatives, trying not to spoil anything - since Heavy Rain is one game that even I dare not to spoil. The story is incredibly strong and I don't remember experiencing this kind of thick atmosphere in any game that came before Heavy Rain, but the more the plot thickens, the more it's punched full of holes. As a result, the key to the mystery is a real letdown. I'm a huge fan of Twin Peaks, and I've read David Lynch's autobiography several times. The network forced him to reveal the identity of Laura Palmer's murderer, which he never wanted to do. He said people love the mystery. They might want the answer, but it's bound to be a disappointment. That's exactly the case when it comes to Heavy Rain - the mystery is what counts. The murderer's identity is the same across all endings - it's just the things you do and the decisions you make that define whether you'll catch him or not - and I must say, I'm not quite pleased. With more precision and a keener eye for details, the grand revelation would've been phenomenal. Apart from impossible QTE  combinations that feel like playing Twister with your fingers, the gaping plotholes and the several errors in details (ie. numbers) are by far the only things stirring up this unique gameplay experience.

Like I already said, Heavy Rain is not a difficult game to beat. What is hard, or a little time consuming at least, is acquiring the 57 Trophies that come with it - which, to my knowledge, is the largest amount of base Trophies in any retail game. Nearly every chapter has a Trophy or two for certain feats completed within it, such as being able to negotiate with a robber instead of having to beat the shit out of him, being a cool but strict dad to your son, and being able to execute lengthy and complexed QTE sequences without making any mistakes. Most of the Trophies are hidden, since they're spoilers in themselves. What? Did you ask how much a movie has replay value? Well, let's see. The game has over 15 endings for different characters that count towards the fabled All Endings Trophy. That's a start. You'd also have to consider that at its best, Heavy Rain offers you a dozen different choices in a single situation or environment. It might seem wholly linear, but I'd not be too amazed if you found some small, new thing to do, or an extra piece of dialogue from the game on the sixth or seventh playthrough, or chapter select if you're feeling lazy.

Yep, I can't deny it: Heavy Rain is amazing. I wouldn't go calling it the Sony game of the decade, and not even the PS3 game of 2010, but it's the most unique and artful retail game I've played since God knows when. It's the kind of game that easily leads you to glue yourself to the couch and do mental battle with the sleep fairies until it's all done - you just can't rest before solving the mystery, as disappointing as the result might turn out. I said "might", 'cause I know my picky nature when it comes to psychological thrillers.

Graphics : 9.7
Sound : 9.0
Gameplay : 8.9
Challenge : 8.8
Overall : 9.0


GameRankings: 89.30%

The game took four years to complete, and originally, it was supposed to be a multi-platform title. After witnessing the crowd's positive reaction towards a technical demo of the game for the PS3 at E3 2006, Quantic Dream sold Sony Computer Entertainment exclusive rights to the title.

Only a few months into its release, Heavy Rain was re-released with PlayStation Move compatibility. The original version of the game got a v2.00 patch at the same time, also with Move compatibility.

A wide array of scenes was deleted from the final product, especially scenes that would've brought more depth into Madison's character, which is described "shallow" by many critics. In the final version of the game, it's never explained why she's insomniac - a deleted scene would've explained that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by her past as a war correspondent in Iraq.

Playable scenes were cut out which would've shown what Ethan goes through during his blackouts. However, the developers thought these scenes had a supernatural tone they didn't want to be a part of the story.

Lucas Kane's apartment from Quantic Dream's previous game Fahrenheit is in one of the possible endings. It's hinted that the games' events take place in the same universe.

Although several open endings and one of Madison's good endings are vague groundwork for a sequel, director David Cage has said he's not the "sequel type", so there will probably never be a direct sequel to Heavy Rain.

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