Heavy Rain: Awkward Start, Great Finish

Heavy Rain box artMy first impressions of Heavy Rain weren’t great. After a protracted installation session, I was wholly underwhelmed by the game’s glacier-slow and mind-numbingly tedious opening (see earlier post). However, Sir Gaulian assured me that the game picks up, and I’m glad I stuck with it.

For a start, it’s a film noir thriller, and I’m a sucker for film noir: over at 101 Films You Should Have Seen… Probably, we’ve eagerly covered all sorts of representatives of the genre, from the 70s noir revival Chinatown to the 90s sci-fi noir Dark City, with a bit of Lynchian psycho-horror noir thrown in for good measure. Heavy Rain is noir to its core, and it delivers a satisfying and convoluted story that throws in plenty of twists and red herrings to keep you on your toes. It’s also paced particularly well: although it starts off a bit too slow, the action builds nicely towards a breathtaking and satisfying crescendo.

The controls are a bit of a sticking point, however. I believe the aim of the control scheme was to mimic the actions taking place on screen: for example, to make Madison Paige put on lipstick, the game directs you to slowly move the analogue stick in a semi-circle. For most of the time you’ll be wandering around just matching inputs like this, but every now and then an action sequence will pop up where you have to match the command that appears within seconds to, say, dodge a punch. So, a bit like Dragon’s Lair, then. Later on, the consequences of missing these commands can be serious – your character can die permanently, and in fact I ended up doing a few quick restarts in an attempt to get Jayden through to the finale.

Sam Douglas is excellent as private detective Scott Shelby.

Sam Douglas is excellent as private detective Scott Shelby.

I have mixed feelings about this control system. If the aim of the controls was to develop more of a connection between your input and what happens on screen, then I think it has failed. If anything, the controls drive a wedge between the player and the game – I never really felt like I was controlling what was happening, more like a monkey pressing buttons in expectation of a reward. As such, it was more difficult to develop an attachment to the character I was ostensibly meant to ‘be’. Also, the decision to control walking by holding down R2 and then pressing in a direction with the left analogue stick is absurd. For the life of me I can’t work out why they didn’t just map movement to the analogue stick alone: why make us press R2 as well? It’s certainly not more immersive: half the time I found myself walking into walls as I wrestled with the controls.

However, I did quite enjoy the action sequences in the end. I’m not normally a fan of QTEs in games, but here there were some moments where my heart was really pounding as I desperately tried to follow the prompts on screen, knowing that if I failed, my character might not make it to the end of the game. There prompts are also set at a very well-thought-out level of timing – just forgiving enough to make them possible at first try, but still hard enough to make you really concentrate.

But, again, I did feel that in some way I was being robbed of control. The ‘decisions’ I made in the game often just game down to how quickly I mashed a button, so really it was more about reactions than decisions. I think the TellTale games did this a little better, providing you with clear, timed choices. L.A. Noire also bears some striking similarities to Heavy Rain, but I prefer the way that the former approaches controls: in that game you always feel like you’re in complete control of what’s happening, whereas in Heavy Rain there’s sometimes a bit of a disconnect.

There’s also a bit of unintentional comedy, not least with the whole ‘Press X to Jason’ thing, as well as a highly gratuitous shower scene that seemed to serve absolutely no purpose as far as I could see. But overall I enjoyed the game a lot more than I thought I would – it’s certainly a daring experiment, and I can see how other games have been hugely influenced by it.

The alternative reality glasses that FBI agent Jayden uses are a great idea - they could make a whole game using this mechanic.

The alternative reality glasses that FBI agent Jayden uses are a great idea – they could make a whole game using this mechanic.

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8 Comments

Filed under Backlog - The Mantelpiece of unfinished games, Reviews

8 responses to “Heavy Rain: Awkward Start, Great Finish

  1. I’ve been going through another game recently that gave me an awful first impression, but after 4 hours I got into it. Same with Heavy Rain. While I’d rather instantly have fun with a game, its important that a game get better. Its easier to endure movies that start awful and get better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lewispackwood

      I agree, I’d rather have a slow start than a rubbish ending. Although with completion rates for video games generally being quite low across the board, usually you find that a game will have a highly polished beginning but a slightly naff ending, as it makes sense to funnel development time towards the start. In this regard, Heavy Rain is a bit different – although apparently it has one of the highest completion rates on the PS3, so clearly people were willing to stick with it.

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  2. Agree the controls where a bit frustrating with this one – esp having to hold that button down to walk… Why?? And some of the other actions felt a bit awkward- it didn’t really do much immersion wise for me. Having said that, I did like the way the different options sometimes sort of buzzed around your head and shook. That really made me feel anxious and jittery which added a lot to the tension. Overall I loved the game but yeah, shower scene, sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lewispackwood

      Yeah, I liked the buzzy ‘thought’ swirling around – definitely a nice touch. That shower scene though – come on, really? Also, the game features possibly the least sexy sex scene I’ve ever witnessed. “Press X to undo bra”, etc. etc. The way they weirdly rebounded off each other with open mouths reminded me of feeding goldfish.

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  3. Yeah as you noted – I think Heavy Rain was great providing you can look through some of its issues with narrative and world-building dissonance.

    Strangely though, I tried to pick up and play Beyond: Two Souls late last year and found the actual mechanics tired and boring. Not sure I’d feel so fond of Heavy Rain if I were to have played it now. At the time though, wow was it engrossing, had me captured from the moment I pressed star I think.

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