My 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.
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.