As I say, I want to avoid mentioning any plot specifics in this preview, but what I will say is that Quantic Dream has done a good job of filling the first 12 scenarios or so with provocative and exciting events. There are quite a few action-focused scenes during this period - stressful episodes that will test both your reflexes and your concentration - but I found myself equally enjoying the quieter scenarios, like the one I discussed in my last preview. It's often during these moments that Heavy Rain feels most like a hyper-modern descendent of the point-and-click adventure genre. True, there aren't an abundance of puzzles to be solved, but while playing as FBI Agent Norman Jayden you'll frequently be scanning your surroundings and pressing people for clues to push forward your investigation. The detective-playing aspects of Heavy Rain remind me of Westwood's excellent Blade Runner game from 1997, as the issue is often not whom you should talk to, but how you should talk to them. Considering how successful that game was at approaching the adventure genre in a fresh manner, I feel that this similarity bodes well.
Ever since this project first appeared, there's been lots of animated speculation about whether Heavy Rain is a video game in the true sense, or whether it's simply an interactive movie. Having played the game for some time now, my gut says that it's both. Yes, the game is driven by its story, and yes, quick time events form a major part of the player's input - but it would be a big mistake to write the game off for being a collection of cut-scenes. For most of the time, you're fully in control of your character's movement: on its own, the left analogue stick will move your head and allow you to inspect your surroundings; if you hold down R2 you'll start to walk, with the stick now governing your direction. Most other actions are initiated via context-dependent movements of the right stick. Some of these instructions require simple single-direction presses, while others require wide controlled arcs, or motions that are carried out with a slow, controlled speed.
There's actually quite a large selection of moves and button combos that need to be picked up and mastered before you'll be seamlessly following on-screen prompts, and together these inputs form their own sort of control system - in other words, it's not just "Hit triangle to avoid the falling rock". The only time that Heavy Rain ever feels really quick time-y is during its fight sequences, where the more organic inputs are swapped for more random hit-the-button demands. The thing is, these interludes are usually very tense, and you're asked to fulfil so many prompts that it's easy to let one slip. At this point your character will usually take a hit or get hurt in some way - and thanks to the game's graphical strengths, this is a fairly unpleasant experience. Once again, the empathy factor comes into play.
It's also worth a brief mention that the quick time events here are far, far better than the Simon Says system that appeared in Farenheit, Quantic Dream's previous game. Last time around, you'd often find yourself hammering through lengthy pattern-matching sequences that seemed to have little or no correlation to what was actually happening on-screen. Now when you're fighting for your life or desperately trying to escape from someone, it actually feels like you're doing just that. You'll also witness the result of your success or failure almost immediately - eluding an incoming fist or taking it full in the face, depending on your reflexes. As a result, action sequences are far more satisfying than what you'd expect from your typical QTE section.
Heavy Rain has certainly gathered a sizeable collection of sceptics, but if you fall into this camp then I humbly urge you to remain as open-minded as possible - at least until you can try it out for yourself. The control system is less specific than what we're used to, but that's largely because the game is trying to do so much more than the average video game. Most releases only need to handle one or two core mechanisms - usually moving and shooting - but Heavy Rain doesn't have that luxury. This is the game where characters do hundreds of different things, even within one scene: they walk around, pick up objects, and juggle them. It's a game where people threaten, plead and lie to each other. It's a game where people pretend to be airplanes with their kids, where they do the washing up, where they desperately scrabble away from someone who's trying to hurt them. Heavy Rain is all of these things, and I for one can't wait to see what else it has up its sleeve.
Heavy Rain is due out exclusively for the PS3 in 2010.