This is Norman Jayden. He's now one of my all-time favourite videogame characters. You'll love him.
This is Norman Jayden. He's now one of my all-time favourite videogame characters. You'll love him.

This is Norman Jayden. He's now one of my all-time favourite videogame characters. You'll love him.

While these flexible controls are the key to the game's wide-ranging action set pieces, it's the virtual cast that make them count. Alongside Uncharted 2, Heavy Rain sets a new standard for lifelike human characters, and while the game generally employs a highly stylistic look, there are times where you could be forgiven for thinking that you're watching a film or high-budget TV show. The effect isn't constant, naturally, and the occasional odd movement or strange expression will remind you that you're playing a game, but the fact remains that these are characters who feel alive. You can read their mood from their expressions, from the way they move, and you'll soon realise that you actually care about what happens to them. Aside from the child actors and a few minor characters who are a bit too colourful for their own good, the cast turn in some very strong performances.

As you might expect, the central quartet are particularly well-drawn and voiced. Top honours should probably go to Leon Ockenden as Norman Jayden, a drug-addicted FBI agent who comes across as a good man haunted by his demons, but Sam Douglas also does a great job as Scott Shelby, an avuncular private detective whose inherent good nature steers him through all manner of tough spots. I found that it took me a little longer to warm to the other two characters – architect Ethan Mars and journalist Madison Paige. Mars is actually the star of the show, but he's about as far removed as you can get from your typical video game frontman: He's depressed, mentally confused, and more than a little tragic. I initially found the experience of “playing” him to be a bit jarring, but you're probably supposed to feel that way – and he ends up going through so much for the sake of his missing kid, it's hard not to empathise.

It feels a little strange to be writing such things in a game review, but the characters really are the heart of Heavy Rain. The atmosphere conjured by the constant drizzling rain, the bleak-but-beautiful lighting and the sublime music definitely plays an important role too, but it's the four heroes who drive things onward. When their lives are in danger, you'll care about whether or not they survive, and if they do die, you'll almost certainly mourn their absence. At the touch of a button you'll be able to listen to what they're thinking – a neat touch that further helps to make the cast feel like solid, organic creations. This ability can also be a massive help in the situations where you need to act fast. There actually aren't that many puzzles in the game, but several of the stickier situations are pretty terrifying when they crop up – and under these circumstances it's great to be able to get a clue from the hero's mind. On a similar note, there are several moments where the game will present you with a genuinely tough choice as to how to proceed, and here again you can listen in to get a handle on the character's response to a situation.

Ultimately, however, the choice is yours – and you'll have to live with the consequences of your actions, even if your characters might not. As I say, it took me roughly 10 hours to finish Heavy Rain, and after I was done I went back to tinker with some of the choices I'd made along the way. Strangely, my prior fears about the game being strictly controlled were both confirmed and assuaged by the final product. The path you take through the story is relatively linear, and some of the seemingly-important choices you make actually have very little bearing on the overall flow of the plot; on the other hand, the game is very clever in the way it folds the important points of difference – and indeed the missing presence of dead characters – back into the overall thread. I've seen five different endings so far, and while they all have certain common elements, I was very pleased by the variation in the conclusions I saw. More impressively, each of the endings seems to work well on its own terms: there are “good” and “bad” endings, to an extent, but the bad ones seem just as valid as the ones which reach a more positive end (I'll stop here now, as I feel like I'm verging on spoiler territory).

A slightly more concerning discovery, and one that's only really apparent on the second playthrough, is that often the player's input is fairly insignificant in terms of the overall way a scene plays out. You can screw things up, but a lot of the time you have to try quite hard to do so, and at times the game gives the impression that you might be in danger when it's actually impossible to fail. In short, the game uses a “rubber band” structure rather than a true branching plotline, and at time the bands are far tighter than how they might appear. Still, this is only really evident when you're coldly testing the mechanics of the game – and doing this feels a bit like pulling the wings off a butterfly.

You can't even go to the shops in this game without something nutso-barmy happening...

You can't even go to the shops in this game without something nutso-barmy happening...

As surprised as I am to say it, there's actually quite a bit of replay value in Heavy Rain, but my advice would be to leave the game a while after you complete it for the first time. Go look at the concept art, watch the little making-of videos, and play something else for a week or two before you come back. If you do this, it'll feel that much better on the second playthrough – but be aware that it will never be as exciting as the first time you venture into the great unknown. Beyond this, and the occasional slip in the otherwise superlative animation standards, there's only one criticism I can see people levelling at the game: it's very, very different to anything that's come before. If you're a twitch gamer, the kind of person who values the likes of Bayonetta above all else, you may struggle to get to grips with Heavy Rain. There's not a lot of gameplay in the traditional sense. The scenes which focus more heavily on detective work – largely those featuring Norman Jayden – suggest that the game could have been a lot closer to traditional point-and-click adventures, but that's not the path that Quantic Dream took. Make no mistake, this is an incredible game – but if you're a hardcore traditionalist who's sceptical of anything that doesn't demand oodles of player skill, it's unlikely you'll be falling in love here.

But for the rest of you, for those of you who can open your minds to the possibility of something genuinely new, this is mana from heaven. Heavy Rain is one of the most exciting things to happen to video games for a long, long time. It's not a threat to the old way of doing things, but it does hint at the possiblity of a whole new genre. It occupies a middle ground somewhere between gaming and cinema, and to be quite frank, there's nothing else like it anywhere. If you do plump for giving a pop, I can guarantee that you'll be discussing it – and all the great moments that I've resisted telling you about – for months to come. And if you want a true indicator of the PS3's abilities, and of the true potential of what video games can do, I can think of no better candidate.

New stuff to check out

To add your comment, please login or register

Highest Rated Comment

thpcplayer's Avatar

thpcplayer

Awwwwwww someone here certainly hates me. Thumbing each and every post of mine without any reasons( i think all my last 50 posts have been TD'ed). I dont think i was offensive to anyone atall.
Such a shame that a gorgeous website has been ruined by trolls and fanboys
Sorry if i went offtopic a little. It is most probabbly my last post ever.
{logs out}
Posted 16:18 on 11 February 2010

User Comments

mattack's Avatar

mattack

"Interactive Fiction" has been used for *decades*. Since the 1980s at least. I highly doubt that David Cage is the one who coined it, back then.
Posted 20:21 on 06 August 2013
Mr_Ninjutsu's Avatar

Mr_Ninjutsu@ mydeaddog

Unless that was sarcasm? But yeah I'm getting this for my birthday whoop whoop.
Posted 08:12 on 14 February 2010
mydeaddog's Avatar

mydeaddog

Quote:
Originally Posted by jtorry
I just finished this and it was amazing.

It really is, isn't it?
Posted 04:05 on 14 February 2010
Neon-Soldier32's Avatar

Neon-Soldier32

Really looking forward to this now tbh, just because of reviews, and if James is showing some emotion that isn't hatred towards everything, then it must be good =P
Posted 02:27 on 14 February 2010
jtorry's Avatar

jtorry

I just finished this and it was amazing.
Posted 01:15 on 14 February 2010
Woffls's Avatar

Woffls@ SebVG

Heh, that's a pretty novel idea actually. I think you should try it at VG mega-towers and stick a camera beside the TV so we can watch it :D Yes, some of us would watch the whole thing, but it would obviously need to lose the vast majority of the footage for the majority not to get bored. Maybe drink heavily before hand and plant some traps for the Orry-O Bros to walk into when they go to make tea in the kitchen...

...

you know, to make it funnier and more 'videogamerish' to watch.
Posted 23:53 on 13 February 2010
cousinwalter's Avatar

cousinwalter

Has anyone been playing the four days experience? and if so do they know what the prize is going to be if you got the right suspect at the end? hopefully it'll will be something epic.... they have already given away clothes and stuff in home and early access to the demo so fingers crossed.

Anyway great review as always neon, i've been stoked about this game for what feels like ages. Like some said above I think if it gets to 1m copies sold it will be considered a success. Most people I know are looking to get it, even my manager who I convinced to buy a ps3 when he was drunk on our xmas party.... which begs the question could this game cross over to the causal gamer maket, that is if there is such a thing on the PS3?
Posted 10:27 on 13 February 2010
clangod's Avatar

clangod

Yeah this looks better played with silence, a dark room and volume. Chatting with mates throughout the game would definitely effect immersion. I'll be trying to play through this without distractions I think.

Wouldn't want to miss anything.
Posted 09:30 on 12 February 2010
El-Dev's Avatar

El-Dev@ SebVG

Passing the controller around could take away from some of the immersion in the story and maybe ruin the atmosphere, and the inevitable talking that would take place from those who aren't playing.
Posted 08:25 on 12 February 2010
SebVG's Avatar

SebVG

Glad to see so many people open minded to this game, from what I have seen it looks really interesting. My biggest "hope" is that you can sit down with a group of mates, passing the controller around scene by scene, and almost watch it like a movie. I really feel like this could work, but then again games with really deep stories can be very personal.

Thoughts?
Posted 02:40 on 12 February 2010
jakeistheman's Avatar

jakeistheman

great review neon, been very cautious of reviews mainly because of spoilers so great job. Also defiantly getting this, i love original ideas and since iv never played a game like this its a must buy for me.
Posted 21:01 on 11 February 2010
El-Dev's Avatar

El-Dev@ rbevanx

There was no mention in the review, to my recollection, about the screen tearing. I wonder if it was fixed for the final/review build.

As regards to the will it be a system seller question, no I doubt it. If it sells 1m copies I'd be impressed.
Posted 17:52 on 11 February 2010
rbevanx's Avatar

rbevanx@ El-Dev

Yeah it's clearly a game worth checking out. I will be getting it on launch.
Even if Neon hated I still would have got it tbh, as I was so impressed by the demo.
Posted 17:48 on 11 February 2010
El-Dev's Avatar

El-Dev

If the thumbs system is being done away with I reckon we should be allowed an ignore user function then. Although this really isn't the place to discuss these matters.

Heavy Rain appears to have got rave reviews from the sites I read anyways.
Posted 17:41 on 11 February 2010
clangod's Avatar

clangod

I don't have enough thumbs to re-establish the balance. Sorry, I've failed you all...

Now I can dedicate my time to gaming and leave saving the universe to the movie stars.
Posted 17:15 on 11 February 2010

Game Stats

Heavy Rain
9
Out of 10
Heavy Rain
  • Nerve-shreddingly exciting at times
  • Believable, well-drawn characters
  • Incredibly beautiful
  • Loses impact on repeat playthroughs
Agree? Disagree? Get Involved!
Release Date: 26/02/2010
Platform: PS3
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Adventure
No. Players: One
Rating: BBFC 15
Site Rank: 313
View Full Site