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Heavy Rain: Killing Me Softly (with Origami...)

Ah. Heavy Rain. What is Heavy Rain? I got my first glimpse of Heavy Rain at E3 2006, as a demo called, "The Casting". It was in the works way back then. You might remember it; it was nothing but some video of this hyper-realistic looking girl going through a very emotional monologue in a kitchen with a gun, only to have the scenery change to reveal her to actually be at an acting audition, showing her range of emotion. That was merely intended to show off the graphical power of the PS3 and the realism that could be achieved, as well as a hint of what this game would be. Essentially, it was a tech demo of a facial emotion engine. Or something to that effect. Still, this did generate some interest and some buzz at the time, then it sort of became one of those "where are they now" sort of things that never saw the light of day.

Well, it looks like the clouds might be clearing just enough that Heavy Rain will see the light of day, sometime next year. For the moment, all we have to look at is a demo that was sent to the press. I have spent some time with Heavy Rain, and have things to report, but the first thing to say is that the save feature was, sadly, non-functional in the demo I received. Based on the menu, it looks like the final game will allow you to have multiple saves and to easily jump to any chapter you've been to in a particular saved game, but neither the Load function or the Scene Select function would work for me. So, I have spent most of my time with this game in the earlier parts, and can't say for sure how far the demo goes. Specifically, there was one part, several chapters in, where I hit a glitch that froze my PS3 up and I had to start over from the beginning again.

Playing the first chapters a few times did give me the opportunity to try doing things in different ways, but there are some things that you have to do to progress. That is to say, there are some parts that are fairly linear and required, such as the "tutorial" parts in the first scene that are intended to familiarize you with the control "prompts" and how to treat the different ones. For instance, one type of prompt means that you are simply supposed to press the indicated button, while another means you are supposed to press the indicated button repeatedly and still another means that you should slowly push the button (or move the indicated analog stick) in order to perform actions that require precision. For example, one such precision action is when you are shaving. (That's right, kids... shaving!) If you move the analog stick too fast, you'll nick yourself. Mind you, if you intentionally make him nick his face repeatedly (because you can), he won't get all bloody and bleed out in his bathroom sink or anything, but you can't get past the shaving part until you master two well-controlled and precise strokes. Once you make a couple of appropriate strokes, the game takes over for a bit, until you have to shave in a different direction, then you have to do that, too. Before the game will allow you to get dressed (before it's even an option), you will have to complete such daring acts as shaving, showering (where man-butt takes center stage, but frontal nudity is avoided in a way that feels like it fell straight out of Austin Powers. Yeah, baby!) You can even make him urinate in the toilet, something totally original and not at all done already in a Duke Nukem game back when they actually were released. Sadly, though, if you care about hygiene, you'll want to pee before you take your shower, because there's no option to use the sink after using the toilet. This is a symptom of one of Heavy Rain's issues: it's somewhere between an interactive movie and a game, allowing you to do some things that are outside of the mostly linear plotline, not allowing you to stray very far or, in the case of using the toilet, not necessarily letting you take even obvious "follow-up" actions that would seem completely rational, but wouldn't advance the story. Other things, that might not be things you want to do, are required to advance the story. This can be confusing and, well, frustrating. Also, some of the things you can do advance the story and are mandatory (no matter how much time you take, you won't proceed until you do that action), while other actions are essentially timed events and even if you're trying to do them, if you take too long, the story is affected. As an example, in the first scene, when your wife asks you to fetch the dishes and says they're in the living room cupboard, I said I'd get them, then immediately went outside to play with the kids, not even noticing where she eventually fetched them from on her own. In a subsequent play-through, I told her I would fetch them and then looked for them, not able to find them for some time. She was scolding me asking if I was going to get them or not and telling me where they were as I searched for them in desperation. After some time, I found the living room cupboard (in the dining room - go figure) and retrieved the dishes and put them out on the table. Mind you, it wasn't as quick as all that; there were analog stick movements to make to open the cabinet and to precisely and carefully place the plates on the table... these things take time.

As you play through the different scenes, you play as different characters. You play as the primary character in the scene, which is usually either someone (such as an F.B.I. agent or a private investigator) who is investigating a serial killer - the "Origami Killer" - who leaves origami figures in his victims' hands, or the loving father (from the first scene) who suffers from mysterious blackouts from time to time and then wakes up at the same street corner, near a railroad track, with an origami figure in his hand. There are different sorts of actions you can do when playing as the different characters, but almost everything is context-sensitive, so it's not like other games that have a certain set of "moves" that a character can do. You find out how a given character can interact with the environment around him by approaching different things and following on-screen prompts, if they appear.

One effect that is pretty cool looking is the Augmented Reality system that the F.B.I. character has. Slip on the glasses and a special glove, and you basically have your very own Minority Report-style interface and Heads Up Display information displaying things such as DNA, footprints and scent trails. The first time I saw this effect was in an early demo of Heavy Rain. The first time I used this effect was in Batman: Arkham Asylum in Detective Mode.

The thing that does work well is the way that the characters convey emotion. The characters are realistic looking (well, some look like life-long residents of the Uncanny Valley), and the emotions they display seem realistic. The gameplay, however, feels like an over-developed version of the "button-sequence" gameplay, made popular by God of War. Typically, these sequences have been sort of an agreement between the game developers and the players whereby the main part of the game is suspended, and a certain predetermined action occurs - in stages - with completion dependent on correct button pushes or analog stick movements as indicated on the screen while this "cinematic event" plays out in the background. This is, at its core, very reminiscent of Dragon's Lair. Heavy Rain seems to have taken this interactive cinematic section and used that as the main gameplay style. Because of this, it is primarily the storyline that gives the player the desire to continue playing and any possible desire to play Heavy Rain through more than once. I will say that the inability to load a saved game put quite a damper on my experience. I would have liked to load a scene and try behaving a different way to see how the story would have changed, but not enough to keep trying again from scratch.

Heavy Rain is still interesting. If nothing else, it's different from other things out there. Only time will tell how it's received by the public. Hopefully, it will hit the shelves while there's still something novel in it. The problem with taking a long time to develop a game is that other games can steal your thunder by doing some of the things you were trying to do... and getting to market before you.

-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins
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