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Heavy Rain
Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Quantic Dream
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:
How far would you be willing to go to save someone you loved? How far would you be willing to push someone else to do the same? Could you sit by and witness someone sink to the lowest depths of desperation? That's the long and short of Heavy Rain. It's a game about exploring how far, and how deep, characters and players are willing to go in a videogame and see what sort of person would come back from those depths.

Heavy Rain is the latest PS3 showcase from developer Quantic Dream, who are known for the criminally underappreciated Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit if you're outside The U.S.) and what David Cage and his crew have accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. Easily setting a new standard for believable virtual acting, Heavy Rain is a visually arresting journey through a dark crime drama.

The technical strength of the PS3 is on full display here. Heavy Rain creates some of the most memorable locations, both physical and psychological, and proves that enough time and money can make anything look believable. Heavy Rain manages to string together enough carefully crafted moments with such excellent delivery that I was drawn into these characters more than most of my favorite films.

Heavy Rain uses smart cinematography and brilliant pacing to truly give it a cinematic quality. For many people, it will probably be distracting seeing so many different angles to the same scene, but it creates a mood which other games simply don't bother with unless it is a big finale. So much of Heavy Rain is predicated on the player's willingness to surrender themselves into its world, and as it is, Heavy Rain is a fully characterized world with terrific performances that serve to draw you into the scene.

That isn't to say Heavy Rain is perfect; there are a few too many moments that look rushed and the framerate becomes an issue towards the end. Certain character animations are re-used too frequently and some minor character model glitches cause major breaks in the immersion that almost take you out of the scene completely. None of these are deal-breakers, but don't expect it to be completely flawless either. Even with all these flaws, nothing is detracted. Heavy Rain still overcomes all of these shortcomings and creates a flow to the scene no matter how many different ways you watch it.

A good director will tell you that a scene is only as good as the soundtrack that accompanies the action. Heavy Rain took advantage of a full orchestra to create some of the most tense and terrifying moments that rival the dramatic tension found in an Aronofsky film. The music peaks at just the right moments and punctuates the scene perfectly. The main theme is used sparingly and the best moments in the game are memorable thanks, in part, to the great soundtrack that plays during the scene. The voicework is equally great, but the music really steals the show.

Heavy Rain is, to put it simply, a game about choices. Of course, consequences follow the choices, but not immediately. Each little decision you make for each character serves as both a wrinkle in the fabric of the story, as well as adding your own personal narrative to each character's development.

Whether you play as the father who carefully turns off the lights as he tucks his son into bed or a seasoned private investigator that stands up against a stubborn mugger to protect a lead, every decision adds depth to the character and a much deeper understanding of each character's motivations as they search for clues that could catch the dangerous Origami Killer.

While playing each character, you have the opportunity to listen in on their thoughts about any given situation. Sometimes it is a harrowing revelation about their guilt that they have carried with them the entire time and other times, it is a hostile reaction to another character's brash personality, but every thought is contextualizing the scene and no matter how many different ways I activated thoughts or engaged in alternate decisions, the story of Heavy Rain is always consistently woven together. I encourage everyone that plays Heavy Rain to accept the consequences of their actions and see how the story can continue given each choice.

Interacting with characters and objects in Heavy Rain feels like an evolution of old-school adventure games. The important objects and characters have a prompt that appears in order to engage them and what follows is a sometimes lengthy sequence of intense quick-time events. Many people will notice familiarity with the Q.T.E. in Heavy Rain and those found in God of War or Shenmue, but the main difference in Heavy Rain is the importance of the Q.T.E. in relation to the characters and the actions on-screen. No other game has made me cringe or go into fits of nervous laughter during a Q.T.E. sequence like Heavy Rain does. With the best use of the SIXAXIS to date, Heavy Rain carefully planned every motion of the controller and the added level of involvement of the player strengthens the connection to the characters and their well being.

Heavy Rain has designed itself to be one of the most playable games in recent memory. There isn't any way to really lose in Heavy Rain. Death is permanent, but that doesn't mean "Game Over." It means the rest of the story carries on without the character that died. Depending on the paths you take and decisions you make, there is a way to have all four characters dead by the end of the game and leave the entire mystery unresolved, but it's also possible to save everyone with the best possible outcome too. As long as you keep playing, you are progressing through to the end. Of course, there are different difficulty levels for people who aren't as experienced with the fast-paced quick-time events that define Heavy Rain, but those are really a secondary mechanic to an otherwise subtle and slow-paced game and honestly, they are fairly easy.

It is hard to gauge how long Heavy Rain will last because of the complexity of the narrative. A conservative estimate is between 6 and 10 hours, depending on how much of each scene is explored and how many characters are alive by the end of the game. Despite a perceivably short play time, nothing about Heavy Rain feels forced or overly drawn out. The story is as long as it needs to be and the end result is still satisfying no matter which of the 20 endings you see.

Game Mechanics:
The implicit interactive nature of Heavy Rain means that there is no real "gameplay" to speak of. Everything about Heavy Rain is comprised of scripted quick-time events, except for character movements. By holding (R2), you control each of the characters like a car. (R2) moves everyone forward and you steer their bodies with the Left Analog Stick. While controlling a character, holding down (L2) brings up their thoughts and you can decide what to hear with the appropriate on-screen button presses.

The level of enjoyment Heavy Rain has is largely related to how much you put in. The more involved you are with the decision-making process of each character, the more rewarding their resolutions become. If you just rush through the story, it loses most of its emotional impact and the branching story paths are so well concealed that by the end of the game, you feel as though your personal story is how it happens for everyone else that plays it. To all first time players, resist to urge to replay a section if you missed something, because the consequences of each decision are important to the magic of the game.

Heavy Rain's ambitious storytelling and expertly crafted narrative has set a new standard for videogames. The choose your own adventure style gameplay pays off. The writing is terrific, the acting is great, and at times, Heavy Rain is an emotional rollercoaster, but in a good way. This really is the best example of a game for "Mature" audiences, not for the sexual themes or strong language, but for the sheer audacity of the story-telling. Heavy Rain blends the best of virtual acting and videogames in a wholly remarkable and fresh way that simply should not be missed.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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