‘Heavy Rain’ Review – Innovation Can Only Get You So Far

Innovation in video games can be a rare commodity. Every day we see titles pour onto store shelves which are derivative of successful franchises, attempting to copy what the last guy did while making it slightly better to justify another $60 purchase. “Heavy Rain” is not one of those games. While it has roots in classic adventure gaming, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played. It’s also not very good.

The Basics

Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels you read growing up? “Heavy Rain” is just like those, but with way more choice. You’ll control four different characters in an eastern seaboard American city (inspired, the developers tell me, by Philadelphia). The characters are tied together by the actions of a scourge known as The Origami Killer.

The Origami Killer has been kidnapping children and drowning them in rainwater. Your actions as the four characters will determine whether the latest kidnap victim survives.

The Highs

A Feeling Of Choice
As you explore the environments of “Heavy Rain,” you’re given more options than you probably know what to do with. You can interrogate witnesses, light matches, make eggs, change baby diapers, start fights and take showers, to name a few. Almost all of these are optional and performing them will affect future events. Some will have a large impact (you get fired from your job or killed in action), while others may simply ingratiate you to another character. Whether big or small, you do feel like you are guiding the story by your choices, instead of the developers guiding you along a pre-determined path. It’s extremely freeing.

Intense Moments
“Heavy Rain” is inspired by Hollywood thrillers like “Se7en” and there are definitely some Hollywood-quality moments throughout the course of the game. Car chases, fist fights, gun battles. These moments require you to hit certain buttons or shake the controller when a prompt appears on screen. Missing the prompt doesn’t end your game, it just means you failed that specific action (like you miss a punch, which results in you getting hit in the gut). It makes these moments nerve-racking, in a good way, as you try to survive the frantic reflex battle.

The Lows

The First Three Hours
“Heavy Rain” has one of the slowest, most arduous openings of any game I’ve ever played. The first three hours features a lot of sitting around, a lot of menial tasks (like getting dressed, doing work, making dinner) and a lot of, well, boredom. The first few levels are designed to introduce you to the characters, but such an introduction takes as long as a feature length movie, and by the time the story starts picking up, you’re sick of looking at two of the four protagonists. These intro levels are, by far, the worst part of “Heavy Rain,” which is simply bad planning from a development side.

Serious Script And Story Problems
The story in “Heavy Rain” isn’t very good, and it’s the most derivative aspect of the game. It steals plot points liberally from gorefests like “SAW,” and without a decent script behind it, it makes the similarities all the more transparent. The script in “Heavy Rain” is far from decent. Here are some sample lines I took from the beginning of the game:

Husband talking to wife: “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a diplomatic incident with your mother!”

Boy asking father for a balloon: “Please dad, can I have one? I’d really love to have one!”

Woman with insomnia: “A hot shower! That’ll create the magic of sleep!”

Once you get beyond the wooden, unrealistic dialog, you’re left with a number of plot holes and unearned twists throughout the game’s conclusion. A good twist is one where the audience feels like they could’ve guessed if they had been paying more attention. The twist in “Heavy Rain” will come as more of a shock, simply because it makes no sense whatsoever. I can’t see anyone playing through the ending of this game and being satisfied with the result.

Voice Actors Who Can’t Do American Accents
There are a handful of international vocal tracks in the game, and I can’t speak for how well the French or Spanish actors performed, but the English voice track is a disaster. Pascal Langdale, who plays the lead character, Ethan Mars, is incapable of a convincing American accent, and sounds more Irish than anything. Leon Okenden plays FBI agent Norman Jayden (another one of the main characters), and his version of an American accent is bordering on parody. The lead female actress, Jacqui Ainsley, does a passable job, but the only consistently solid actor in the bunch is Sam Douglas, who plays private investigator Scott Shelby, and he’s actually from America!

It’s possible that the developers at Quantic Dream, based in France, simply don’t have an ear for a convincing American accent, but c’mon, hire a casting agent or something! Broke and desperate American actors are a dime a dozen! For such a story and dialog-based game, it’s shocking that the extra effort wasn’t put forth to get the right people in the right parts.

Nonsensical Tasks
While I applaud the level of freedom that “Heavy Rain” gives you, it’s often at the price of making no sense whatsoever. I’ll give you an example: You’re an FBI agent in a police station. The chief, who you just met, is about to go into a press conference to talk about the serial killer’s latest victim. Before he goes in, he starts fumbling with his tie, and then asks you to tie it for him. You. The male FBI agent he just met who is most definitely not his wife or mistress. These ridiculous tasks occur throughout the game, and they do wonders to take you out of the believability of the situation.

Technical Problems
Throughout “Heavy Rain” I came across numerous technical glitches. They range from moderately unfortunate (some graphical screen tearing) to should-not-have-shipped (sound cutting out, for 3-4 seconds, making the audio in the rest of the scene totally of out sync). That’s not to mention the cutscene where a cop in a police station clips right through a desk. This isn’t some gameplay collision issue, it’s a cutscene! Clearly this game needed some more time in the oven.

The Verdict

As much as I want to applaud the freedom the player is given in “Heavy Rain,” I can’t seem to escape the fact that it’s not very fun. If the script was solid, or the voice actors were convincing, it would’ve been more bearable, but neither is the case. “Heavy Rain” is an experiment that might’ve worked as a small, indie project, but when you’ve got the backing of Sony behind you, there’s no excuse for a sub-par product. Upon finishing the game, I felt like I had just sat through a mediocre, 9-hour-long, made-for-TV movie. On the bright side, “God of War 3″ comes out next month.