PS3 Games: Heavy Rain Review

Heavy Rain PS3 – the latest exclusive review from zavvi.com

zavvi.com brought you our Heavy Rain PS3 Preview in early Jan 2010…now with only days left until it’s official release we’re got an exclusive fully fledged review for you to feast your eyes on…

It has been far too easy over the past twelve months to draw comparisons between some of videogaming’s biggest hitters and blockbusting Hollywood movies. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2 both set new benchmarks by involving players in mega-budgeted action spectacle to a never-before-seen degree, but their plots and characters were also categorically the stuff of Hollywood pulp, and in the case of Modern Warfare 2, Hollywood pulp at its most bombastically excessive.

Embedded within Heavy Rain’s trophy collection lies the perfect definition of exactly what Heavy Rain actually is. Strip the storylines away from Modern Warfare 2 and Uncharted 2 and you’re still left with two absolutely belting videogames, but Heavy Rain without its story amounts to absolutely nothing. Towards the end of the game’s first chapter, and after being presented with a series of small but fundamental choices pertaining to the relationship between lead character Ethan Mars and his pre-teen son, a trophy announcement pings up on your screen. “Thank you for supporting interactive drama”.

And Heavy Rain is exactly that – an interactive drama. It is also a love letter to David Fincher, one of the greatest thrillers of all time (in any medium) and the single-minded creation of a formidable visionary.

The most astounding thing about Heavy Rain – and there are plenty of contenders – is that it has the power to brace almost any conceivable audience. zavvi.com has seen Heavy Rain being played in front of a multitude of different people, and every time the result was exactly the same: complete and utter enchantment. Some of these people had never even entertained the notion of picking up a Dualshock before, and the allure clearly lay in the peerless sense of storytelling craft, the painstaking techniques utilised to emulate the narrative texture of popular cinema, and unequivocally the most important cog in this beautiful machine: writing of an exorbitantly high quality.

However, critiquing Heavy Rain in any real depth does involve divulging some mammoth plot spoilers, so it is perhaps best to simply appraise the different degrees of control that you are given over David Cage’s sprawling opus. There are, essentially, three. The first is mere visual stimulus. When playing as grizzled private detective Scott Shelby for example, in one scene you listen as a mother grieves over the death of her young son. You are free to pensively pace around the room, sit beside her to offer some comfort, or stand intimidatingly over her whilst gripping the back of a nearby chair. Your decisions in this instance may not be critical – in fact they often make no difference at all – but they let you have a hand in building a connection with both of the characters, which gently amplifies your involvement in the story.

The second is purely character-based, and the best way to approach these segments is by addressing what exactly you enjoy about the movies you watch and the books you read. If you want FBI Agent Norman Jayden to be belligerent and cocky, purely to enhance your own enjoyment of the story, then you can shape him that way. If you can’t bear to see a father (and perhaps Heavy Rain’s primary hero) mistreat his own son to any degree, then when you play as Ethan Mars, you are free to be as lenient with your child as you like. You also decide things like whether or not particular characters pull the triggers of their guns in certain scenarios, or whether a certain character accepts a drink from someone who may or may not be worthy of your trust. In short, the characters can be who you want them to be, and that puppet-master sense of control is fresh and exhilarating.

The third degree is utterly pivotal, and represents by far the best portions of the game. As the intensity of the story builds to fever pitch in the latter two thirds of Heavy Rain, all four of it’s main characters are frequently put into scenes of extreme jeopardy, and the player is left in full charge. Misfire your gun during a shootout or take a sharp wrong turn whilst careering toward incoming traffic, and your character will die, completely re-shaping the remainder of the story in the process. If the detractors are correct, and all that Quantic Dream have done with Heavy Rain is sell you a glorified cinema seat, then it represents appalling value for money, because for the last three quarters of Heavy Rain you’re only likely to be using the edge of it.

There are also moments of genuinely intelligent, shudder-inducing horror. One sequence, set in an unmanned electricity plant, sequentially plays on so many primal human fears that were it to have taken place in a movie; critics would be falling over themselves to label its director a master of the genre. There are also respectful nods toward the Saw movies but really, this is a fawning homage to David Fincher‘s two serial killer masterpieces Se7en and Zodiac. It cribs (and nails) Se7en’s film-noir atmosphere and downbeat pessimism, as well as Zodiac’s pedantic obsession with crime-scene detail and its browbeaten acknowledgment of caustic political corruption.

The first two months of 2010 has seen Sony deliver two revolutionary, cutting-edge suckerpunches. If you stand back and look at what Zipper Interactive’s MAG and now Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain both attempt and accomplish, you’ll see a exemplar of what the Playstation brand has always endeavored to personify. These are adult, forward-thinking and incomparably innovative projects, and scrambling for comparisons with either is a fruitless task.

If you have even the slightest interest in the continuing development of videogames as an artistic medium, then the question is not whether or not you will play Heavy Rain, but when. Because put simply, you have to.

Watch the Heavy Rain PS3 trailer here…

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