In the game, you play as four main characters: Ethan Mars, an architect suffering from mental and emotional instability, journalist Madison Paige, FBI agent Norman Jayden, and private investigator Scott Shelby. By playing through this interactive drama (as Quantic Dream and others have called it) as the four characters, you'll uncover the mystery and learn the truth about the 'Origami Killer'.... Or will you?
Heavy Rain is all about suspense and atmosphere. The game will continue if one of the main characters dies. Even if all of main characters die or fail to make it to the end of the final chapter, the game just continues. No try again option here. And while this may make some gamers nervous, it's actually one of the many ways Quantic Dream creates the nerve-racking tension and dramatic impact that is so present throughout the game.
Spilt-second decisions will have to be made throughout the game. What seems like insignificant choices can have big effects on the ending of game. For example, when playing as Norman Jayden, how you question a suspect or which clues you pick up will guide you in certain directions that may or may not help you find the 'Origami Killer'.
Heavy Rain is a beautiful game and Quantic Dream's character design is top-notch. You can really appreciate this in the loading screens which use close-ups of the main characters. The eye movements, texture and detail of the face are incredible.
Quantic Dream used motion capture for each character's body and facial movements and they seem really fluid and natural most of the time. Sadly, while the main characters look great, it doesn't seem that the environments got the same attention. The majority of the settings in the game lack the texture and shading detail given to the character designs.
The controls take some getting used to, but the game uses its opening chapter as a tutorial for learning the movement prompts and commands.
There have been some criticisms that the whole game is one big simple, boring Quick Time Event (QTE) sequence, but that's not really true. The QTE sequences are one element of the game and actually add to the tension of the high-action scenes. If your character is in danger, there is no checking your inventory or equipping a weapon. Heavy Rain is not that kind of game. These QTE sequences keep you in the moment and add limitations to what you can do as the character while upping the emotional impact.
In the chapter called "The Bear", you control Ethan Mars as he drives full speed the wrong way down a five-mile stretch of highway. Playing through this chapter was one of the most suspenseful and heart-racing moments of all my gaming experiences! The entire time I was just trying to focus on the action prompts and on timing them correctly while watching what was happening around the Ethan. There is nothing boring or simple about any of the action sequences in Heavy Rain.
Heavy Rain uses its characters to drive the story. You can hear the characters' thoughts at the push of a button. These thoughts can also provide hints for what to do next.
The QTEs are also used for thoughts and dialog. You'll have just one or two words that describe the available options. The character's surroundings and stress level also have an impact on their thoughts, dialog and action choices. The more stressed a character is, the more scrambled and hard to read the choices are, adding to the suspense of these scenes.
Another element used in Heavy Rain to create tension and suspense is the pacing of the story. One chapter will have you going through an afternoon spending time with your son, getting dinner ready and reminding him about his homework, while the next chapter will have you fighting for your life in hand-to-hand combat with an enemy. That contrast in action gives more impact to those suspenseful and emotional scenes.
Right from the beginning, you'll notice how Heavy Rain feels like a movie, from the camera angles to the plot to the pacing of the events. That movie-like feeling makes this a game others can actually watch you play and still be engaged in what's going on.
The different perspectives obtained by playing as four characters versus just one pulls you deeper into the story and also introduces different elements of gameplay, from Ethan's "trials" set up by the Origami Killer to Jayden's and Shelby's detective work, and Madison's interactions with other characters.
As much as I enjoyed Heavy Rain, there are some criticisms. For all the emphasis Quantic Dream placed on the story, there is at least one significant plot hole that is never resolved in the game.
Also some of the voice acting is distracting. Most of the voice actors have noticeable European accents and although they are mainly well-disguised (except for the occasional odd pronunciation.... like the word "origami"), some of the supporting and minor characters have very thick accents that they seemed to make no effort to cover.
However, the music of Heavy Rain is excellent. The game's score is so good it almost makes up for the out-of-place French accents with melancholy, foreboding and sharp tracks that are timed perfectly for each scene.
Although Heavy Rain does not have traditional checkpoints that you can restart from if a character dies, the game is split up into small chapters, each about 5-10 minutes long. If one of the main characters does die (and you weren't trying to get them killed on purpose), you can go to the game's main menu and load any chapter you've already completed. The game even allows you to play through chapters without saving so you can explore different paths in the story without altering your saved game. This makes collecting trophies much easier since you can simply replay single chapters depending on the trophy you're aiming for.
This is a pretty short game. One play-through may only take about eight hours, but with more than a dozen different ending scenes, there's significant replay value.
Heavy Rain is a landmark in gaming. With stunning graphic technology, action-packed gameplay, and its psychological thriller plot complete with twists and turns, Heavy Rain is visionary. This is a must-play game.