Heavy Rain Demo Impressions

There’s a strange level of hype surrounding Heavy Rain. Press releases, media previews, Internet buzz and even an Official Playstation Magazine review that claimed it was “one of the freshest, most exciting, and even important games on PS3 so far.” It’s a game that wants to court portentous diatribes on the nature of gaming and how we should be taking it seriously. There’s an air of defiance to the coverage: you probably won’t like this game. It’s as if you’re being challenged to join the ranks of devotees. Clearly, then, this is a game from Quantic Dream, a company whose previous title, Fahrenheit, inserted its own director into the demo to talk about the experience.

There’s no David Cage this time round, which is kind of surprising because, as much as it tries to hide it, the simple kernel of truth at the core of all the bloat surrounding it’s release is that Heavy Rain plays pretty much like Fahrenheit. My attempt at demystification, however, shouldn’t be mistaken for dismissal because Heavy Rain is a slicker, more well-rounded and altogether more polished version of Fahrenheit. Not just graphically but conceptually and, most importantly of all, in its execution.

Take the quick-time event comprised action sequences. Already their assumed prominence in the game is being used as reason for derision. In truth though the sequences differ from QTEs in most games, including Fahrenheit, in small but substantial ways. In Fahrenheit they were used as a way to suggest interactivity with the often bizarre action happening on screen. Heavy Rain takes this concept, intensifies the focus and intertwines it with the on-screen events. During the fight sequence included in the demo each stage of the fight – every punch, block and chair thrown – has a corresponding button press which, if missed, causes you to fail that specific move instead of the entire sequence. The rhythm of the piece doesn’t feel panicked unless the action calls for it, and the fight feels a lot more realistic as your own mistakes lead to your opponent hitting your character.

The best implementation of this mechanic can be found in the second sequence of the demo. Your FBI investigator is exploring a crime scene, using his CSI-specs to highlight clues. All actions are context sensitive, so investigating a clue on the floor requires a flick of the analogue stick downward. This system leads to some surprisingly tricky moments in completely mundane scenarios. I found the trickiest part of the demo to be getting the FBI agent to climb an embankment in order to follow an evidence trail. Climbing requires a  series of simultaneous button presses that match the characters attempt to find his footing, becoming somewhat uncomfortable as sequences of three or four buttons must be held down at once. Going back down means another quick-time sequence in which my character fell over twice into the mud as I fumbled the controls. There is no danger and no real drama to be had here, just a brief sequence that adds an element of human clumsiness to the game. These little touches of realism created by your actions pervade the demo.

The demo also gives you a taste of the conversation options, which appear as different topics around your character. It’s not always clear what question these one word topics will elicit from your protagonist (something all to familiar to those currently playing Mass Effect 2) but you also don’t have the luxury of time as they start to fade away if you idle too long. Here you’re presented with a dilemma; play too cautious and you’ll not gain any useful information but push too far and you risk angering the character you’re questioning. In the demo scene my character suggested the money I’d paid under the guise of a customer to the prostitute he was questioning rightfully bought him any information she had on the murder of her son. This, to understate things, did not go down at all well.

There are still plenty of questions to be answered. Do events like conversations have any meaningful consequence later in the game? How compelling is the story going to be? Will it all go mental in the second half? For now though I’m relieved. Partly because Heavy Rain looks to have some really solid, well implemented mechanics. Mostly, though, it’s because, having played it, I can finally distance myself from the hype and go into it free from any expectations beyond being a really good adventure game.

You can see a video playthrough of the demo here and here, courtesy of Gametrailers (where I got screenshots from once again). The demo will be publicly released tomorrow on the PSN store.


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