Storywise, Heavy Rain is about a serial killer who drowns children in rain water and then leaves their bodies out in a field, with an origami figure in their hand (the killer is known as the Origami Killer). Something straight out of CSI.
This is a very adult game. And apparently I have a low tolerance for horror. What starts out as a CSI game quickly turns into something more like the Saw series. It becomes visceral, horrific, and very challenging to one’s psyche.
You rotate playing as four different characters. A father, an FBI agent, a journalist, and a private investigator. Each one puts parts of the puzzle together and eventually their stories begin to intertwine.
Let me start with what works extremely well. Instead of traditional controls, this game feels more like a nonstop cinematic (or movie) with what are called Quicktime events (QTEs). This is when you must press _ when it shows up on screen. If my character is investigating a crime scene, when I walk by evidence, the screen will show me “Press Up to pick up the evidence” or “Tap X to lift up this heavy rock.” It may sound like a hassle, but it’s incredibly enthralling. You are doing what the character is doing. As tasks become harder, you’re required to push buttons quicker or maybe push buttons together. At an extremely difficult point, I was holding five buttons down at once, my hands looked ridiculous.
But in the moment, it feels right. They did wonders here. There are a lot of fight scenes, with life or death consequences. All of your characters can die. And the story will move on. You can’t lose. So there are real stakes if your push X too late, your character might get hit in the temple with a crowbar and game over. It’s truly exhilarating.
Since so many things can go right (and wrong), there are a staggering number of endings. I just finished watching them all on YouTube and there is an amazing amount of complexity. The video I watched featured 17 endings. Different combinations of who is alive at the end of the game, different variations on who caught the killer, was the killer even found, etc…
Now, like I mentioned, this game is pretty visceral. Since you’re literally mimicking every action that your characters are doing, this puts you in some tough spots. An early scene involves someone crawling through broken glass. You are pushing the buttons that cause your character to crawl. The harder you push, the faster they go, but they also get hurt. So, you’re crawling slowly while your character is whimpering in pain. It’s so… *shudders* I don’t even know. It gets you though.
To help draw you into this world, the animations and voice acting are top notch. The faces are especially detailed. I was completely immersed in this world, in a lot of ways. Characters that you care about, situations that are drastic and urgent, and then stakes that are high.
But now the downside. Even though there are 17 endings, at least, I don’t want to play again. I barely got through it once, why would I want to do that again? It’s not an uplifting story. It’s about kids being killed and trying to figure out the sicko that’s doing it. I don’t want to crawl through glass again. Just watching the endings was enough for me. Kudos to the developers, but I found no replayability. I’m just not strong enough to endure that again, which is a compliment to how well they’ve done.
On a technical note, there were a lot of hiccups. My game froze probably 5 or 6 times in the few days I’ve been playing, the sound cut out every hour or so for a few minutes, and while the controls are innovative, sometimes just walking around was a challenge. The camera was in a pre-set location, so as you moved from room-to-room, often your direction would change, causing your characters to essentially spin in circles while you readjusted. It was enough to take me out of the game for a moment or two.
Overall though, the faults weren’t enough to detract from this experience. I don’t know if I’d say I enjoyed it, but I appreciate the design, the story, and the implementation and integration of adult themed narratives and cutting edge gameplay. It’s a masterpiece, but a tragic one that was hard for me to bear.