Sunday, 21 March 2010

Review: Heavy Rain (PS3)

IT’S mile three, and the bear trial is well underway. Ethan Mars, a broken former architect, whimpers in his now-dented car as the police sirens cut through the night. GPS system bleating away, your frantic hand actions are guiding him to safety. For Ethan, his fear is never finding his son again. You’re just afraid Ethan won’t make it the whole five miles. It’s at times like that that Heavy Rain transcends most video games and becomes truly great. It’s a shame that the whole package has to settle for being something a little less.

Quantic Dream’s magnum opus certainly doesn’t undermine itself by way of its production values. Rejecting the extra bright splendour of an Uncharted 2 for the grit and grime of the real, it nearly bypasses the uncanny valley, the odd gaping mouth or vacant eye only momentarily detracting from an East Coast setting full of jilted hookers, suicide risks and the scum that always rises to the top in these sorts of tales.

Similarly, the voice acting does its job in propelling a game full of text, and though it wavers from Shelby’s phenomenal world weary rumblings to a French-Canadian casting decision verging on the ridiculous, it never jars too heavily or veers into Resident Evil style “master of unlocking”.
The gameplay in and of itself is almost incidental in a game that rewards you a trophy just for agreeing to participate in David Cage’s little dramatic experiment. For what it’s worth, the quick times aren’t perfectly synced and sometimes the icon designations are off – particularly some confusion as to whether to hold a button or bash it until your knuckle bone breaks the skin - but they do more than enough to suck you into the twisted tale of four protagonists and their hunt for the killer. No, it’s the story you came for, and that can be exhilarating and disappointing at the same time. Riddled with minor holes that have seen the bile-spewers rush to their keyboards, the story is secretly a second-rate knock off of a dozen movies you’ve bought from service stations. Inconsistencies spring up at every turn, and at times the game does lie to you in order to deliver its most gratifying punch.

Whether you can cope with a narrative that confounds when it offers control will affect whether you walk away from Heavy Rain with sour grapes, but while its script may creak, the emotion it conjures is like nothing before. You truly care, not in the "which option gets me the goodies" way, but in an emotional sense only a few games have touched upon. Without the usual rewards and points counters, you want the good endings just because you want the characters in your little world to get out of it unscathed. If a game can make you think about not getting the girl because it feels wrong, or risk failing the whole game completely because your moral threshold is overstepped, it succeeds. It's just disappointing that having come all this way, Quantic Dream couldn't have had the guts to take that final step. If every decision had prompted an auto save, and maybe if every character could have died early and often, or even failed early and often, the criticisms the game is rightfully facing could have been avoided. In a bid to deliver a gripping story, much of the danger becomes artificial, and early knowledge of that removes the one thing this game is fantastic at - wringing emotion out of every turn.

In months to come, the massive commentary on Heavy Rain will render it empty, pointless and moot. My only advice can be play it now, play it once and avoid the internet's naysaying. Controversial? Yes. A step or 50 short of greatness? Certainly. But it's one of the most essential games just to experience for this entire generation, and that fact alone makes it more than worth braving the downpour.


Press 'X' to Jason

1 comment:

cr0nt said...

We need more of this, so get your writing cap back on and keep going!

Is it wrong I spent a full 10 minutes playing Press 'X' to Jason?


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