The textbook definition of video games is constantly changing. Gone are the days of lore when games were synonymous with a little red obese plumber side-scrolling on our screens, jumping on spiky turtles. Rapid technological developments have ensured that next-gen gaming platforms are able to project life-like experiences to the audience, especially in terms of graphics. But what has remained stagnantly intact is the handful of genres broadly defining video games – shooters, sandbox games, racers, etc. A combination of flying bullets, car crashes and loud explosions; typical ingredients of a Michael Bay summer blockbuster.
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Perhaps this is why video games remain largely underrated. However, evolution is the name of the game. Well, not literally, but it is a facet of an industry, which outdoes and surprises even itself every couple of months, and looking back in a decade’s time, there would be a few present marvels which would be remembered as milestones in the evolution of video games, with Heavy Rain standing tall as an exemplary testament. Quantic Dream’s third instalment in a series of interactive, cinematic experiences, Heavy Rain, is a fusion of film noir and video games, resulting in a brand new synergistic adventure genre; one which relies on delivering a revolutionary user experience that hinges less on dexterity and more on excellence in story-telling. And boy, does Heavy Rain have a compelling story to tell!
In typical stylish crime drama feel, David Cage’s masterpiece revolves around uncovering an intriguingly brutal mystery; that of the Origami Killer, a serial killer so christened due to his eccentric nature of leaving origami figures near the victims. It does so by rending itself into short chapters, each of which puts the player in control of one of the four different protagonists i.e. the father of the Origami Killer’s latest victim, an insomniac brunette bombshell, an FBI agent, and a private investigator. Each of them is investigating the horrific murders for his/her own reasons. As the game progresses, the paths of the characters intertwine, leading to one of the many possible culminations.
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The control-scheme is somewhat unorthodox; press R2 button and move the left analogue stick to control the character’s movement, and press the button prompts appearing on the screen to interact with objects in the game world. Action sequences are controlled by a series of context-sensitive inputs, the varying speeds of which, combined with the challenges of pressing multiple buttons at the same time and occasional six-axis motion controls, complement the tension in the scenes effectively.
However, Heavy Rain is not just about a compelling story coupled with quick time events. This momentous achievement turns out to be much greater than the mere sum of its parts. An emotional roller coaster ride from the get-go, what starts out as handling mundane every-day tasks, soon turns into an overwhelmingly immersive affair. An affair played out through memorable characters, each having an excellently fleshed out personality with just the right amounts of inner demons thrown in to make them truly human.
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But these actors are only half of what makes Heavy Rain a truly emotionally engaging experience. The other half is the game’s ability to ensnare you effectively by ensuring that every choice you make counts towards how the narrative eventually plays out. In doing so, Heavy Rain manages to successfully bring about an emotional response even on overcoming the smallest of hurdles in your character’s life, be it being able to finally bond with your estranged little boy in a play ground or successfully putting a hungry, crying infant to sound sleep. But beware; the game is merciless enough to make sure that you end up wincing in despair on choosing an incorrect, yet seemingly harmless option, which can turn a calm situation lethal enough to end the story for one of the main protagonists.
Even then, the game does play out till the very end. It’s roughly 10 hours from start to finish, crafting one of the multiple endings based on your actions alone. The supposed 23 different endings ensure that the game will branch out a new story arc in almost every play through, offering tons of replay value. However, what is certainly disappointing is that fact that certain important story elements introduced early on are left unexplained, leaving some glaringly ugly plot-holes in an otherwise brilliant narrative, which is pretty coherent in itself without meandering off post-interval like that of its predecessor, Fahrenheit.
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The overall immersive feel of the game is complemented very well by the spectacular visuals, appearing all stunningly colourful during cheery moments and dull and murky during the gloomy ones. The fixed camera angles are creatively used to bring about a very artistically cinematic look and feel. Without a shadow of a doubt, graphically, Heavy Rain manages to blow just about everything else out of the water. Even the close up facial details in the character models are jaw-dropping, and even the faintest of emotions are captured beautifully.
The lip-syncing is spot on most of the time and the dialog delivery is excellent. There are some minor graphical glitches such as vertical-sync issues and low quality textures, but these don’t really hamper the game’s experience notably. What is significantly game breaking, however, is going through a heart-rending moment only to have the game freeze, which it may do often. The music aptly fits the essence of this emotional roller coaster ride and, like any great movie OST, lingers in your head long after the game comes to a conclusion.
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Overall, Heavy Rain is an unforgettable, groundbreaking spectacle of compelling story-telling, which ventures where video games have rarely gone before, and manages to stand its ground triumphantly. In a jaded market ruled predominantly by guns, fast cars and extreme action, it ambitiously emerges as a refreshing change, encouraging both the gaming industry and its patrons to stop and smell the roses. Kudos to Quantic Dream for creating a well thought out, emotionally engaging experiment that is sure to pave the way for the future of gaming.
(+) Unlike anything else out there at the moment
(+) A brilliant, engaging and (mostly) coherent story
(+) Perhaps one of the best emotional roller coaster rides ever created
(+) Incredible graphics and possibly the most life-like video game characters
(-) Glaring plot-holes which leave the story a little incomplete
(-) Random freezing issues
Title: Heavy Rain
Developer/Publisher: Quantic Dream/Sony
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: PS3