The first trophy you get after starting up Heavy Rain is one that thanks you for supporting interactive drama. It’s easy to forget that, when Heavy Rain released back in 2011, it was a game that doubled down on the idea that video games were ripe for experimentation with the language of film. Though it showed grand promise back then, Heavy Rain has been surpassed in that regard many times over by now–a fact that leaves it feeling more dated and flawed than ever. It serves as a Rosetta stone to many of the fundamentals we see echoed in the new class of adventure titles that have come in its wake. What makes Heavy Rain such a frustrating experience is that when it works, it works beautifully, but when it fails, it fails hard.
Heavy Rain proves itself far ahead of its time in its approach to Quick Time Events, its use of the DualShock’s motion-sensing capabilities to simulate movement, and the timed dialogue and split section reactions that can permanently change the course of the game. Combined with a great soundtrack and remastered graphics, you have a game that has incredible promise. It’s been enhanced for PS4 in a similar manner as Beyond Two Souls. Updated textures and rendering techniques make the game’s already impressive visuals even better, but there does seem to be a few bugs that weren’t present in the PS3 original, including occasional jittery animations and clipping issues.
The core plot is sound: A serial child murderer called the Origami Killer is on the loose, and the narrative follows four different perspectives on the manhunt. Specifically, Ethan Mars, the father of the latest victim; Madison Paige, an insomniac journalist; Norman Jayden, a good FBI agent with a bad drug habit; and Scott Shelby, an asthmatic private investigator. From a high level perspective, creator David Cage is able to deliver on disparate ideas throughout the game. At varying points, you’ll find yourself nervously working your way through Jayden’s drug withdrawals, or trying to appease Shelby’s asthma attacks fast enough to barge through a door and fight off a client’s violent boyfriend.
Probably the most infamous scene in the game is the one that perfectly exemplifies the game’s big problem: an attempted sexual assault in Madison’s apartment by multiple masked assailants–her first scene. The scene itself is masterfully executed with great camera work, and your actions have weight, creating a hectic atmosphere very few games match. It’s one of the best action sequences in a game that excels at them. The problem is, when the scene is over, it’s a cop out, a bad dream. It is literal sound and fury signifying nothing.
As the game goes on, it obsesses with the mundane, where nearly every tiny action requires your input. No matter how urgent the narrative gets, it will stop any sense of momentum dead to let a character feed a baby, or play golf with a rich guy, or just drink a glass of water. There’s something to be said for focusing on tiny details to hint at a character’s state of mind, but Heavy Rain doesn’t do a good job of tying these details into the narrative in a meaningful way.
It would have been great if as much focus and attention went into Heavy Rain’s voice acting. Out of the leads, Madison and Scott fare best, coming off as natural and human, while Ethan–like other ancillary characters–is stuck with an unshakable French accent.
When the plot gets down to business, its lackadaisical storytelling shifts into something much more taut. Chases are shown 24-style from multiple perspectives at once. Investigations from the police side of things lean hard into scenes of police brutality, and rely on you to set the limits of Jayden and his partner’s tactics. Permadeath becomes a very real possibility depending on your choices and proficiency with the actual gameplay. While there are some bad B-movie detours along the way–including an honest-to-god evil scientist–Heavy Rain finds itself in its third act, providing a suitable resolution to the events at hand.
And yet even as there are games that succeed where Heavy Rain fails, it can still be said there’s almost nothing else like it.
Re-releasing Heavy Rain in the current landscape does much to sharply contrast everything good and bad about it. Its commendable presentation is amplified, as too are its grander faults in storytelling and voice acting. And yet even as there are games that succeed where Heavy Rain fails, it can still be said there’s almost nothing else like it.