After excitedly redeeming my code and waiting the time it took for the PS3 to download just under 1.8GB, I was ready to sink into a feeling of melancholy with the Heavy Rain demo. I pressed the start button with a sceptical jab wondering if Heavy Rain differed enough from Fahrenheit to be the awe-inspiring experience the predecessor was so shy of being. The first thing noticed and indeed analysed was the game’s presentation. Heavy Rain started life not too dissimilar from a tech demo of the PS3’s power and ever since has been judged by its visuals. The short section I played lived up to these ideals in every way. It was utterly gorgeous. By far the most impressive moments were in fact the rare load screens that showed a close up of the playable character’s face. The level of detail was outstanding and it lacked all the trademark faux pas that haunt other videogames. Like how eyeballs tend to be over glossy or the skin tone looks more plastic than human. Heavy Rain suffered from neither. And it shouldn’t. Atmosphere is of huge importance to the game and is done remarkably well here. Dark arenas with ambient light sources add to the believable character models giving it a distinctive lead in console visuals. Read on to find out more.
But how does it play? Is it even meant to be played? Much like Fahrenheit before it, Heavy Rain controls by using your head to steer. Hold R2 makes the character walk and the left analog stick moves their head in the desired direction. This does take some getting used to and can result in some rather annoying wall-bouncing. Other techniques are also brought across from Quantic Dream’s 2005 release like the rotating or moving of the left analog stick to interact with the environment. Multiple button presses and sixaxis shaking are new and work well allowing for a better variation of controls. Conversations are handled by tapping either the face buttons which relate to a sentence or question summarised by a couple of words. Simple yes but awkwardly displayed due to these words floating around the character’s head or body. There were times where I struggled to see what I should be pressing and lost out on possible lines of dialogue thanks to this odd setup. Combining all these techniques is the fighting system which has been significantly improved since the days of Fahrenheit because of the added variety. The flashes of icons almost like an extended QTE adds considerable tension but does once again mean that you can miss out on the beautifully crafted cinematography. Too much attention can be needed for these directional symbols when instead I just wanted to be watching the action. Such a critique is admittedly pedantic because the unique combat does do a great job of involving the player, I just wish my attention wasn’t so divided at times.
The two playable scenes in the demo feature detective Scott Shelby and FBI agent Normal Jayden. It starts with Shelby looking for gentlemen entertainer Lauren Winter with the hope of asking her a few questions about her murdered son. He was killed by the Origami Killer, Heavy Rain’s antagonist. Shelby finds Winter at her apartment where he’s mistaken for one of her clients. I played the scene twice choosing different conversational paths and actions and received quite dissimilar experiences. First I spoke to Winter (played by and resembling French actress Aurélie Bancilhon who amusingly slipped in and out of her accent) with an aggressive choice and this made her open up, answering anything I wanted to know. After I left an ex-client forced his way in to her room and began causing serious problems for her. I returned and ended up kicking the guy’s butt gaining Winter’s appreciation and trust. Second time around I tried to be more understanding but Winter became angry with my false compassion and kicked me out. Her old client still came by and I still got into a fight with him but barely pressed a button to see what would happen. Needless to say I lost and Winter appeared to have more pity than trust. It may not seem much but does show how every action matters in Heavy Rain so choose wisely. Jayden’s level centred on his investigation of a crime scene with a bit of help from some hi tech equipment. His glasses and glove connect to become an ARI or Added Reality Interface which gives him a blue tinted view of the world where evidence shows up more clearly and can be analysed on the spot. It’s quite a ‘gamey’ inclusion to what’s being dubbed as an undefinable genre. That’s not to say it’s bad and happily brings the self-elevated game back down to earth. Both scenes had great voice acting and where constructed with the same caliber as any Hollywood movie. I really felt for these people whom I had just met – and aren’t even real!
The demo is short but a great introduction for what can be expected when Heavy Rain is released on February 26th. Comparing it to Fahrenheit is by no means a criticism of creativity because the concepts shared between the two suggest Heavy Rain is Fahrenheit‘s spiritual successor. Lucas Kane was the puppeted murderer of 2005 who was chased by the supporting cast. Ethan Mars takes a similar role in 2010 but this time, he is only accused of murder or so the trailer ending the demo would lead me to believe. If this can further the emotionally involving and highly atmospheric experience of the demo then we could have another game of the year candidate so early on in 2010. Visually it’s superb and technically ambitious but most importantly, my brief interactions were able to instill various emotions making me want to know and protect the characters I met and controlled. If a game can do this so successfully – especially a demo of one – our favoured entertainment medium could get a whole lot more exciting.