Tuesday, November 15, 2022

First Play Review - Heavy Rain [2020]

I played Quantic Dream's Fahrenheit in 2005 introducing me to a very different style of adventure game where cinematic storytelling was the focus rather than pointing and clicking. Despite being a french outfit I granted a pass to Quantic Dream created for what it was. Later in 2006 I recall being awed by the reveal of the tech for their new game called Heavy Rain. Producer David Cage gave interviews explaining his technology and motion capturing efforts drumming up tremendous excitement. Sadly it was later revealed that the new game was going to be a PlayStation3 exclusive and in 2008 the cover of an issue of EDGE led me to my first of very few cases of console envy. 

By the time Heavy Rain was actually released (after considerable delay) in 2010, the capabilities of the PC had by far exceeded those of the game and I enjoyed a far superior catalogue than any console but I had enjoyed Fahrenheit so much that I did for a time consider becoming a PS3 owner. However the ROI was deemed too negligible to get a console for a single game even one that was getting the press and accolades. It would be another eight years before it was revealed that Quantic Dream would release Heavy Rain and the studio's subsequent games for the PC. However there would be an additional delay as the initial PC release was limited to the hideously substandard Epic Games Store platform for a year, netting Quantic Dream another round of "exclusivity backhanders." But it was OK, I had waited for nine years and as I'm only playing it now, I actually waited for twelve.

Much like it's predecessor Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain is a cinematic story-driven adventure game with QTE actions and choices that determine how the story unfolds. Quantic Dream pushed the boundaries of character modelling for the age and with significant motion-capture development it has the production quality of a movie with it's camera views and angles, high quality voice acting and a Hollywood class score delivered by the late Norman Corbeil who also contributed to Fahrenheit.

While not named, Heavy Rain's setting is a bleak urban industrialised area of Philadelphia and as it's name suggests, is rains significantly as if to punctuate how depressing life is for it's despondent inhabitants. The plot is centered on four characters which you control through various scenes and take part in their lives as they intersect a police investigation into "The Origami Killer", a serial killer who preys on young boys by drowning them in rainwater leaving origami figures at the scene. We follow Ethan (Pascal Langdale - Killjoys) a family man whose life is shattered when one of his sons is killed in an accident and later his remaining son is kidnapped by the killer. Scott Shelby (Sam Douglas - Snatch) a P.I. perusing his own investigation. Norman Jayden (Leon Ockenden) an FBI profiler assisting the police with their investigation. Lastly Madison Page (Judi Beecher [voice] - Taken 3 and Jacqui Ainsley [model] - King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) an insomniac journalist  who becomes embroiled with the investigation.

What annoyed me about Fahrenheit is that the story fell apart when it introduced the prophecy and the supernatural elements, distorting what was shaping up to be a fine psychological thriller. Such mistakes are not repeated here and the game is firmly rooted in realistic drama that slowly unveils the root of human madness - or plain evil depending on your own views. While it's fair to say the story is significantly better than Fahrenheit's, it's clear from the construction of the narrative that David Cage is not the best writer when it comes to plot holes. While he nails the drama and emotional intensity of a scene; the technical issues in constructing a believable story without some gaping plot holes are sadly beyond Cage's reach. The most egregious and largest amount of issues by far are the almost complete incompetence on the part of the police. Granted some of them are corrupt but the way they are portrayed in the game as so inept they make Frank Drebin look like Columbo. Plot holes and dumb plot elements are fine in something like an FPS but in a narrative-driven game they can be distracting. To be clear these issues don't ruin the game but prevent it from being a masterpiece of interactive storytelling.

Much more improved upon from it's predecessor is the control system of Heavy Rain, some of which was apparently borrowed from Shenmue. Deft mouse movements as you press and hold your mouse to create patterns as well as quick snap clicks of associated keys are used here instead of the somewhat awkward "Simon Says" colour-coordinated gameplay of Fahrenheit. Unlike it's predecessor the game is much more forgiving for mistakes, you need to do certain sequences again if it's a necessary plot point but often you just might need to live with the failure and carry on with the 'failed' state into a different branch of the story than you would have had had you passed the QTE trial. This mechanic is a much more interesting way of presenting the content as success, failure or even inaction can produce different consequences making the story not only adapt to your choices but also your skill.

As documented in my review of Aspyr's port of the Fahrenheit remaster, that port was deeply flawed with  an initial inability to launch as well as progress-debilitating save-file corruption. Heavy Rain by comparison is technically flawless having been ported by Quantic Dream themselves and ran without a single issue on Windows 11 save for it not adapting to 2:9 resolution, keeping 16:9 even when the former is selected. It's engine performs admirably and it's visuals are superior to the original, having received some class of remaster itself for the PS4 in 2016 which was then carried over to the PC port.

Final Verdict: A deeply atmospheric, emotional and suspense filled adventure that had some remarkable twists and turns depending on your choices and actions (or inaction). While the story is flawed, the game's technical presentation, music, incredible voice acting and one's connection to the characters overshadow any faults with the plot. In Heavy Rain, success was achieved in pushing the boundaries of interactive cinematic storytelling and cemented Quantic Dream as masters of the genre. 

DLC: None

Technicals: 9.1 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz with max settings on Windows 11. Game capped at 60FPS and forced to 16:9. Win 11 HDR provides satisfactory enhancement.

Bugs: None.

Heavy Rain is available from Steam for €19.90 with significant sales occasionally. Reviewed copy purchased from Steam in 2020 for €8.16.

Quantic Dream releases (PS3/Console)[Steam/PC]

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