By Peter Galvin
A new game where you wiggle and waggle your controller in time with on-screen prompts? No, it’s not a new Wii game. Heavy Rain for the PS3 is a dark thriller from the people who brought you the sleeper hit Indigo Prophecy. With the technology developers have at their disposal these days, it’s become feasible in many ways for games to truly resemble the cinematic experience of a feature film. Heavy Rain takes that idea one step further by playing out much like an interactive movie.
Players switch among four main characters as they unravel the identity of the "Origami Killer," a psychopath who has been kidnapping children and drowning them in rainwater. Playing as multiple characters is essential not only in covering the amount of ground the game wants you to experience, but in making the game as choice-based as possible. Developer Quantic Dream boasts that the decisions you make as you play have heavy consequences affecting the game’s outcome. At particular moments, main characters can even die and the game will continue on without them. The killer is almost a MacGuffin for these choices, giving characters a reason to go from place to place and perform tasks.
All that sounds well and good, but whether or not it works is another matter. Despite trumpeting a new-found level of choice and consequence in the gaming world, Heavy Rain is actually not as singular an experience as you are led to believe. Time-based button prompts are the backbone of the gameplay, yet often a missed button prompt will have no real consequence. When I’m speeding down the wrong side of the freeway, dodging cars, and the game tells me to press right to not hit a road worker, I fully expect that messing that up will result in that person’s loss of life. Instead nothing happens. The game continues, as I expect it does for anyone, to the pre-determined conclusion.
How much this loss of choice affects your playing depends on how you approach the title. If you ignore the widely-publicized levels of choice and personalization that the game touts and choose instead to play the game as an interactive movie with Simon Says-style prompts to ramp up the intensity of the action, the game succeeds admirably. The story is intriguing and the many action-oriented scenes are tense and exciting. The on-screen prompts, no matter how simple or arbitrary, do personalize the player’s actions, increasing the unfolding drama -- especially when those movements are 1:1. But as a groundbreaking experience about choice and consequence, Heavy Rain is all smoke and mirrors.