Let me just preface this review by saying that it may be a tiny bit biased, in the same way that judges may be biased against Premiership footballers in sexual assault cases. Yes, I love Heavy Rain, I have done ever since playing the demo and seeing the very first few photos online. And I have to admit, I have no idea why. It's very rare that a completely new game will hook me in this way, shown by the fact that Heavy Rain is one of only 3 of my top 20 favourite games that isn't a childhood favourite or the sequel of one (seriously, I just made a list and everything!) and even though the demo seemingly very proudly showcased the worst elements of the game I was still drawn to it like a depressed moth to a dim, bloody flame. So, let's get on with it!
The plot follows 4 different characters in their efforts to track down the unimaginatively named 'Origami Killer.' We have Ethan Mars, the main character, I would say, forced to engage in a series of tasks Jigsaw would be proud of in order to rescue his kidnapped son, Naaaman Jayden, an FBI 'good cop' tasked with finding the killer while dealing with a drug problem so unrelated to the plot that he could have had a crippling addiction to Dairy Milk and it wouldn't have changed much, Scott Shelby, who's just Norman 20 years and many many cheeseburgers later and Madison Paige, the obligatory wank candy for the game. I was hopeful that at least 1 modern mainstream game would avoid the whole 'eye candy' trend, due to the fact that she dressed fairly conservatively and wasn't blonde with huge DDs but any hope was lost upon being forced to observe her naked body glistening in the shower and then having her engage in melée combat in her knickers, you know, the way fights should be, but it's a minor complaint at worst. There are a few other characters worth mentioning, like Ethan's wife, who is the character I actually feel the most for in this game, simply because of her helplessness as she watches her husband systematically fuck up everything he even attempts, Lauren Winter, a hooker who tags along with Scott who I strangely feel very little for and Blake, the twattiest twat in all of Twatville.
The progress of the story is a tad slow, to be massively generous. After watching Ethan lose his sons due to some monumentally shite parenting in the first hour or so, the 'plot God' decides that's more than enough action for now and moves at a snail's pace for most of the rest of the game. Strangely though, I don't have any real problems with this. The incredibly slow movement of the plot means we get to spend a good few hours with each character and as such we'll develop a nice deep emotional connection to each of them, which is the sort of thing that gets bandied around when describing many games but I honestly do feel it applies here. Ethan in particular does a fantastic job of gaining our sympathy, after observing his wonderful happy families life in the first section, the kind of thing that I, as a hugely pussified and soul-crushingly single man, aspire to someday, it's heartbreaking to see his life gradually get worse and worse. I won't give too much more of the plot away as I don't want to spoil the surprise/write much more on this bit.
The gameplay is, in all honesty, fairly poor. The control scheme is fucking diabolical, the characters are in no rush to get anywhere in this game and ponce around as if they were walking their fucking dog, imagine Arkham Asylum without the run button or controlling the main characters in Resident Evil after they've been through botched major brain surgery. Most of the game consists of walking around the various locations checking every little detail like you're pissing around in the hosts house on Come Dine with Me until the game decides to move on, and the point at which this happens always seems fairly abitrary, there have been times for me when opening the fridge or having a sit down have caused a major plot progression but it never takes too long so it's not a huge problem. The other parts of the game consist solely of quicktime events. Now I'm going to disagree with Yahtzee for the first time ever and say that I've never had any real problems with quicktime events. I've never loved them, certainly, but in God of War or the new Resident Evil games they've always been fine, but here they are the *only* action gameplay mechanic, quicktime events don't just conveniently break up the gunfights and chase sequences, the chase sequences, gunfights, over the top fist fights and spaceship deathmatches (okay, not the last one) are all controlled with quicktime events. This doesn't sound thrilling obviously but you know what, I don't hate it. I don't love it, maybe it's testament to the strength of the storytelling and atmosphere of the game that I can sit through tons of these "Press X to not die" sequences and not get bored, and to be honest I think including third person action sequences would have detracted from the atmosphere, the simplicity of the action really keeps the focus on the dialogue and character development.
The soundtrack deserves particular praise. Now, I don't normally make a point of praising soundtracks, I've reviewed games with great soundtracks, like RE4 and MGS, and haven't mentioned them but in this case it's just too good to ignore. The music is composed by one man, as all the best soundtracks are *cough*Yamaoka*cough*Uematsu, and takes the form of soft orchestral music, we're talking piano, strings, classical guitar, based around a simple few note motif that any HR fan would be able to air-piano for you, and it just matches the dark atmosphere of the game perfectly. I'm not the kind of nerdified fag whose iPod is filled with video game soundtracks, before playing Heavy Rain I had 3 FF tracks and all of the Silent Hill music (Akira Yamaoka is a genius and anyone who disagrees is a boobhead) but the HR soundtrack album has joined this lofty company recently, which should tell you all you need to know.
One impressive aspect about this game is the multiple ending system. This isn't your standard Resident Evil fare, where a much touted "multiple endings" feature consists of nothing more than both characters escaping, one of them escaping or neither of them escaping, Heavy Rain is taking this shit seriously. "The Heavy Rain Wiki" lists 17 different endings and there's actually some variety in them, as shocking as that sounds. Although I'm not a fan of multiple endings myself, I tend to just watch the other endings on Youtube rather than playing through the whole game again to see one scene, although Heavy Rain yet again answers my usual complaints by allowing you jump into any scene you want and play from there, and if you can tolerate the break up in flow and atmosphere then it's a handy little tool to help you see all of the content. Although I'd never play through all of the endings myself, if you endeavour to do a few things differently each time then you can have a slightly different story every couple of months/however often you might play through it, which does more for replay value than the promise of achievements, or whatever developers normally do these days, could ever hope for.
This section will probably have little relevance but I like talking about this game so feel free to count the ceiling tiles until it's over. I've often heard people say that Heavy Rain is really more of a film than a game, and I have to heavily dispute this notion. Firstly, the fact that you're in control of even the smallest interactions like putting your car in gear or flushing the toilet increases the interactivity and gameyness of the whole thing, more than anything. Secondly, the massive range of endings and different paths the characters can take is hugely opposed to the fact that films have one single ending, and a bonus shitty alternate ending if the director is feeling particularly adventurous. Thirdly, no film would ever depict an obese man in his mid-50's beating up a thug in an enclosed space, as it's fucking stupid. Despite all of this, I would like to see Heavy Rain made into a movie, sorry that has no critical relevance but you have to agree it would make a bitchin' movie!
Overall: Despite all of its flaws the game is definitely worth playing at least once, the story is probably my favourite video game story of all time and this coupled with the atmosphere and soundtrack make it well worth pushing past the abominable gameplay decisions.