Heavy Rain: Inside the Reviews

  • Publish Date: February 23, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 31 user comments

Scores updated at 11:00am on 2/23 to reflect the latest reviews.

The gameplay is simple; the story is not

Image
Heavy Rain (2010)
Critic Review Distribution
Great (90-100) 71%
Good (75-89) 21%
Mixed (50-74) 6%
Negative (0-49) 2%

One of the most heavily-anticipated game releases of the year, Quantic Dream's Playstation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain (Rated M) arrives in stores this week amid a deluge of critical acclaim. Its early Metascore of 88 marks the game as 2010's second-highest-scoring PS3 release to date. And, unlike most high-scoring titles, Heavy Rain isn't a sequel; instead, it introduces a new story and concept.

While many modern videogames are hailed for their "cinematic" qualities, Heavy Rain is one of the most movie-like games to date, with the narrative -- a noir-like serial killer mystery -- clearly the emphasis. The drama unfolds in response to choices made by players, which are indicated using a unique, context-dependent control scheme. Make one too many wrong choices, and your character could die -- but that death factors into the story, while you continue playing as one of the other major characters.

Below, we'll find out exactly what makes Heavy Rain such a special release, and see why a few critics weren't quite so impressed. But first, here's how the game compares to other PS3 releases (through February 23rd):

2010's Best Games So Far - Playstation 3
  Game Publisher Genre Metascore User Score
1 BioShock 2 2K Games First-Person Shooter 88 8.9
2 Heavy Rain Sony Adventure 88 7.4
3 Bayonetta Sega Action 86 7.3
4 Darksiders THQ Action-Adventure 82 8.4
5 MAG Sony First-Person Shooter 76 8.3

In this and the tables below, games are ranked by Metascore prior to rounding. All scores are from the morning of February 23, 2010. Games with fewer than seven reviews are excluded. The Metascore weighted average of individual scores given by professional game publications on a scale of 0 (bad) to 100 (good). The User Score is an average of scores assigned by Metacritic users on a scale of 0 (bad) to 10 (good).

All-Time Best "Original" Titles - Playstation 3
  Game Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 LittleBigPlanet Sony 2008 95 6.4
2 BioShock 2K Games 2008 94 8.0
3 Braid Hothead 2009 93 8.0
4 Rock Band EA 2007 92 8.7
5 Demon's Souls Atlus USA 2009 89 8.9
6 Dead Space EA 2008 88 9.2
7 Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Sony 2007 88 8.8
8 Heavy Rain Sony 2010 88 7.4
9 Critter Crunch Capybara 2009 87 9.7
10 Dragon Age: Origins EA 2009 87 7.5

The above table includes games that introduced an original concept or story; all sequels and games based on pre-existing source material are excluded.

All-Time Best Platform Exclusive Titles - Playstation 3
  Game Publisher Year Metascore User Score
1 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Sony 2009 96 9.3
2 LittleBigPlanet Sony 2008 95 6.4
3 Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Konami 2008 94 8.8
4 Killzone 2 Sony 2009 91 8.3
5 Demon's Souls Atlus USA 2009 89 8.9
6 Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction Sony 2007 89 8.8
7 Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Sony 2007 88 8.8
8 Ninja Gaiden Sigma Tecmo 2007 88 8.1
9 Heavy Rain Sony 2010 88 7.4
10 Critter Crunch Capybara 2009 87 9.7

The above table includes games exclusive to the PS3 console. Games that were ported to PC or to handheld platforms are eligible to be included, as long as the game was never released on another console.

Let's take a closer look at what game reviewers are saying about Heavy Rain:

Overall concept and story

A playable movie

Ostensibly an adventure game, Heavy Rain better fits into the "interactive movie" genre -- where the unfolding narrative takes precedence over absolute player control.

This is not a game where you actively control a major character in a predetermined story a la a God of War or Halo; instead, you mostly work in the background, guiding characters in a world where your actions ultimately determine their fates. --GameSpy

(Note that while this approach sets Heavy Rain apart from most contemporary games, it does make it similar to Quantic Dream's previous release, Indigo Prophecy 83 -- although the new title is considered the superior of the two games.)

Virtually every review highlighted the movie-like aspects of Heavy Rain, some more explicitly than others.

Heavy Rain has much more in common with films like Steven Soderbergh's Traffic or P.T. Anderson's Magnolia than it does with any game. --GamePro

GamePro also praised the game for involving players so directly and actively in the narrative, rather than merely displaying the story through cutscenes or similar non-interactive techniques common elsewhere. In fact, that publication called Heavy Rain's story "one of the most arresting and engaging ever tried in a video game."

Of course, not every reviewer used the movie metaphor. GameZone, among others, compared Heavy Rain to a book:

Heavy Rain is a game that epitomizes the concept that games are interactive novels.

The story

Many other publications lauded the story. The Onion A.V. Club enjoyed Heavy Rain's "horrifying scares and raw tension," while Eurogamer called it "a thrilling mystery, cleverly composed, and unlike anything else you will play this year." And numerous critics praised the emotional connection that forms between player and characters.

When their lives are in danger, you'll care about whether or not they survive, and if they do die, you'll almost certainly mourn their absence. --VideoGamer

Heavy Rain is an intensely absorbing experience that meticulously conveys the tension, urgency, surprise, and tragedy that its characters feel. ... The adaptive plot of Heavy Rain becomes a deeply personal sum of your experiences. --Gamespot

Several critics, however, found that the first few hours of Heavy Rain contain too many mundane events (yes, at one point you do get to brush your teeth) and not enough action. But IGN noted that while the game starts slow, once it picks up, "you'll be on the edge of your seat until the end and you won't want to put the controller down." That publication added:

Games have come pretty far in terms of how well stories are told and the level of writing quality that some of them are able to achieve, but Heavy Rain is easily amongst the best that's ever been put onto a disc.

Not every publication praised the story unequivocally, however.

If it were a film, Heavy Rain’s story wouldn’t exactly win an Oscar. But having control of events, and a personal connection to the characters, makes it seem that much more interesting. --Wired

Some publications were more negative -- make that extremely negative:

The fact is that if you strip away the beautiful imagery, the stirring musical score, the clever camera angles and the expressive facial animations, what you’re left with is a fairly gratuitous, schlocky and unoriginal story, packed with clunkily presented excesses which at times veer towards the comical. ... Heavy Rain is a movie alright, but frankly, it’s not a very good one. --Games Radar

And Eurogamer, though enjoying the story, did complain about some cliches in the dialogue.

Rated M for murderousness

If Heavy Rain is indeed like a movie, it's a thriller with mature themes and scenes of grisly violence. In fact, many reviewers cited Saw and Se7en as the movies that Heavy Rain most resembles.

[Heavy Rain is] the first game to live up to the Mature rating. --The Onion A.V. Club

[Heavy Rain has] some of the most intense and sometimes terrifying sequences ever found in a game. --Destructoid

The M rating isn't just for violence, by the way; there's also nudity, for those of you concerned (or attracted) by such things.

The ending ... and starting over

The ending of the game is not set in stone; it depends on the choices you make along the way. While most critics enjoyed their ultimate fates -- and advised playing through the entire game from start to finish, no matter what happens to your character(s) -- at least one reviewer wasn't completely satisfied at the end:

Heavy Rain’s solution is to split up the ending into a slew of brief, disconnected vignettes. It doesn’t feel like a proper denouement — more like watching a YouTube playlist. --Wired

Destructoid actually hated the game's "inept" conclusion:

The narrative, like the game, starts off incredibly slowly, gets very interesting toward the middle, and then becomes the worst shambles of deus ex machina and incredibly stupid plot twists that you could hope to find.

On the other hand, IGN advised that the payoff at the end even justifies a replay of the full game:

If you're going through a second, different playthrough, you won't see a ton of changes until the conclusion, but it'll be worth it.

Gamespot disagreed about Heavy Rain's replayability, however:

It's hard to actually go back and play through the game differently once you've completed it.

Gameplay

The consensus appears to be that while Heavy Rain may not be an "easy" game in terms of difficulty level, the controls and gameplay mechanics themselves are simple enough for even a gaming novice to pick up quickly.

The gameplay underneath proves as simple as the wrapping is extravagant. --Wired

Making decisions involves pressing buttons in response to context-sensitive choices that display on the screen, while action sequences involve button presses and/or movements in response to a series of symbols flashed on the screen (these are the "quick time events" that you have been reading about). It doesn't necessarily sound exciting on paper, but it proved to be engaging for most reviewers -- and it also means that there are no controls to memorize in order to succeed at the game.

The range of flicks, motions and holds becomes an intuitive shorthand for the actions they set in motion, in a way that a more traditional control scheme would be unable to match without praying on your patience and muscle memory. --Eurogamer

Although you're still matching button prompts, Heavy Rain feels much more like you're choosing and influencing what happens in the game, rather than simply reacting to it. --IGN

Simply pressing a button may not sound compelling at first, but when your character’s finger in on the trigger, or when a child’s life rests in your hands, that single motion is just as intense as any boss fight. --GameInformer

By the time you've finished things, what first felt a bit like a cheesy "push the flashing button!" moment becomes an opportunity to see where it all could have gone differently. Most importantly, though, the icon-driven sequences are fun -- and not just in a quick reaction time test sort of way. --TotalPlayStation

You'll find yourself standing in awe at doing something as pedestrian as changing a baby's diaper. --1Up

Simple didn't translate into "good" for every critic. For example, GameSpy -- among many publications -- was not fond of the player movement controls:

Moving characters is generally awkward, with depth perception being a particular issue.

1Up had similar complaints:

Holding down R2 lets you walk around the environments and the Left analog stick changes directions. At best, this process is cumbersome and by far the weakest part of the experience. It's never out and out bad, but I was never completely comfortable doing it either.

On the other hand, that publication loved how the game felt (literally) when using a DualShock 3 controller:

I don't think any game has used the rumble feature this effectively since the original Metal Gear Solid.

Another unique feature in Heavy Rain is the ability to hear your character's thoughts, but whether this functionality adds anything to the game is debatable.

The game is arguably more mysterious and attractive, and no less playable, if you ignore this. --Eurogamer

Graphics

The consensus? Graphics are strong -- and fantastically detailed -- but certainly aren't flawless. First, the good news: VideoGamer called the visuals "astonishingly beautiful," and other critics also had high praise:

The graphics are incredible, with attention to detail that is remarkable. --GameZone

The quality and detail of Heavy Rain's sets are truly spectacular -- whether it's a faded wallpaper pattern or dilapidated apartment, this is a world that feels lived-in and genuine. --1Up

The visual design of the various environments is outstanding, and whether you're visiting a dirty double-wide or an intensely creepy room filled with webcams streaming live video to nearby TVs, the painstaking amount of detail that went into constructing each locale is incredible. --Gamespot

Everything down to the milk cartons and potato chips in a small grocery store has been crafted in high-resolution detail. It’s nothing you’ll notice for more than a few seconds at a time, but these details go well beyond the call of duty. --Game Revolution

1Up, however, also found some of the character animations -- which were developed through the use of performance capture -- "inelegant," with an "occasionally wooden appearance." In fact, it was the characters -- rather than the backgrounds and settings -- that were the source of most complaints.

If you followed Heavy Rain prior to its release, then you've likely heard the term "uncanny valley" tossed around when describing the characters' faces. It's true: They're very realistic, but they're also off enough to make you feel uneasy at times, like something's not quite right. --GameSpy

Not every publication found fault in the character design, however:

Facial detail is capable of sufficient subtlety that one of the defining twists is foreshadowed by twitches you can go back and look for afterwards and curse yourself for not noticing. --Eurogamer

Other critics also noted some minor annoyances, but most, like TotalPlayStation, found them easy to ignore given the strength of the visuals as a whole:

Framerate issues, tearing, textures that aren't always as sharp as the main characters. Yes, these all appear here, and yet one look at the loading screen where you can see individual pores and hairs growing out of faces blows 'em all away.

Sound and voice acting

Many publications were distracted by the use of non-American voice actors, who were able to mimic their characters' American accents to varying degrees of success.

One standout flaw is that while most characters are supposed to be American, some of the actors clearly aren't and their accents tend to slip through, making their line deliveries sound weird at times. --IGN

However, that publication added:

Really, when compared to most games, Heavy Rain has what would be considered very good voice acting. It's just that when so much of the experience is focused on it, you tend to notice the flaws a good deal more.

The voice acting ... is atrocious for the most part, but the music, at least, goes some way toward making up for that. --Destructoid

The music was enjoyed by other critics as well. TotalPlayStation found the soundtrack, save for a brief lapse into stock music, "pitch-perfect:"

The effects work is absolutely fantastic and for the most part the somber, melancholy tone of the soundtrack is phenomenal.

Final thoughts

Aside from a few complaints with some character graphics and the movement controls, critics (outside of a small group of detractors) generally had little negative to say about the game itself. That doesn't mean that everyone loved it, or that you will too: the ultimate deciding factor seems to be how willing you are to involve yourself in a piece of interactive fiction, rather than playing a conventional game where you have more control over your actions.

When it’s good, it’s good in ways that traditional games rarely touch. --Wired

Heavy Rain attempts to bridge the impossible gap between emotion and physicality, and it succeeds ... Like any exemplary film or piece of literature, Heavy Rain will have people talking long after the credits roll. --GamePro

It is barely a game in the popular sense of the word, but Quantic Dream’s masterpiece makes groundbreaking strides in storytelling and character development, demonstrating that interactive entertainment still has a deep well of untapped potential. --GameInformer

Your take

What do you think of Heavy Rain? Is it as good as most critics said, or do you agree with complaints about the story? How do you feel about this style of game? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Comments (31)

  • Ray  

    My take you ask?

    Metacritic is completely unreliable.

    Just since a few hours ago, the score of the game changed from 89 to 88 because a hardly known publication named Teletext GameCentral thinks the game is two dimensional and scored the game 4 out of 10. I don't think anyone would seriously give a crap about a site named Teletext GameCentral if it wasn't for Metacritic including them for the overall average. Apparently, Marc Doyle includes whatever he likes into the database based on his personal feelings. There are some guidelines there, but sites like Teletext GameCentral and Variety (where is it now?) obviously don't meet the requirements set by Metacritic itself…

    Marc Doyle should realize that the state of gaming is very critical, more so when a game is trying to be innovative like in this; imagine when the developers see a 4/10 amidst 44 out of 63 +90% reviews in the same page. No, imagine how you would feel if you were the developer, how would you feel having your average score of your game less than what it should have been based on the fact that the biggest review aggregator which is currently considered by many to measures the quality of all games in one place has decided to include a no name site in the average? I am sure you wouldn't be happy.

    Friendship should only go so far, Marc claimed that he knows the guys at Variety and so they are to be trusted. But problem is, that site probably didn't go by the videogames standard. For the reviewers at Variety, a 70 may have meant a 90 actually, but a 70 means a 70 in the Metacritic database, and that would damage the overall score of the game.

    Metacritic should only include sites that are actually reliable. Yes, Metacritic can do whatever they want, but remember, this site may very well be responsible for causing damages to some people behind some of these games.

  • Ray  

    My take on the rest of the reviews …

    Interestingly enough, most of the reviewers who have scored the game 70 or so, have had problems with the fact this game is more like a disservice to videogames than it pushing the medium into the next level. One of the reviewers has played the game with the thought that you make your own story from ground rather than having the ability to make choices during the given situations throughout the game.

    First, I don't think reviewers should judge games by how much it pushes the industry or not, or whether the game is from a traditional genre or not. This game has never been promised to be groundbreaking in terms of gameplay, the only groundbreaking part of this game is from telling a more mature and emotional story through an interactive manner which has been really lacking in this huge industry.

    For an industry this young, you would think critics and consumers would be more open to new ideas and style in videogames. But unfortunately, some critics can't understand that this industry is still evolving and we have no rules to go by with. I mean just look at games like Grand Theft Auto, Metal Gear Solid, Mass Effect, Shadow of the Colossus, Gran Turismo, Flower, etc all have brought different things to gaming most people wouldn't even think of; none of these games have entirely changed the industry, but they have contributed greatly to this medium. So the videogame definition we have today is something that may very well change and expand in the near future. What if the next-gen was all about interactivity similar to the style of Heavy Rain, would those critics still criticize the games for the same reasons they now criticize Heavy Rain?

  • Ray  

    My take on the game…

    Fortunately for me, I could get my hands on the game a few days early due to a retailer breaking the street date, and so I finished the game a couple days ago. I was genuinely surprised by how great and intuitive the control and the mechanic of the game was. The control needs very little time to get used to, but after that, there's hardly any issue with the control.

    The atmosphere of the game is simply outstanding; it gave me a feeling no other game has ever made me feel like that. The closest I have felt like that was when I was playing Shadow of the Colossus. The story of the game is very intriguing and it really makes you want to play one more chapter when each chapter ends. The characters are relatable, they all have different personalities just like real humans, and they all really feel alive. The music greatly contributes to the outstanding atmosphere, and it gives the game an amazing emotional feeling to it.

    My only complain would probably be the lack of solid voice acting at times. Generally, the voice acting is no where near bad, at times though, flaws can easily be spotted, but given the massive scale of game, it's hard to have fully consistent voice acting during the game due to the fact each choice leads to a different voice-acting sequence.

    The outstanding atmosphere, intriguing story, amazing real-life like characters, and amazing music throughout the game really outshine the little negativity this game has. I personally give it a 9.5 out of 10 and it's definitely an experience that will remain with me for a very long time.

    P.S. The whole writing looks like a mess due to lack of any space between the paragraphs. Not my bad really.

  • Schlorgan  

    It's alright, Ray. The same thing happened with Tony Hawk: RIDE, which was a piece of sh*t, but got around a 50% score because some unknown sites gave it 90's when all of the reliable sites gave it 40's

  • Peter  

    I completely agree with Ray. Whats the deal with Edge Magazine giving every game in existence low scores? I though we were past the stage where you had to be critical to be interesting. Edge Magazine seriously reminds me of the mean judge on those talent shows that is only mean because, without this trait, they are completely boring

  • Pedro  

    Well, Teletext Central and Edge consistently give lower scores than most metacritic reviewers. No problem in this. The problem lies in the fact that they consistently give much lower rating to ps3 exclusives than to xbox exclusives, wii exclusives or multiplats when compared to metacritic average. This is not a question of a few games: it's the statistical analysis on more than 200 games. It's black on white: they are biased against ps3, giving in the case of Edge systematically 87% of the metacritic average. Teletext is even worse. A solution to this type of bias is to use a statistically more reliable average, called trimmed average (where 5% of extreme values on both sides of the spectrum are removed). Honestly, if nothing changes i won't trust metacritic anymore, as they allow extremely, consistently and unequivocally biased sources to be part of their global rating. This Edge and Teletext clowns show must end.

  • Matt  

    Ray, your venom towards GameCentral is unjustified, they are very competant reviewers and highly regarded by people who know them. If you knowledge does not extend to them then that is your loss. As for your claim they do meet Metacritic requirements, this is obviously not a view held by Metacritic.
    If you are unable to see a set of scores and read between the lines regarding where the scores originate then something is wrong. I for one one do not like overly generous reviews as it can be misleading, I see the whole picture from the scores and my knowledge of the review source bias and generosity of said sources.
    By the way I do not always agree with Gamecentral scores myself but they are never far off the mark, have you actually read their review? As for you comment about no one giving a crap about gamecentral, guess what, you are wrong.

  • Xorital  

    ^ I think matt is trolling.

    Anyway, I have only played the demo to this game and I had no issues with controls, graphics are fine (I never care about graphics) and the music is emotional and fits into the setting. I cared about what happened to the characters and this was only like a 5-10min demo, I really cannot wait for the game!

  • Mike  

    Ray is right, go to http://www.teletext.co.uk/GameCentral/Features-Reviews/default.aspx. They have exactly two reviews, the other is for White Knight Chronicles, which also scored 4/10. Metacritic doesn't live up to its name if it takes this source seriously.

  • Jeff  

    In regards to Matt, I have to say this;

    I've never heard of GamesCentral, and upon googling it, I have to say I'm not too impressed by it. The site design isn't exactly what I would call "attractive," and your latest posted review is of Left 4 Dead 2. Seriously? I'm not saying you aren't credible, but I feel as if MetaCritic should align itself mostly with the more established review sites.

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