Scores updated at 11:00am on 2/23 to reflect the latest reviews.
The gameplay is simple; the story is not
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):
|1||BioShock 2||2K Games||First-Person Shooter||88||8.9|
|5||Demon's Souls||Atlus USA||2009||89||8.9|
|7||Uncharted: Drake's Fortune||Sony||2007||88||8.8|
|10||Dragon Age: Origins||EA||2009||87||7.5|
|1||Uncharted 2: Among Thieves||Sony||2009||96||9.3|
|3||Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots||Konami||2008||94||8.8|
|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|
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.
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
[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.
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
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:"
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
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.