Friday, 26 February 2010

Heavy Rain - PS3

Can videogames mirror films when it comes to delivering rich, compelling narrative? It’s a question that’s been doing the rounds for years, with some titles make a decent fist of bringing a cinematic experience to a home console.

However they are few and far between, with gamers and developers seemingly more interested in first-person shooters than delivering interesting games with a well written plot.

Quantic Dream’s last game was 2005’s Fahrenheit, a title which tried to blend the worlds of film and videogames together. It was an acquired taste and had its fair share of flaws, but when it worked, it delivered a gaming experience like no other.

So to Quantic Dream’s latest title, Heavy Rain. The title focuses on four main characters, each one central to the game’s gripping plot. Each well developed figure is linked to a serial killer known as the Origami Killer, and unravelling the mystery behind this cold-blooded murderer becomes utterly compelling.

It’s a dark, twisting story, peppered with adult themes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time for some light-hearted moments along the way.

The core gameplay involves a new way of thinking about the PS3’s controller. The left stick is used to position whichever character is under your control, while deftly moving the right stick and following on-screen prompts allows the character to interact with highlighted objects. From opening fridges and drinking cartons of fruit juice, to rocking a baby to sleep, striking matches and taking a shot of Scotch, it’s intuitive and keeps the player connected to the on-screen action.

Ancient quick-time button prompts raise their ugly head again, but unlike fast-paced action titles such as the recent Dante’s Inferno, they are better handled here. There are still frantic moments, of course, especially when involved in a bout of fisticuffs or driving a car headlong into oncoming traffic. But the unfolding drama keeps the player glued to the pad just in case something nasty awaits.

The one fly in the ointment is the direct control of your character. Pressing the R2 trigger moves your on-screen charge, but coupled with the left stick, the set up is incredibly clunky and leads to moments when you find yourself moving in completely the wrong direction. This is especially noticeable when in confined areas, or when trying to move around tables and other static objects.

Strangely, though, this cumbersome control method didn’t really hamper my overall enjoyment, as I was so engrossed in the story, characters and the game’s incredible visuals.

Heavy Rain is presented with incredible flair, a studious eye for detail and features some of the best graphics yet seen on PS3. Clean cut office floors give way to rain-washed streets, grimy abandoned warehouses, fizzing neon nightclubs, sprawling mansions, and seedy motel rooms.

The slightly stiff characters don’t fit quite as well as the environments they inhabit, but despite this, you do feel a bond between you and the on-screen cast.

The sense of depression and loneliness in one scene is quite incredible, and the pain etched across faces is hard to ignore. It’s a spellbinding experience and one of only a handful of games I’ve played which has resonated emotionally with me as I played through. I wanted the characters to achieve their goals and felt a sharp sense of disappointment when things didn’t go quite according to plan.

While the game is linear in its structure, it really has to be to tell the story properly. However, there’s a smattering of Dreamcast classic Shenmue in places, too, allowing the player to explore some locations at their leisure and play about with various on-screen objects.

Quantic Dream have created a wonderful and ambitious piece of digital entertainment and they should be heartily congratulated.

It’s flawed in places due to its archaic control method, but Heavy Rain is without doubt one of he most thrilling and emotive pieces of software I’ve ever played. As soon as I completed the game, I started again - something I've not done for quite a while.

It’s not for everyone, that’s for sure. But those looking for something deeper than standard console fare should definitely take a look.

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