Wednesday, March 10, 2010

select button: Heavy Rain soaks you to the bone with compelling characters and story

Review: Heavy Rain
In Heavy Rain the player rotates through four characters as each of them tries to solve the mystery of the origami killer, a serial killer who kidnaps young boys and drowns them leaving their bodies in remote parts of New Jersey with an orchid on their chest and an origami animal in their hand.
Ethan Mars is the separated father of Shaun Mars, the latest abductee of the origami killer.  Having previously lost a son in a tragic car accident, Ethan is wracked with guilt and depression.  His only chance to save Shaun is to carry out challenges set before him by the killer to obtain clues to the boy's location.
Ethan’s path crosses with that of photojournalist Madison Paige.  She finds herself pulled into the mystery of the killer, looking for a story and hoping to clear Ethan who has been accused of abducting his own son.
FBI profiler Norman Jayden is sent in to assist local police in their investigation of the murders and to catch the killer.  He finds himself at odds with the local authorities as well as with his addiction to triptocaine.
Retired police officer and hard boiled private investigator Scott Shelby is engaged in his own hunt for the killer on behalf of the victim’s families.  He struggles with his own demons and the shadow of alcoholism.
The game world and characters are rendered both digitally and narratively as fully realized people and places which does a great deal to involve the player in what’s happening on screen.  The controls deploy a logic of interacting with the environment in a way that feels natural.  These two components work together to strip down the wall between player and game.
The strongest aspect of the game is the one that makes it the hardest to talk about and that’s the sense of agency the player is given over the characters.  It’s never made immediately clear what actions will have what effect on the progressing story and what is simply added flavor.  I know in talking with two other people who have finished the game, we all came to different endings for the game but we also created very different ideas of who these characters were by the actions we made them take.
The only issues I had with the game were in the voice acting and setting.  While the voice actors were good, it became painfully obvious with some that they were trying to hide their French accents.  Also, the game is never clearly located but is indicated to be taking place in and around New Jersey.  In several scenes it felt as though the developers had never even been to the place (according to an interview with Fast Company, game creator David Cage based the nameless city on Philadelphia, which they visited).  If they had placed the game in an actual city, it would have been one more way to bring in the player.
Heavy Rain brings a breath of fresh air to the art of games and storytelling and asks interesting questions of the medium and the player.  This game is an important step in the right direction that could bring games to a whole new audience where story and mood are as important as action.

Reviewed on: PlayStation 3

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