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Heavy Rain – the uneducated verdict August 20, 2008

Posted by Chris in Comment, Console, Games.
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David Cage (Fahrenheit) has been busy today, unveiling his forthcoming PS3 title, Heavy Rain. Already the subject of much hyperbole mainly thanks to a very short (but admittedly impressive) tech-demo-cum-trailer, the internet kicked into overdrive when the first real footage of the game was showcased today.

Essentially, you fall into one of two camps after you’ve watched the latest vid (actually, there’s a third, but for the sake of argument let’s pretend it doesn’t exist for the moment). You either think that it’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen, proclaim Quantic Dream to be the new Team ICO and fap yourself stupid over the realistic visuals and animation. Or you think it looks little more than Dragon’s Lair but with super-lifelike characters. The reality – as is always the case in these situations – is something in between.

The former group can be excused for now, as it really does look stunning. But the latter has a point about the controls – not a great one as it turns out, but a reasonable initial observation nonetheless. You see, interaction is slightly more limited than you might expect – your character Madison advances when you hold the R2 trigger, and turns her head with the left analogue stick. Meanwhile, button commands appear at context-sensitive spots. This has naturally led group 2 to yell “QTE!” with all the disgust of a Chinese reporter interviewing a bronze medal athlete – except the T in the acronym should give everyone a clue that this simply isn’t the case. You might have to make the odd snap decision (and in easily the worst control idea shown yet, you tilt your Sixaxis towards the right answer) but it’s not like you’re punished as such for making the ‘wrong’ choice. As Gamespot put it – “You could have killed the villain in various ways; you could have stayed hidden and called the police. Madison could also be killed, and the fascinating part is that the game would not be over.”

So essentially we’re talking about a fully-branching narrative, and presumably the option to play as one of the other characters should the protagonist pop her clogs. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds bloody exciting. And it’s this we should be focussing on rather than complaining about unusual controls. I suppose the automatic reaction for some people to something different from the norm is to instantly dismiss it, while others are just as quick to hail it revolutionary.

I’m in group 3 – I’m intrigued to see exactly how it plays before I decide that it’s a genuine advancement in the way we interact with games. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic – mindful that Fahrenheit was a brave experiment that only partially paid off, but aware that this could finally be the closest thing we have to a genuine ‘interactive movie’. And while it might not turn out to be a perfect game, it certainly looks like one hell of an experience.

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