now playing! Heavy Rain

Quantic Dream has managed to pull off something very different with Heavy Rain. If you’re not already familiar with it then I think it’s fair to describe the game as an ‘Interactive Movie’ ..and if this description makes you shudder with fear, well, you’re not alone. So, has David Cage, it’s director, managed to break free of the stereotype you’re thinking of? ..almost.

In many ways Heavy Rain has delivered on the things I hoped it would. I actually bought it for my girlfriend – she enjoys videogames but they don’t feature heavily in her life and she certainly doesn’t spend time looking around for the next one to get into (she has me for that!). She’s not too bothered about casual games and most adventure games are too male orientated or require too much investment of time for her to enjoy. But she loves CSI and movies in general so I thought that this game – essentially a seven inspired thriller/detective serial killer romp – would be a good fit for her.

She’s also not terribly interested in watching me play games (can’t blame her for that!) so I was intrigued by the the way the game is structured: short episodic chapters where you play a variety of the game’s characters as they go through their own story arcs. There’s also no real sense of failing these chapters; even if your current protagonist dies the game continues along regardless but with future events altered accordingly.

This is great because the game doesn’t force you to repeat actions, instead it sends you along it’s narrative in a way that never outstays its welcome. In this sense it’s a film; it becomes something you’re as happy to watch as to play – a fact that meant we were able to play this game together last night for about 6 hours straight!

Quite apart from the delightful image of domestic bliss this conjures I think there are some interesting factors at play here: despite Heavy Rain being hardly what you might consider to be ‘family viewing’ I think we’re going to see more games like this that at both more accessible to play and more fun to watch. Heavy Rain simply ditches many video gaming staples and concepts in favour of keeping players focused on contextual and interesting decisions, whilst keeping the narrative momentum going regardless of what you’re doing.

It’s not all successful however; much of the more complex configurations of buttons used to try and mimic human behaviour often feel just too contrived, especially when you feel that in another situation one button may have been used instead. Also, bizarrely, character movement has been done dreadfully – it’s like a throwback to Resident Evil! but somehow worse because the sight of your brilliantly realised and acted avatar arcing around and bumping into walls like a drunk toy destroys what is often a complex and beautifully set up scene.

So, room for improvement certainly, but this is clearly a landmark game and a hugely enjoyable one at that. The graphics and sound design are spectacular – easily the best looking game I’ve ever played. I’m looking forward to seeing where this genre goes next, especially with new tech such as Xbox’s Natal coming later this year. The issues that Heavy Rain suffers from are the same ones that have always dogged attempts to make ‘interactive movies’ before but somehow I think that the developers are close to hitting on a format that fulfills its brief, add a more intuitive means of interacting with the characters and environment then I think there’s no audience that this genre won’t be able to reach.