Released in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, Heavy Rain is a ground-breaking computer game combing elements of film and video gaming. The game is really more of an 'interactive drama' and, as such, forms the spiritual sequel to 2005's similarly themed Fahrenheit. It combines truly open-ended gameplay with the film noir model, creating a playable movie in which the ending is altered by the player's actions. The game received much praise from critics, who seemed to particularly enjoy the game's gritty atmosphere and successful mixing of genres. The game follows the attempts of four playable characters to catch the Origami Killer and find his latest victim before time runs out.
Please note that this Entry contains some spoilers.
Without giving too much away: the game centres on the attempts of architect Ethan Mars to find his son, Shaun, who has been kidnapped by the so-called Origami Killer. It soon transpires, thanks to parallel storylines following a private eye and an FBI agent, that the killer drowns his victims in the rising rainwater of a drainage system, then leaves their bodies by railway lines. The reasons for this become clear when Ethan receives a set of origami figures from the killer, each containing a trial that he must complete in order to find his son. With the heavy rain falling without mercy, Ethan is forced to ask himself just how far he is prepared to go.
Heavy Rain consists of a careful balance between everyday actions and fast gameplay. Unlike its predecessor, there is no special 'dance mat' system for action sequences1; rather, the actions available to the player always appear as icons floating within the game's reality. For instance, an icon representing a quick flick of the control stick may appear over a light switch, allowing the player to turn the lights on, and one requesting a shake of the controller will allow the player to shake a carton of orange juice. The same icons appear during action sequences, leading the player to frantically tap buttons, flick sticks and shake their controller as appropriate in order to escape death, evade the police or drive against the flow of traffic.
Also unlike the 'dance mat' system of Fahrenheit, players may be presented with several options during an action sequence, along with the option of doing nothing at all2. This degree of control is also extended to conversations between characters. In times of stress or injury, though, the on-screen icons become muddled and hazy, making it harder to tell which choice to make before the window of opportunity runs out.
Instead of taking place during long, cinematic cut-scenes á la Metal Gear Solid, Heavy Rain's action occurs with the player in control. Any cinematic effects are built in, meaning that the script and musical score must change according to the player's choices3. The music and photographic direction of Heavy Rain are good enough for a Hollywood blockbuster, and correlate well with the game's murky, gritty nature. The characters' actions were generated through months of painstaking motion capture, down to the level of lip-synching and foot tapping. The voice acting is pretty good considering that half the actors are Brits pretending to be American, and the small snatches of dialogue flow together to produce realistic conversations regardless of which options the player chooses. As for the action sequences: while Fahrenheit's fight scenes took on a Matrix-like quality, those in Heavy Rain seem hell-bent on copying Indiana Jones instead.
As might be expected, the game contains plenty of nods towards its predecessor. For starters, the lead character once more suffers blackouts and wonders whether he has unwittingly become the killer. The inclement weather of Heavy Rain follows on nicely from the increasing cold of Fahrenheit, and is once more intimately linked with the game's progression. Smaller references are also evident: when bandaged up, Ethan Mars looks an awful lot like Fahrenheit's Lukas Kane, and the layout of the hospital wing where the killer's mother is staying is identical to that of the school in which the Indigo Child can be found in the previous game.
Choose Your Own Ending
Though it contains a definite plot progression, Heavy Rain breaks new ground by allowing for a great many different endings4. Any of the four characters can die – there is no 'Game Over', just a continuing roller-coaster plot in which the killer might be caught and the victim may be found alive. Two potential love stories may or may not bloom into romance, and the FBI agent's career depends not just upon solving the case, but throwing off a drug habit. While it's hard to make a great difference to the end result during the first half of the game, early actions can change the character of later scenes, and some small discoveries can prove vital later on. Overall, the game is a definite move away from an illusion of choice toward a genuinely open-ended tale in which anything can happen.