Playing Heavy Rain, I couldn't help but think of the original NES Super Mario Bros. (duh-doo-doo duh-doo-DOO!) . . . but not because they have anything whatsoever in common. While a classic, Mario (and most other games to follow) was crystal clear about what being a "video game" meant. You're a cute little character, you jump, squash bad guys, and save the princess. What developer Quantic Dream does here (and with their previous game, Indigo Prophecy
) is to venture into new territory for gaming. The result was, to me, pretty exciting.
"Interactive movie" comes close to capturing the essence here. Think a moody drama, a murder mystery, and a psychological thriller rolled in one. Now imagine that you haven't merely watched the characters' story unfold, but you've also controlled them brushing their teeth, fighting off an attacker, and struggling through a life-changing crisis. But you not only control those actions, you also get to CHOOSE some of those actions--and sculpt your own (somewhat) unique version of the story. You're not only watching the movie, you're also playing the lead roles and contributing to the screenplay.
Much of this comes from QTE (Quick Time Events - timed controller responses following onscreen prompts). What's different here is that, in many cases, whether you perform these timed presses "successfully" or not, the game goes on, and adapts accordingly. In fact, much of the time, there isn't a clear definition of "success" in these situations--as some decisions in this game can have unexpected repercussions in the unfolding of the narrative.
They've presented this unique game with some pretty stunning graphics. The character models and animations are so lifelike that I found myself looking up some of the actors on IMDB.
The controls are unconventional, but, in my experience, well-suited. In addition to the QTE, you're often moving around an area, and finding objects to interact with (similar to old-school adventure games). During dialogue with other characters, you'll often be given a choice of several different tactics (i.e., to reason, to threaten, or to flee).
You can shape your own story, within certain limitations (no spoilers). Characters can live or die, and entire scenes can be changed, added, removed, or replaced--all depending on your decisions and the outcomes of quick time events. With that said, many of the changes you can make are subtle, and only certain scenes are going to allow you to greatly alter things. For me, this was understandable: to let every scene drastically affect the rest of the game would have required them to prepare thousands of scenes (we'll just have to wait for that in Heavy Rain III on the PS5).
One, in my opinion, head-scratching oversight by the developers is that they used mostly French actors to do American accents for the characters . . . and it shows. Their dialects often range somewhere between robot and Martian. A tip--reviewer "W. Kong" posted a very clever solution: switch the audio language to French, with English subtitles. If you're open to this, the acting (extremely important in this kind of game) sounded MUCH more natural to me.
Heavy Rain is "not for everyone." It's for mature audiences; not just because it has sex, violence, and profanity, but also because it has "adult content" of a very different kind. These characters live in a harsh world of regret, heartbreak, and love: a love that runs much deeper than rescuing Princess Peach.
If, after reading this, you're still curious about this original gaming experience, you might want to check it out. Your first playthrough just might end up as one of the more thrilling pieces of entertainment you've come across in a while.