Heavy Rain Preview

14 Dec 2009  by   Paul Younger
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I’m sat on my sofa, brushing my teeth. Or rather I’m shaking the Sixaxis up and down as my on screen character, architect Ethan Mars, brushes his teeth. After the teeth are done, I take a leak, wash my hands and have a shower. Sound a bit too much like real life? Well, it really isn’t.Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain is, I suspect, going to divide gamers. There will be some who see the multi-character adventure (you play as four different protagonists) as nothing more than a console version of a point and click, with pretty visuals and an over-emphasis on QTEs. Equally, there will be others who herald the game for its innovative take on story-telling and its atmosphere. From our time with the preview build of Heavy Rain, we’re leaning towards the latter.The game begins with a family scene, as you take control of architect and family man Ethan Hunt who is home alone while the wife and kids are out. This opening section is designed to both introduce you to the controls and to establish a contented a family unit. And we all know, the only reason to establish a contented family unit is to smash it to bits later on. Throughout the prologue scene you’ll find yourself getting to grips with the game’s unique control scheme which, again, may be divisive.Like in Quantic Dream’s earlier release, Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy for you American types), the controls in Heavy Rain are largely focused on the analog sticks. The left stick will move your character’s head, while the right stick is your interaction button which you’ll need to move in a variety of different ways. Holding the R2 button makes your character walk (in the direction the head is facing) while holding the L2 button displays a selection of your most prominent thoughts, each corresponding to a face button.The gameplay in Heavy Rain is essentially a mixture of contextual right stick movements and quick time events, although far more varied than we saw in Fahrenheit. Some actions will require a simple movement on the right stick, like a brief quarter circle to open a door. Others, however, will be considerably more complex requiring timing and dexterity to achieve. For example, in a later scene in the preview build, in which FBI man Norman Jayden is searching a crime scene for clues, he’ll need to climb a steep bank up to the freeway which means pressing and holding a series of face buttons and triggers. There is also an impressive fight scene between another player character, PI Scott Shelby, and a thug which plays out entirely in QTEs. The player will need to time their button presses appropriately to prevent Shelby from taking a pasting and it all unfolds in a scene more frenetic and tense than you would ever expect from a QTE affair. The game also makes use of the Sixaxis’ tilt sensors, requiring you to shake the controller in certain sections and it’s clear the developer has tried to add variety to the button-matching gameplay.Nevertheless, the controls won’t please everyone and we can see the game’s camera becoming a bone of contention for some. As the game utilises the right stick for interaction, there is no free-camera option at the player’s disposal. Quantic Dream has tried to compensate for this by adding a camera change function to the L1 button, offering a different angle with each press but it’s by no means perfect and can become confusing when the camera changes and you find yourself walking in the wrong direction. It also feels a little archaic not to be able to examine the environments at will, which can be frustrating especially in one scene in which we were tasked with gathering evidence dotted around a dark environment. However, there was a point in the preview build where the controls just clicked – I stopped holding the left stick in the appropriate direction when walking (having to suppress all my natural third-person instincts) and simply used taps of the left stick to adjust direction when needed. Things became considerably easier although I suspect some will still find the control system to be a stumbling block.But, to concentrate too much on the controls would do a disservice to the two most impressive aspects of Heavy Rain: story and atmosphere. Even from the few early scenes we played, it’s obvious that Quantic Dream has put a lot of effort into crafting the narrative in the game. The pay off for the lack of free look is a game which is very cinematic, using a combination of interesting angles, split-screen techniques and cutscenes to present the action (or the lack of action) in a unique visual style. The story itself seems equally compelling, with a wonderfully dark, foreboding atmosphere surrounding the events and the ever-present threat of the Origami killer. What we found most impressive, however, is the way in which the story branches, changing according to decisions made by the player. We can’t give too much away without spoiling the experience, but we’ll give you an example from an early scene. Ethan’s son Shaun is staying at his father’s house and Ethan has been given a strict schedule to follow by the boy’s mother. How you follow that schedule has a profound effect on Shaun’s mood.  You can choose whether to make him do his homework before dinner, when to feed him and when to send him to bed. Do it one way and he’ll go to bed a happy boy, whereas if you choose the wrong options (or the right options, depending on your point of view) he’ll storm off in a right old mood. This is just one simple, seemingly inconsequential moment of choice and there are much more thought-provoking moments in the preview build. It’s clear Heavy Rain is going to be a game that requires multiple playthroughs to get the most out of it and we’re very much looking forward to getting our hands on the full game*.*For those about to ask about the visuals, “stunning” is the answer. And those loading screens…
    

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