These decisions add up and change the game in substantial ways. Although the game is tightly scripted, you have incredible control over how it plays out. The idea is for you to be able to play through it a number of different times and have a fresh experience. The reason this is so effective is because even the smallest decision is rewarded with comment or action. Something as simple as not making your child do his homework will come back into play when he's depressed that his teacher yelled at him. These nods help reinforce the personal experience, it's easy to get caught up in these people's lives when you're largely in control of their actions.
One thing I wasn't expecting from Heavy Rain was how emotional it would be. I knew it was going to be moody with a heavy dose of dreary atmosphere, but I became wrapped up in each of these stories. There are moments where the game pushes you to make a very tough moral choice, and I wasn't always ready for the consequences. You learn early on that every choice has a consequence, but you never know when that boot is going to drop. You'll be forced to quickly decide between life and death, yet in the front of your mind you will have to weigh the potential risk. It's a lot more nerve racking than I was expecting. There was one scene in particular where I had to pause the game and step away from the TV. I was both shaken up and a little shell shocked, surprised at how emotionally invested I was in the well-being of these characters.
There's a reason I bring up all of the lurid details about the story and game structure first, because that's definitely the selling point of Heavy Rain. This is a game entirely about the narrative, giving you a murder mystery to solve and enough suspense along the way to keep you permanently on the edge of your seat. To keep the stunning presentation and make sure the game is so tightly paced, the game makers decided to make a few controversial gameplay decisions.
In essence, you are rarely controlling any one of the main characters. There are times when you walk around and investigate, but much of the game involves you repeating simple button presses in order to make them interact with the world. At first the game feels like Dragon's Lair or any other game full of quick-time events, you do what it tells you to do and everybody stays safe. But don't be fooled by what sounds like painfully simplistic gameplay, because there's a surprising amount of depth found in the decidedly bizarre control scheme.
Every action in Heavy Rain is mapped to some sort of button press or analog stick movement. You can open the fridge by performing a quarter-circle with the left stick. Bending down to pick up a note is nothing more than pushing down on the analog stick. And you will be able to pick up that log by holding the square button. On top of those standard commands, you will also be asked to shake the control and use the Sixaxis motion controls is clever ways. Climbing up a large hill or doing something dangerous will often require you to hold several buttons down at once, making it far more difficult on the user.
Of course, sometimes the game goes into what looks like a full-motion video sequence, an action video where all you're doing is pushing the correct buttons. But don't worry about missing a button and immediately dying, because these sequences are not as linear as you might think. Let's say you're in the middle of a one on one fight, you can miss a few buttons and be just fine, the fight will simply play out in a different way. What's really cool about this is that you can see the same fight multiple ways, each with a different outcome. I may have only been pushing buttons here and there, but I definitely felt like I was in control of what was going on.
For some this style of gameplay may be a turn off, so much so that they won't let the amazing story develop and capture their hearts. Heavy Rain is definitely not for everybody, I can guarantee that some of my friends are going to loathe the slow-paced experience. But I found the gameplay to be riveting, no matter how simple it sounds on paper. The events in Heavy Rain are so tense and exciting that I often forgot about the gameplay, instead focusing on how to get out of each sticky situation. And it's not like you don't play as the character. You walk around, go up stairs and talk to people. Heck, you push buttons and make people bleed. If that's not the very definition of a video game, then I don't know what is.
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