Hands-on at E3 / Heavy Rain

Let me preface this journey of words by saying I cannot tell you if Heavy Rain is the end-all-be-all of videogame experiences, nor can I say if it has the power to save the world. Sony’s offerings at E3 were more than ample and only having a short amount of time to poke, prod and ingest, whilst trying to make things blue screen (Me: 1, PSP: 0), we had to jump games at a rapid pace.

That being said, we — myself and TVGB’s daring photographer, Charlie Suh — spent roughly 15 minutes tag-teaming the “Mad Jack” scenario in Heavy Rain. We pooled our efforts mainly because we both got a little giddy knowing we could actually try the game, but also because we didn’t know what we were doing and no adults bothered to show us how to play. It was a similar case for the Bitmob guys sitting next to us so we ultimately didn’t feel too stupid about our lack of abilities, but after poking some buttons and twisting some sticks, victory was ours! Sort of.

The “Mad Jack” scenario put us in the role of FBI profiler Norman Jayden who is your average government man (with a drug problem) sent by the government to question a murder suspect that goes by the name Mad Jack. The demo started with Jayden driving up to Mad Jack’s scrapyard during a very…wait for it…heavy rain where we met our first challenge: getting out of the car. In keeping with Quantic Dream’s style that started with Indigo Prophecy, the controls in Heavy Rain are an interesting beast; movement is controlled by R2, the left stick points which direction the character moves in and the right stick carries out actions indicated by a white arrow. To get out of the car, we were stupidly “trapped” in, we had to push the right stick to the right as indicated by a white arrow pointing, you guessed it, to the right. More than likely the final product will have some sort of tutorial on how to operate the game world, but I could be wrong so let this be a warning to non-thinkers-outside-the-box. With the first hurdle tackled it was time to get our hands dirty and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

Walking from the car across the rain-soaked ground to Mad Jack’s garage, the true sense of an “interactive movie” came out. While Jayden may walk really slow, especially given the short time we had to watch him skulk about, it really adds a certain feeling and weight to the game since he’s noticeably both cold and suffering from a slight drug withdrawal. Additionally, holding the R1 button brought up a series of thoughts that circled around Jayden which could be activated with one of the face buttons. These thoughts gave a little backstory to the character while also touching on a certain noir-ish feel and, with the unique way the controls are laid out, allows this backstory to be dipped into without breaking the pace and stride of the overall adventure.

After an introspective journey across some junkyard mud, we got to do some investigation in Mad Jack’s garage using the ARI (Artificial Reality Interface). By use of the right stick, Jayden pulls a David Caruso (sans The Who cue) by slapping on some dark glasses and a fancy looking glove to let him (and the player) see investigative hotspots. Things such as footprints, tire tracks, blood and fingerprints glow green and have an icon floating above them to indicate you should probably have a little gander at them. The ARI system is where the game starts to feel like a point-and-click adventure game which will probably make some people very happy and rightfully so. The ARI is definitely a cool little feature, especially for the reason just mentioned, but I will say, if the transition scene remains triggered every time you switch in and out of the mode, it may very well feel like a chore since it tends to break the flow. It’s not a long scene, only encompassing a few seconds of time, but it’s long enough where if you’ve seen it twice you don’t really need to see it anymore. Skipping it via a button press would be more than excellent.

The graphics in the game have been getting a lot of attention, but to be perfectly honest, what we saw was nothing mind-blowing. Don’t get me wrong, the game looked great with an incredible atmosphere and detailed environments, but the in-game character models weren’t anything super special and in stark contrast to the Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within-esque models shown during loading screens. This is not to knock the game, but the hype train needs to be slowed before it enters the station.

Unfortunately, we didn’t progress much farther beyond some initial investigation and clue finding due to time constraints and something I like to call “What the hell do we do now?” Despite the short playtime, I can already tell that Heavy Rain is something different and something special. Being a fan of point-and-click adventures, mystery games and Quantic Dream’s previous effort, Indigo Prophecy (second half of the game not included), Heavy Rain definitely fires on the right cylinders.

While there’s plenty of hype surrounding it, it definitely won’t be a game for everyone nor will it push PS3 sales over the edge. If you’re someone that enjoys a story-driven, character-heavy experience that unravels slowly and draws you into the world, I think you’ll want to soak in all of what Heavy Rain has to offer. If not, it’s probably best you stay dry.