Any listener of the Big Red Potion podcast would tell you that I have been a huge supporter of the upcoming PS3-exclusive adventure title, Heavy Rain. The game—spawned from David Cage, the mind behind Indigo Prophecy and Omikron—allows you to inhabit the bodies of four distinct characters, each of which is somehow involved with the dreaded Origami Killer. The catch here is that all of these characters can die at any point during gameplay, and there are no extra lives to be found. Heavy Rain bucks thirty years of video game tradition by not allowing you to resurrect a character that has been lead to an untimely end. Instead, the game continues without them, promising infinite replayability as you see how many branches this tree has to explore. Heavy Rain is obviously ambitious, but whether the gameplay would hold up to the fascinating premise was always uncertain.
As the E3 demo began, Cage was genuinely excited. He clearly wants the game to resonate with players in a way that no other interactive experience has. The demo began with our character—an attractive brunette in a red dress—walking into the Blue Lagoon club, a techno-fueled dance hall packed with partiers. We are told that the girl was looking for a link to the Origami Killer, and would need to talk to the owner of the joint to get the information that she needs. As she walked through the crowd, she brushed her hand along the dancers’ backs to maneuver them out of her way. Although subtle, this little animation added a gloss of realism to the world, as the main character was merely part of a crowd instead of a focal point of everyone’s attention. Also worth noting is that each inhabitant has their own unique animation, making the backgrounds feel more organic and less mechanical than most other games.
When the girl found the club owner, he was preoccupied with some half-naked floozy on a couch. An icon appeared over him and several thought bubbles began to hover around your avatar. These thoughts offer the player a window into what the character is thinking, and you must decide which would be the best course of action for each situation. In this case, the club owner wasn’t giving our girl any attention. She jumped up on stage and did a sultry dance, but the owner still wasn’t interested. One of the thought bubbles that appeared was to “go to the bathroom and freshen up,” which sounded like a good idea to Cage. The demonstrator then selected the bubbles for “rip skirt,” “unbutton shirt,” and “put on lipstick,” with each having a quick analog stick or Sixaxis motion applied to that action for effect. When sufficiently skankified, the character went back out to the dance floor, did a much sexier dance, and nabbed herself an invitation to the owner’s private room.
Once alone, the owner told the girl to strip for him. When the player selected the thought bubble that turned down his offer, the owner pulled out a gun and repeated his request. Each bubble from this point on became far more important, as this character’s life was now in the player’s hands. The thought bubbles began to shake as they rotated around her, making them harder to read in order to signify the character’s nervous emotional state. The player removed a few articles of our girl’s clothing, but that wasn’t cutting it for the club owner. By the time she stripped down to her skivvies, the character noticed a heavy lamp on a nearby table. The choice was left up to the player: continue to strip, try and grab the owner’s gun, or use the lamp to bludgeon him. After selecting the third option, the over-excited pervert received a face full of porcelain which allowed the main character to tie him up and interrogate him (which can include the option of using your high heels on his privates until he talks). As she was finishing up, one of the owner’s lackeys came to the locked door and asked if the boss was okay. Several options were presented, but “moan” was the way to go. After a few seconds of impassioned shrieking, the thug left the area assuming that his boss was in good hands. As the demo closed, Mr. Cage mentioned that the whole scene we just saw might not ever happen in your playthrough. Everything depends on the choices that you make, so these characters might never have met, be in different locations, or even be dead by this point in your story.
It is clear that Heavy Rain will be a love it or hate it experience. The controls are strange, as you hold a button to make the character walk and steer them with the left stick. Aside from that, you will spend most of your time watching cutscenes, selecting thought bubbles, and performing simplistic motion commands and stick movements to mimic on-screen actions. If you are looking for a deep, interactive story told in a way that has never been seen before in gaming, Heavy Rain is exactly what you are looking for. However, action fans who think that Metal Gear Solid has too many cutscenes should steer clear of this one.
Heavy Rain is scheduled to hit store shelves in early 2010, exclusively for the PlayStation 3.