Heavy Rain: What Is It?

Sony has just had their Leipzig press conference and finally Heavy Rain has been revealed!  But what is it? And how should we feel about it?

Well from the brief trailer and initial impressions from popular gaming sites it seems like it could be something very interesting. I will let you find these previews for yourself, or check out TSA’s coverage.

From the brief glimpse of the community it seems there are 3 kinds of reactions to the previews.

  • Dude: “Wow this is the best looking game I have ever seen ever ever ever!”
  • Guy: “Pfft it’s all Quick Time Events, where’s the skill, where’s the game! This is just an interactive movie.”
  • Bloke: “Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit had a lot of potential, if this game can move on from there it could be amazing.”

I’m not sure where I fall in this smorgasbord of posters, so let’s try to address each of them.

@Dude – AKA the graphics whore and most likely a PS3 fanboy. I have no problem with either of these things but let’s not over step the mark too far and say “best ever”. This kind of hyperbole is something that always leaves you open for criticism. Granted the game does look pretty but I’m not really sure what the “best looking” game is these days. Is it the game that goes for realism? Or the one that uses style like PixelJunk Eden? It’s not for me to argue what is and isn’t a great looking game, but it is for me to argue how much it matters. I think Brandon Sheffield did a really good job of addressing the importance of graphics to the current climate. The only thing I would care to add is a little analogy of my own.

Once I am immersed into a foreign film I hardly notice the fact I have to read subtitles and when I later think about the film I remember it as if they were speaking in my language. I find the same sort of thing from a good game. I am remembering the actions and events that took place and not largely what they looked like, adding my own layer of realism. It is only in retrospect playing FF7 years later that I realise how ugly it looks. The only time graphics bother me nowadays is if they improve game-play. So when foliage is denser giving me room to ambush or I can see someone moving in the distance, graphics have improved my experience. Is Crisis/Farcry/Rage/(insert game here) better looking? Who cares!?

@Guy – Is it really just QTE? I guess the problem here is we don’t really know what the final game will play like yet. To humour this school of thought though I will assume the game is a series of QTE’s and choices almost akin to reading a “Go to page 43” adventure book. This makes it more of an interactive movie than it does a game.

If done properly this should mean the game becomes more about the skill of choice, opposed to the skill of button pressing. However this has to be balanced with immersion. It’s hard to feel involved if you don’t feel you have real control over the main character.

David Cage has talked about how Heavy Rain will be more “accessible” to a wider audience. At first those words are scary, conjuring up thoughts of wii-mote waggling and gimped game play so that your Gran can play Uncharted. After thinking about it though, maybe some of that is what games are missing. You or I might be able to pick up Ratchet and Clank and quickly understand how to play it, but that is only because over the years we have built up this understanding of video games. I think Michael Abbott says this better than I ever could in regards to trying to game with his peers. Knowing some areas may only be accessible once you have future power ups, knowing how to operate a camera and move in the right direction, timing platforming jumps to perfection, these are all skills and ways of thinking that are learnt through years of gaming.

Removing some of that learnt complexity and actually bringing some game control back to a more contextual and intuitive level of understanding is a brave thing to try. This is either a step forward for the gaming industry or the ‘cores worst nightmare. Time will tell.

@Bloke – I admit to my lack of knowledge on previous Quantic Dream games however I do remember the Fahrenheit demo. I didn’t actually twig until very recently that I had even played any of it, until recently hearing someone talk about the game. It must have made some impression on me if I still remember a 3 year old demo! Trying to work out what the hell to do on discovering a body in the toilets. I played through that demo several times, trying different tactics on each play through. It was exciting and different and to be honest I don’t know why I didn’t go out and buy it. Perhaps I should go back and try the full game now (or the first 70% of it according to general consensus). Heavy Rain could be the game to fulfil the potential Fahrenheit laid out.

I’m cautiously optimistic about what Heavy Rain could be. At the back of my mind though I wonder, could this finally be the game everyone can play that isn’t Wii Sports? Dare I say it…..could this be gamings Citizen Kane?