by Brandon Waldenberg
previewed on PS3
More than Indigo Prophecy 2
After they finish with Uncharted 2, Playstation 3 owners have another exclusive coming their way this February, and it is looking pretty impressive. Courtesy of developer Quantic Dream, creator of the critically acclaimed game Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain is shaping up to be a game that defines new boundaries between videogames and movies.
Described as an “interactive film”, the game follows four characters through a noir detective story. Players will switch between four characters: Ethan, an architect, private detective Scott Shelby, FBI agent Norman Jayden, and journalist Madison Page as they attempt to unravel the mystery of the Origami Killer. This serial killer abducts young boys in broad daylight, and then leaves the bodies five days later, with an origami crane in the dead child’s hands. Each of the characters has his or her own story to tell through Heavy Rain, though they are all connected, in some way, by the Origami Killer.
Indigo Prophecy was unique in how the gameplay and your choices shaped the story. As you switched between the characters, what one character did affected another’s story. Minute details, like taking the bus or a cab on the way home could change the whole course of the game.
Voices in Your Head
Heavy Rain attempts to take that interactivity to the next level. The game takes place in episodes, switching from the four main characters’ stories. Each character is a unique individual, fully realized through voice and motion capturing by real actors. The voice acting seems to going well, though the character of Ethan sounds like he is half asleep in gameplay videos. The graphics are not as great as some of the PS3’s exclusives (Uncharted 2, say) but are more than enough to convey the character’s expressions. It’s easy to see a lot of love and care went into these character models. Their emotions are animated very well, with every detail covered. My only hope with the game is that they will have some time to add a little bit of life to the characters, especially with Ethan. His emotions and eyes in game play videos look vacant and emotionless, while other characters seem to have much more emotion and life. As an “interactive film” Heavy Rain will need to rely on its presentation, from graphics to characters, to keep gamers interested.
The main game play is delivered through contextual commands that are displayed around the characters and objects in the game. In part of the game, Ethan walks into a small room. The player is prompted to press down and Ethan sits in front of a desk. As Ethan looks around, more commands appear. You can turn a semi-circle on the joystick to brush the dust off your desk, or press right to turn on a TV nearby and watch Ethan’s boys in a home video. As your character looks at different objects, his or her thoughts float above them, and pressing a button makes you act on those thoughts. This novel control scheme allows players to immerse themselves in their environment. Combat looks an intense movie the player can take part in. Players use the contextual commands to make split seconds decisions, in a quick-time-event form, and the more chances that are missed, the more likely the character you play as will die.
Part of an E3 demo had the FBI agent Hayden investigating a junkyard owned by someone named Mad Jack. He uses his ARI, or Added Reality Interface, to look for clues about the Origami Killer. The ARI is a nifty little device. With it, Hayden is able to find things that the normal human eye can’t find, like blood, footprints, etc. As Hayden’s conversation with Mad Jack proceeds, a few dialogue choices float through the air around the character, waiting for the player to choose how to act in the conversation. After Hayden fails to get any information, he looks around the garage, which triggers a combat sequence after Hayden finds some hard evidence. Players must dodge, duck, and fight until they make their way out of the garage or are killed within.
Real Life has no Restarts
If a character doesn’t make it out alive, they are dead. Permanently. No restart at last checkpoint, nothing. Heavy Rain will continue the other characters’ stories if any character dies, and will change the story accordingly. Luckily, since the game is delivered in chapters, you can go back to a chapter where the character is alive and play through again, saving his or her life the next time around. Quantic Dream has boasted that this game will be very open-ended, allowing players to explore each chapter as they see fit. Situations can be handled in a differently every time, and dialogue is an important part of that. You usually have the four buttons for dialogue choices, each assigned to a different response. As characters become more stressed, their dialogue choices spin around their heads, become blurred, and are harder to see. This makes for some intense moments, as players try to read the choices as they spin around their heads, until they just press a button and have to deal with the consequences.
Heavy Rain’s story telling looks intense and moody, while the action is fast and thrilling. The graphics look great, and the characters look very interesting. I can only hope that the story will be as good as Quantic wants people to think. Quantic Dream has already had some success with this genre, so hopefully they will be able to pull it off again. If they do PS3 owners will soon have another awesome exclusive to look forward to.