Capsule Review: Heavy Rain

A spiritual successor to Fahrenheit that carries forward its strengths and fixes most of its flaws. You play as a handful of characters investigating a serial abductor and killer of children with time running out for the latest victim. As before, controls are nontraditional and designed to immerse the player in the game’s world and the characters' emotions, and the player’s actions result in bends and branches in the game’s story.

Movement is handled a little differently than before - instead of just walking with the left stick as in Fahrenheit, the left stick faces the character in a direction and holding the R2 button moves them forward. This mostly works but can become awkward and immersion-breaking when trying to navigate cramped spaces and getting stuck on furniture. Controls for other actions are improved, however. They are again context-sensitive and involve inputs that approximate the character’s movement, but the prompts are better integrated with the game’s world and the sixaxis motion control allows for a greater range of inputs that can better approximate more actions. The net result is that action sequences are more immersive - during a particularly tense one I stood up from the couch and didn’t notice until after the sequence ended.

The story is even more flexible of a “rubber band” than before, allowing the player to bend and reshape it without breaking. Multiple playable characters can die or otherwise be removed from the story and it will continue on rather than presenting a game over, and there are many possible variations on the ending depending on the state of each character. There are no supernatural elements (although the removal of one that was present in an earlier draft has unfortunately left a bit of a plot hole) which allows the stakes to be lower but feel higher by their plausibility. And unlike Fahrenheit, the plot holds together the whole way through - though there’s a late-game twist that can feel like a bit of a cheat depending on whether you’ve seen some contradictory optional content earlier on.

While the game isn’t perfect, it’s a solid refinement of the formula pioneered by Fahrenheit. Everything is designed to create a rich emotional experience in the player by bringing them into the minds of the characters and giving them tough decisions to make not by choosing from a list but by taking actions with short- and long-term consequences. The results are intensely affecting and memorable and serve as an impressive example of what can be accomplished with interactive storytelling.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished the game.

Docprof's Rating:

Four Stars: Great. Not only did I finish the game, I probably played through the whole thing again and/or completed any optional objectives. It's an easy recommendation for any genre fan.

You can get it or learn more here.