I knew Heavy Rain was going to be an artsy game as soon as it instructed me to take a piece of paper and fold it into an origami bird. Shortly thereafter, I got to see a man’s naked ass. By the time the game’s female shower scene happened — with the camera swirling around the girl’s breasts in intoxicated film school close-up — Heavy Rain had sunk so far into pretentious territory that I could tell without looking that it had been made by the French.
Like a deconstructionist’s wet dream, the story of Heavy Rain is a multi-angled mystery — a search for a serial killer that’s told from the perspective of an FBI agent, a private eye, a journalist and the father of one of the victims. This might be interesting if books, movies and the Internet hadn’t already been telling stories from multiple viewpoints for years. It would also help if Heavy Rain wasn’t so full of bad writing, ranging from hackneyed clichés (the local cop and the visiting FBI agent just can’t play nice) to outright oopsiness (a graveyard caretaker observes that it “looks like a storm is comin’” when four inches of rain have already fallen).
The flawed writing hurts Heavy Rain more than it would most videogames because Heavy Rain is presented as an “interactive drama.” Long stretches of the game are spent watching digital actors performing and then making choices that range from mild story-changers to tedious time-wasters. In one scene, I needed to remember to clean up all my fingerprints at a crime scene, while in another I was given the choice or drinking either orange juice or beer.
As if they knew that pressing buttons to scramble some eggs wasn’t going to enliven Heavy Rain, the designers have periodically inserted fight-and-flight sequences of TV cop-grade action — roll aside from the incoming punch, grab the knife on the counter, slide across the hood of the oncoming car. Only occasionally did these scenes transform into something engaging, most notably during a torture session in a madman’s basement. For once, I was trapped in the victim’s perspective, risking my life on my actions.
But for a murder mystery, Heavy Rain is pretty safe. I was continually aware that I was living through four characters, taking four different paths through which this story, like all whodunits, reaches its single inevitable destination. With no tension of getting lost, either fatally or procedurally, Heavy Rain is nothing but an empty exercise in cinematics — a convoluted figure that ultimately turns out to be flat and square once it has been unfolded all the way.
THE GOOD: Heavy Rain was animated by motion-capturing live actors, resulting in a subtler and more believable presentation than the usual hyperactive puppetry that passes for CGI filmmaking.
THE BAD: Heavy Rain is plagued by a few glaring bugs. The worst was when, during a climactic scene, my character couldn’t exit a burning room or be hurt by the flames. With so little interactivity in the game, the designers could have spent more time making sure it all worked.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Heavy Rain is a slow, dull, soggy mess.