Monday, February 22, 2010

Heavy Rain Impressions

For some bizarre reason, Japan got Heavy Rain a whole 5 days before the rest of the world. I’d be very interested to find out the reasoning behind this, but haven’t heard anything as of yet. Despite having a pile of shame as tall as I am and still having the final few hours of FF13 left to polish off, I decided to make Heavy Rain a day 1 purchase. Why? Well, since it was a (purportedly) relatively short adventure game I figured that it would probably be difficult to avoid inadvertently running across spoilers online. Therefore the best course of action would be to get it and play it as quickly as possible. Well, on the first playthrough at least.

So, I placed my order with Amazon Japan (a handy little preorder discount meant that the game came to under $50 with free shipping as well). I admit to having had some doubts over which version of the game to get. For starters, the Japanese version has some...somewhat different cover art. But, looking beyond such superficial reasons, it’s been known for some time that developer Quantic Dream made certain…changes to the game in order to avoid it getting slapped with a Cero Z rating here in Japan. The problem is that no-one knows what these changes are yet. Several online forums have been in melt-down over supposed changes that have yet to be confirmed or denied.

For me though, the pros of the Japanese version outweighed the negatives - $20 cheaper than importing, getting to play it earlier and having the option to play it through in both Japanese and English outweighed the risk of having some breasts cut from the game. If I want breasts I’ll get them from places other than my video games thank you very much. Ahem.

I think I’m currently 5 hrs into the game. Probably. Unfortunately there’s no game clock so it’s difficult to tell. The game also sucks you in in such a way that its really easy to lose track of time. Much like watching a good movie, the hours fly by and the only thing I find myself wanting to do is find out what happens next.

I’ll avoid discussing the plot for fear of spoilers, but will go so far as to say that the events in Heavy Rain so far have had a real sense of emotional weight that is often missing from games. Aerith? Dom’s wife? The first few hours of Ethan’s life and the tragedy that befalls him are on par with both of these. No, no I’d say it surpasses them. There’s a gravitas to the tone of what happens to Ethan, a sense of real consequence and forboding that is reflected in the atmosphere of the game – in both its visual and audio design. I haven’t felt as invested in a character this quickly in quite a while.

The game achieves this (at least partially) by limiting the player. There is no nimble leaping around, no reflex-based action or satisfaction to be had here. As anyone who has tried the demo already knows, the player literally drives the character through the story. Holding down R2 keeps the player moving forward, much like a tank. While I can see the logic behind this control scheme – it allows the developer to lock their camera angles in and tightly control the experience – I don’t agree with it. Since the left stick is still used to change direction, I often find myself turning in directions I don’t need to, and navigating around a crowded room can be quite frustrating. Nothing breaks the illusion more than turning at 90 degree angles and walking repeatedly into desks or walls. The original Resident Evil controls felt more intuitive to me than this. The QTE element of the control scheme, on the other hand, works a lot better than I was expecting. Controller motions usually mimic to some degree the action on screen and feature a generous window of timing even on the normal difficulty setting. As someone who sucks at QTE (as a colleague from my office found out the hard way when we played RE 5 coop – a certain bike and chains scene comes to mind) this is a very welcome element of the control scheme.

Graphically the game is amazing if a little inconsistent at times. Character models are painstakingly detailed as are environments, for the most part. There are some objects in the game (anything with cloth – sheets and towels for example) that seem relatively crude and could have used a little more work, although its completely possible that they just stick out so much because everything else looks so darn good. Character animation can be a little jerky at times and I’ve had a couple of minor framerate stutters. Overall though, the game is a treat for the eyes. First Uncharted 2, then FF13, now Heavy Rain – each a graphical powerhouse yet in totally different ways. I pity the PS3 owner who isn’t gaming on a HD tv.

Audio-wise, music is implemented in some very subtle ways although the voice acting is a mixed bag. Those characters that are done well absolutely nailed it, while others sound like they were phoned in. All in all though there are some impressive performances here and I’m looking forward to sampling the Japanese track for a different take on the characters later on.

At this point though, the most driving element of Heavy Rain (apart from the controls! hehehe) is the story and characters. It feels more like a very interactive movie than a game in any traditional sense of the term. Personally I find that to be a refreshing change, but I wonder what the general Gamestop customer will think of it.

Oh and that cover art … based on what I’ve played so far I’ve changed my opinion of it somewhat. It’s actually quite fitting. But you’ll have to play it yourself to find out why.

Crumbs Under the Kotatsu

-There’s a device called the ARI SYSTEM in Heavy Rain which is utterly cool. I love the way it looks and works!

-I played through the first RE5 DLC ‘Lost in Nightmares’ and was completely blown away. While too short, it is basically RE5 director Jun Takeuchi’s reply to all the criticisms leveled at RE5 for being too much of an action game. Its dark and scary and proves that he can do survival horror in a more traditional manner. I wish they had more dlc planned than just the two that are coming out. I know I’d buy it!

-I spent Sunday with the crew recording the latest episode of the Out-Cast. Featuring an AoU Show report, more End of Eternity, Heavy Rain (no spoilers!) and even some Valkyria Chronicles 2, I hope to get it edited and up within the next day or so, so keep an eye out for it!


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