Game reviewers have applied numerous labels to the PS3-exclusive Heavy Rain: next-generation adventure game, player-driven movie, and developer Quantic Dream's preferred term "interactive drama." Yet most Heavy Rain reviews agree on one word to describe the video game: new.
Heavy Rain, which comes out today, tries to answer one of video gaming's most nagging questions. Why are the games that 15 year olds want to play the same titles that 45 year olds sit back and enjoy? Adults and teenagers watch different TV shows, see different movies, listen to different music, but often buy the same video games. Is there really no market for truly "mature" games?
Heavy Rain's "mature" rating does not denote flagrant violence and sophomoric sexuality. This noir game still contains murder and nudity, but most reviewers agree that it treats them as a sophisticated movie would – as an adult would.
The new release provides "one of the most emotional experiences I've ever had playing a videogame," writes David Ellis in his 1UP.com review. "Heavy Rain portrays pain, suffering, and death with a stark frankness that doesn't elevate horror as something to be entertained by. Instead, you're regularly put in positions where you must choose between two equally horrific outcomes."
"The boldly unorthodox navigation through scenes is managed via context-sensitive quick-time events and the ability to hear your character’s thoughts as events unfold and you explore," explains David Wolinsky for the Onion A.V. Club. "Buttons let you take different approaches to conversations, start fistfights, or engage whatever else is at hand. It winds up feeling like regular life."
"It's a drama broken into several dozen chapters that advance the interwoven narratives of four playable characters: Distraught dad, FBI investigator, crusty private eye, insomniac lady," lists Kotaku's Stephen Totilo. "It's a mix of traditional ideas of character movement and dialogue options integrated with a control scheme style that might best be described as emotional. It's a serial killer whodunit. It's also a smartly-masked game that isn't about what it initially appears to be about. Its an exploration of fatherhood and of a notion that can be tough to explore in the potentially-desensitized medium of video games: The violent lengths a player will virtually go to accomplish a goal."
"Like everything else in Heavy Rain, the scene was brief enough that by the time the novelty had faded, it was over and something else was happening," describes Chris Kohler in Wired. "It’s the Dan Brown school of storytelling, a fast-paced, Da Vinci Code-style narrative in which each chapter takes just a few minutes, leaving you on a mini-cliffhanger and switching perspective for the next segment. Once the intrigue picks up and the chase is on, you don’t want to stop playing. If it were a film, Heavy Rain’s story wouldn’t exactly win an Oscar. But having control of events, and a personal connection to the characters, makes it seem that much more interesting. I was hooked."
"There are a handful of international vocal tracks in the game, and I can't speak for how well the French or Spanish actors performed, but the English voice track is a disaster," rants MTV's Russ Frushtick, who was very critical of the game. "It's possible that the developers at Quantic Dream, based in France, simply don't have an ear for a convincing American accent, but c'mon, hire a casting agent or something! Broke and desperate American actors are a dime a dozen! For such a story and dialog-based game, it's shocking that the extra effort wasn't put forth to get the right people in the right parts."
The final word
"For the players worried Heavy Rain doesn't pack enough action, it's impressive how intense and engaging the experience turned out," assures USA Today blogger Brett Molina. "The story is well-paced and exhilarating, bolstered by cleverly executed control mechanics. If anything, it's one of the year's most unique video game endeavors."
[We're pretty sure Kotaku's Stephen Totilo first pointed out the curiosity about adult and teenage playing habits. We couldn't find the article, but if a reader can, we'd be happy to link to it.]