How far will you go to save someone you love? That’s the question that Heavy Rain, the interactive drama from Quantic Dream and one half of a new collection of remasters asks. Or at least, that’s its biggest, most pervasive question. In its newly available remastered form, it asks a few more – like “Man, didn’t this look and feel so much better 6 years ago?”
When it was unleashed on audiences midway through the PlayStation 3’s life, it was a visual and aural fest, a rich and sumptuous experience that promised a new way of telling stories in videogames. In an age where just about everything was yet another first person shooter, it genuinely felt fresh and original.
It was ambitious, trying its very best to evoke genuine emotion through its storytelling; something we didn’t get very much. It successfully blurred the line between film and games, and opened the doors for more games that dispensed with heavy action in favour of putting forth a narrative. It may have really just been cut-scenes blended with quick-time events, but it was one of my very favourite games in its release year. You can read our original review of it here.
The story’s just as cliché-ridden and full of holes as it’s ever been if you take the time to scratch away beneath its surface; many of the character’s motivations are never really made all that clear, there are a number of frankly implausible scenarios and the writing can (and often does) veer off in to the distinctly cheesy. Despite that it’s still worth playing – and that’s largely down to something approaching genuine character development (at least for some of its leads), and the way that it taps in to your own experiences and expectations.
As you play through the interwoven narratives of its four playable characters (A distraught father, FBI investigator, a gumshoe and a lady who struggles to sleep), the dialogue options, character movements and its inexorable progress make it emotionally effecting, even if it is a little hammy. It’s not about shooting your way through to its conclusion, or using your puzzle-solving skills to clever your way to the end, but rather about interaction. It’s about doing mundane things like brushing your teeth, taking a morning piss or changing a baby’s nappy to create a sense of connection and empathy, and it still does that to great effect.
But, half a decade later, it’s a little less impressive – though most of that is because we, as modern players, have come to expect better. As I’ve mentioned, the writing often borders on the appalling, like the sloppy fiction of a budding, juvenile wordsmith. Strip away the veneer – the beautiful, stirring piano-led soundtrack, the too-clever camera angles and some wonderful imagery – and you’re left with a decent, but rote story.
Its odd movement controls, some-times tank-like and unwieldy are less forgivable – and the moments where the game just doesn’t want to pick up your movements correctly are a recipe for pure frustration.
It’s the voice acting that’s most jarring though. I suppose it may have passed in 2010, but far too much of the game’s dialogue is delivered poorly (most notably by the game’s children), which really detracts from the intended immersion. Where Heavy Rain’s full-body motion capture was revolutionary in 2010, it’s been superseded by games like The Last of Us and Quantic Dream’s own Beyond: Two Souls.
It’s not the most ambitious of remasters. It’s a little crisper, thanks to a resolution bump to 1080p, and there’s better texture filtering– but you expect that. There’s nothing here that’ll really have you thinking you’re not playing a PS3 game.
When it’s juxtaposed, as it is in this collection, with Beyond: Two Souls it just shows how far the technology that powers our games has come.
That remaster is immediately more impressive. One of the PlayStation 3’s swansongs, Beyond used recognisable, professional actors. Couple that with the advances in graphics technologies between the two games, and the difference – where polish and finesse are concerned – between the two is immeasurable.
Beyond takes Quantic Dream and David Cage back to its sci-fi roots, telling the story of a young woman and her battles – internally and externally – with the paranormal entity that’s tethered to her. Players control Jodie Holmes, magnificently characterised by Ellen Page, and details her young life within government paranormal institutions, her ambitions, and her relationship with surrogate father and head of the Department of Paranormal Activities, Nathan Hawkins (Willem Dafoe, digitally brought to life).
It’s not as good a game as Heavy Rain though, and its story is less emotionally effecting and made far less of an impact on me. Much of this, I feel, had to do with the game’s jumbled narrative. Here’s what I said in our original review of the game:
“Where it differs fundamentally from Heavy Rain, is in player agency, and urgency. Because it starts at the end, thanks to that jumbled narrative, you already know that Jodie is fine, making very nearly everything you do quite pointless; you know things are going to be ok. There are a few instances where what you do actually has some sort of real meaning, affecting your experience, but most of your actions only change the tone and direction of conversation.”
My biggest problem with the game though, is that though its starts out as a heartfelt emotional journey, it becomes overwrought Sci-fi twaddle. To borrow my own words once again:
“There are some incredibly emotional and poignant moments; bits that speak of real human emotion – especially where Jodie is coming to terms with the supernatural being that perpetually accompanies her, but there’s a strange shift in tone towards the game’s tail-end where the whole thing descends into lunacy, and becomes a strange amalgamated mash of just about every single straight-to-DVD paranormal and Sci-Fi trope you could think of, that had me face-palming all the way through to the game’s obvious revelation. Whatever emotional investment you may have in the characters is yanked out from under you, and it degenerates in to the very sort of action-oriented nonsense that Cage is always so vociferously critical of.”
It’s a bit of a nicer remaster though. Though neither game uses the PlayStation’s touch pad, Beyond now uses the controller’s speaker when you’re controlling Aiden, the ethereal being attached to Jodie. There’s another addition to this remaster that I quite liked – even if it is thiefed from the sort of games that Telltale makes. When you finish a chapter, the game tells you the percentage of other players who took the same path. It’s a neat little addition that doesn’t change the game, but does make you wonder a little about the other ways you could have handled the situation.
You’re also able to play the game chronologically, instead of the jumbled story salad presented in the original game. While it’s not quite Cage’s original vision, it is easier to follow, and tells the story in a more cohesive way.
Last Updated: March 1, 2016