Need to know
What is it? The PC debut of PlayStation's serial killer mystery.
Expect to pay £16/$20
Developer Quantic Dream
Reviewed on GTX 1080, Intel i5-6600K, 16GB RAM
Link Official site
In a gloomy, rain-soaked American city where smoke-spewing factories loom over rows of dreary suburban homes, a serial murderer is on the loose. The killer's calling card is an origami animal, and four very different people find themselves swept up in his wave of terror: journalist Madison Paige, FBI agent Norman Jayden, private detective Scott Shelby, and architect Ethan Mars, whose son has been kidnapped by this so-called Origami Killer.
This sounds pretty intriguing and evocative, right? Like some lost David Fincher film. And while Heavy Rain does have a great premise, and is dripping with a dark, occasionally beguiling atmosphere, the script is more akin to a Tommy Wiseau first draft. The game is set in America, but very few of the cast is American, making the already peculiar dialogue sound even more uncanny. This has a certain offbeat charm, but all too often makes lines that are supposed to be deadly serious come across as funny, which sits uncomfortably with the bleak story of a child-murdering serial killer.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. What exactly is Heavy Rain? Well, it's an adventure game of sorts, with a heavy focus on Shenmue-style QTEs. That means a lot of button-tapping and stick-waggling, whether it's one character shaking a carton of orange juice before taking a swig or another swinging a fist in a punch-up. Occasionally you can wander around freely, and the environments are beautifully detailed. But most of the time you're watching a procession of cutscenes, deciding how they play out (with varying levels of interactivity) via a series of timed, reaction-based button prompts.
But here's what makes Heavy Rain worth playing despite its amateurish, hole-ridden plot, inhuman dialogue, and inconsistent tone. It's actually one of the most twisting, structurally complex, and reactive interactive stories on PC. While a Telltale game will let you carve your own path to a single ending, with only slight variations, it's actually possible for every main character to die in Heavy Rain. And the final outcome will be wildly different depending on the many choices you make across its ten or so hours of play.
The plot is Baby's First Thriller and the characters are humourless and hard to love, but there's no denying that this is an interactive story in the truest sense. Some of the QTEs are comically easy, allowing you to fail multiple times before you're really punished. But when a major mistake can, in extreme cases, lead to a character dying, the stakes always feel high. Incidentally, as a former PlayStation exclusive, Heavy Rain was designed for a gamepad—and you should play it with one. There's a huge amount of rapid button-mashing in its action sequences, which to me felt clumsy and unnatural on a keyboard.
I wish I had more nice things to say about Heavy Rain, but I'm spent. For one, it's incredibly pretentious. It thinks it's telling a searingly mature, provocative story, but cheapens this constantly with schlocky Saw-inspired shock horror, the frequent and gratuitous sexualisation of Madison Paige, and one of the most rushed, unconvincing, and cack-handed romances in the history of fiction. Honestly, if you saw this in the cinema you'd walk out, or at least hurl popcorn at the screen. There are some glimmers of imagination, such as Norman Jayden's high-tech, reality-bending augmented reality glasses, but mostly it's a game made up almost entirely of tired Hollywood cliches.
The number of QTEs is also exhausting. Have you ever wanted to waggle an analogue stick (or swipe a mouse) from side to side to make a man dry himself off after a shower? Then you'll love Heavy Rain, which is absolutely heaving with this kind of pointless interaction. It's slightly more engaging when you're doing something exciting, such as escaping from a burning building. But even then you're just watching an over-directed cutscene and occasionally pressing a button when you're told to. Heavy Rain is really just an elaborate, big budget game of Simon Says, but with more murder.
It looks great, though. I'll give it that. Heavy Rain is almost a decade old, originally appearing on PlayStation 3, but was recently remastered for a PS4 release with improved textures, models, and lighting—which is the version we get on PC. The facial animation betrays its age sometimes, but this industry-ravaged, rain-sodden city—never named, but based on Philadelphia—is an effectively atmospheric setting. It's relentlessly grim, with roach motels, scummy apartments, and abandoned warehouses making up the bulk of its large list of locations, but this suits the downbeat nature of the story.
Heavy Rain is a weird one. The story is genuinely interactive, with many branching paths and sudden deaths, as well as a slew of different endings. In that sense, I really enjoy playing it. But as a piece of storytelling, and as a murder mystery, it's really quite poor. When you're laughing at scenes that were meant to be powerfully dramatic and emotional, you know something has gone wrong. But for all its faults I'm glad to see it on PC, because there's an interesting game hiding in there somewhere, drowning in a storm drain, occasionally poking its head above the water for a gasp of air.