The Heavy Rain demo appeared for the PS3 recently, marking the first game from David Cage since 2005’s Fahrenheit. Clearly following in that game’s slightly stumbling footsteps, Heavy Rain offers a modern take on the point-and-click adventure, dropping you into various locales that require you to scour the area looking for clues, solving puzzles and engaging in lengthy dialogue exchanges with a large cast of characters.
The actual delivery of those familiar elements is considerably different, not least due to the inevitable jettisoning of a mouse in favour of a PS3 controller, although having played Fahrenheit (called Indigo Prophecy in the US) on a PC I’m fairly confident that even given a fully functioning rodent the control mechanisms would still be unusual. While movement of your character is only slightly unusual, using the left stick for direction and a right trigger for forward movement, all other forms of interaction are gesture based, requiring unusual manipulation of the sticks or obtuse combinations of buttons.
The aim is to mimic the real action taking place on the screen, providing a an abstract analogue that immerses you in your character’s behaviour. Therefore climbing a muddy slope requires an awkward combination of about six buttons at once, contorting your hands into uncomfortable positions that theoretically reflect the difficulty of climbing such an incline. Similarly, using an asthma inhaler requirse first making twirling movements with the sticks to search your jacket’s pockets, followed by shaking the controller up and down to give the inhaler a shake, followed by a rapid press of a button to ingest the medicine.
Initially it all feels forced and distracting, but once the system becomes more established and the types of gestures start to take hold, the game begins to feel increasingly natural. By the end of the demo I was exploring a crime scene and manipulating the environment almost subconsciously. This is made possible due to the on-screen prompts, which exist within the 3D game world itself. This resolves Fahrenheit‘s core flaw – that concentrating on the various symbols and gestures listed at the top of the screen distracted you from whatever was actually happening, a particular problem during the clumsy action sequences.
Heavy Rain notably avoids this key problem, with indicators and icons positioned intiutively and subtly, aided no doubt by the increased resolution of this generation of consoles, which enables much more finesse to a potentially complicated interface. The demo includes a lengthy fight sequence that manages to be exciting despite being little more than a glorified QTE on the surface. There’s enough detail to the animation and a flowing sense of success and failure to the flailing, realistic combat to make the sequence feel like a lot more than a fancy cut-scene.
Most notable is the character work. The demo gives you control of two separate characters, a private detective in his fifties and a hotshot FBI agent in his early 30s. Through animation, visual design, writing and voice work the game successfully gives each a unique persona, crafting two genuinely different people even in the course of the demo’s limited running time. The same goes for the supporting cast, all of whom feel distinct and unique. When adventures and RPGs so often feature copy-and-paste NPCs that are entirely interchangeable, it makes for a refreshing change.
Whether the slightly contrived control system will work over an entire game remains to be seen, but my main concern lies with the story itself. Fahrenheit was engaging for the first two thirds but took an awful nosedive in the final act when it seemed determined to make use of every sci-fi and conspiracy cliche in the book. With luck creator David Cage will have been a little more disciplined this time round, delivering a finale that is every bit as intriguing as the setup.