|FBI profiler Norman Jayden is one of four main characters that players control in the mystery video game Heavy Rain. (Sony Computer Entertainment America via Associated Press)|
A video game that plays like a drama
Heavy Rain isn’t a fun video game. It’s actually not much of a game at all.
Quantic Dream has created a captivating mystery set in a bleak urban landscape that happens to be interactive. Laced with nuance, Heavy Rain has more in common with novels in a bookstore or films in a theater than anything next to it in the gaming aisle.
Yes, there are gunfights and car chases in Heavy Rain (for the PlayStation 3, $59.99), but the challenges of such sequences aren’t behaviorally similar to the likes of Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. The unique controls and focus on storytelling, especially later in the game, can inspire more anxiety than a Modern Warfare 2 death match.
Throughout the game, players control one of four main characters: architect Ethan Mars, FBI profiler Norman Jayden, private investigator Scott Shelby, and insomniac journalist Madison Paige. All are at a crossroad in their lives. They have been pulled into the case of the Origami Killer, a psychopath who kidnaps young boys and drowns them in rainwater.
Real actors provide virtual performances on a par with “Avatar.’’ Pascal Langdale as Mars achieves the difficult task of resonating while searching for his missing son as Mars tackles the killer’s nasty “Saw’’-like trials. Sam Douglas is also particularly ensnaring as Shelby, a stout retired police officer who is sleuthing clues.
While you can move the characters around various environments, most of the time spent playing the game will be specifically using the controller in interactive scenes. For example, you rotate the analog stick to use a screwdriver or mash buttons in a sequence to climb a hill. It’s jarring at first but transcendent in the game’s more dramatic sequences.
When your character is frazzled, the options presented on the screen shake with intensity, making it intentionally more difficult to formulate a decision. Frustrating? Yes. Compelling? Absolutely. There are no right or wrong choices in Heavy Rain. In some instances, simply doing - or fumbling the controls - can yield a much more dramatic result.
Heavy Rain, with heady issues such as addiction, suicide, and the loss of a child, isn’t for everyone. However, for anyone willing to lose themselves in the drama, it can be a moving experience.