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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

First Impressions: Heavy Rain (Demo)

I was one of those gamers who really liked Indigo Prophecy. I've always enjoyed substance over gameplay when it comes to games. Sit me down with a solid story and detailed characters and I'll keep playing until I can't keep my eyes open.

My first real experience with quick time event (QTE) gameplay came back in the 80s with Dragon's Lair. I was blown away by the game's graphics and liked the simple controls. I really like long cinematic scenes interrupted by brief button presses. I loved Dragon's Lair so much as a kid that I purchased Dragon's Lair and Space Ace on Blu-Ray last week. I haven't received either game yet but I'm pretty psyched, to say the least.

Four years ago, I played Indigo Prophecy on my PS2. The game was similar to Dragon's Lair in the sense that gameplay was secondary to the story. The subject matter was delightfully mature without being over-the-top in terms of violence or sex. It was like watching an 80s action-thriller with QTEs to direct what happens next in the story. A "Choose Your Own Adventure" story brought to life on the small screen. I would rate Indigo Prophecy as one of the best games ever made, spoiled only by its abrupt and nonsensical ending.

Last night, I downloaded the Heavy Rain demo from the Playstation Network. I've been following Heavy Rain since Quantic Dream released the tech demo known as "The Casting" (see below).


Although The Casting looks a little dated given today's technology, the hint of what could be done in terms of video games and interactive storytelling was obvious. I was really looking forward to Quantic Dream's new project.

In recent months, we've been inundated with Heavy Rain information and videos. Characters, plot, and certain scenes have been discussed by various gaming sites and on forums. The latest trailer, seen below, really had me curious as to how the game would feel when I sat down to play. Could the game actually fulfill Quantic Dream's vision of a fully interactive movie?


I played the Heavy Rain demo last night. It was good. But I do have a few concerns. The first is the uncanny valley problem. The graphics look pretty good and characters move, talk, and act in life-like manner. However, the illusion is not perfect. Walking from point A to point B comes across as a little disjointed. This become quite apparent when attempting to walk diagonally which seems to result in a jarring "couple steps forward, one step to the side" type of movement. Facial expressions and other micro-movements that humans take for granted when watching or interacting with others are also lacking or too forced at times.

But the major issue that I have with Heavy Rain is the voice acting. In a game so heavily dependent on delivering a gripping story above all else, voice acting is the one the primary factors that will make or break the game. Unfortunately, I found Heavy Rain's VO to be quite disappointing. Each of the actors in the demo - private investigator, FBI agent, prostitute, and police lieutenant - are all guilty of overacting, mumbling words, and delivering many lines in robotic and unbelievable fashion. It really pained me to listen to the poorly acted script in a game that relies on its ability to pull players/viewers into the game. The sad fact is that I'd be excited to play an interactive movie featuring A-list actors with a great story but not so much a derivative B-movie with subpar acting.

I think Heavy Rain is sign of great things to come. If Hollywood directors, actors, and writers come on board, we could be looking at a great new medium in home entertainment. But as it stands today, I think Heavy Rain is a game worth playing only because of what it represents instead of how it delivers on its original promise of a fully interative dramatic experience. And for all of my rambling above, I do need to remind my myself that I only played a 20 minute demo of the game. A small snapshot of a 2,000+ page script is not enough to decide how I'd feel after playing the whole game through.

I will likely buy Heavy Rain in the near future. Despite its faults, I'm still intrigued by its premise. Indigo Prophecy shared many of the same negative traits as Heavy Rain. And yet I feel that Indigo Prophecy comes closer to fulfilling the vision of interactive entertainment than any other game that came before it. Whether or not it's fair to say that Heavy Rain is basically "Dragon's Lair with breasts", that still doesn't sound like that bad a premise. And while the breasts are not a selling feature in a game that I would play, the idea of playing an interative adult-themed choose-your-own-adventure story is pretty exciting.

Heavy Rain comes to store shelves on February 23, 2010. In the meantime, check out the demo for yourself (see Kotaku's article on how to get the demo). And if you're not feeling up to jumping through hoops to play the demo, you can check out scenes from the demo below.


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