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Thursday, September 9, 2010

First Impressions: Heavy Rain

After waiting to play Heavy Rain for a number of months, I finally sat down with the game last night. Despite some pretty obvious flaws, I'm left with a pretty solid first impression of the game.

Let me come right out and say that Heavy Rain is not perfect. For a game trying to sell realism and drama, I was bothered by some early issues in the game's Prologue chapter. Many of these issues continued to pop up throughout the later chapters in the game. But for the sake of not giving any spoilers, I'll only discuss the Prologue chapter which serves as a tutorial to Heavy Rain's gameplay. Without further ado, here is a list of things that I had issues with:

  1. Game opens with Ethan sleeping in his bed at 11:22 AM on a Saturday. He gets up and finds a note left by his wife. In the note, she says that she's gone grocery shopping but will stop to pick the kids up from school on her way home. She finishes the note by telling Ethan that he should be able to get some work done before she arrives home with the kids to prepare for Jason's (eldest son) birthday.

    Now wait a second. Who the hell goes to school on a Saturday? Who works on a Saturday? And if Ethan was going to do work, why did he sleep in until 11:22 AM?! Is this some European thing?
  2. Ethan goes to the washroom to shave and shower. The weird thing? The toilet is in a separate room from the shower. And the toilet flushes by pushing a button on the top of the toilet. How many American houses have upstairs bathrooms without toilets in them? And how many toilets in North America flush by pressing a button?

  3. There were a few issues with clipping going on. I've already had two separate occurrences of actors in a scene walking through furniture. I've also had characters drink coffee without holding the cup: the cup just "sort of" floated up to their mouths. Weird but easily forgivable. Honestly - every game has graphical glitches and its something that doesn't bother me. But in a game touting its cinematic presentation and interactive drama, these glitches can really test its audiences' willing suspension of disbelief.

  4. Character models are very detailed and impressive during load screens. However, in-game models and graphics are not as detailed. The game looks exactly the way Indigo Prophecy looks in my memory. Have you ever had that same experience? The Monkey Island games look much better in my mind than the recent Special Editions would have me believe. I'm sure I'll react similarly when The Sly Collection is released as well.

  5. The voice acting is decent but can be "off" at times. Most characters seem to be putting on fake American accents...and failing. Vocabulary and pronunciation really pulled me out of the game on a number of occasions.

    For example, Ethan uses the word "carousel" when talking about a "merry-go-round". I realize that carousel is a valid word but who uses that word? It's like watching Jeff Bridges in Starman.

    There is also the matter of Ethan's kids and wife sounding like they've been vacationing in Paris for the past five years. I have nothing against French (I am bilingual and half-French Canadian myself). But if you're trying to sell a game that takes place in the United States, you need to use real Americans (or select Canadians) to do the voice acting.

    Another example would be the case where Ethan used the word "blackout". Native English speakers put emphasis on the first syllable ("BLACK-out"). Pretty standard, right? However, Ethan put the emphasis on the second syllable ("black-OUT"). I couldn't help but think of an SNL character played by Will Ferrell who consistently put emphasis on the wrong syllables in words. I've attached a video of the Will Ferrel character below (though the clip does not contain any occurrences of the word "hot-TUB".


All that being said, Heavy Rain does most things very well despite its apparent flaws. The game really sucked me in. It didn't take me very long to start connecting with the characters and empathize with them. Being a father, I can imagine how Ethan felt after the events in the Prologue. I cared for Ethan, his wife, and his kids. In The Taxidermist DLC chapter, I felt Madison Paige's tension, surprise, and fear as she searched for clues to uncover the Origami Killer. Much like Indigo Prophecy, David Cage is able to create a world and characters that feel real. And unlike movies, Heavy Rain allows me to get inside the characters' heads (and bodies) in ways that can't be done on the big screen.

I played through the first four hours of Heavy Rain last night. I plan on playing through the rest of the game over the next three or four nights. I can't see myself playing less than three solid hours of Heavy Rain a night. I've really enjoyed the experience and look forward to seeing how things unwind as the story, tension, and pacing continue to build and push me to the story's conclusion.

For the record, one of the first (hidden) trophies I unlocked was Good Father. I got the trophy for taking proper care of Ethan's son Shaun during a normal weeknight routine of snack, homework, dinner, and sleep. My wife always tells me that I'm a good father. Last night, I was able to show her the trophy I was awarded as a testament to that fact. My wife's opinion matters much more than David Cage's...but it's always nice to be recognized for doing a good job, in real life or in a virtual world.

I'll be off playing a lot of Heavy Rain over the next few days. I'll have my final thoughts on Heavy Rain next week.

Have a great weekend!

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