David Cage is one of those guys who believes so strongly in what he's doing that he's not really self-aware about it anymore. Either that, or he was really tired and not paying attention. His narration over a play session of Heavy Rain was extremely weird, as the protagonist on-screen was forced to strip at gunpoint. It was as awkward and embarrassing as it probably would've been for the protagonist herself, which may have been part of the point.
Heavy Rain is a second stab by Cage and Quantic Dream at creating a truly interactive story. Their first attempt, Indigo Prophecy, was ambitious but ultimately flawed; sooner or later, every player, even if they truly enjoy the game, finds something to dislike about it. Maybe it's the stealth level, as it was for me; maybe it's the sudden aliens and zombies that appear out of nowhere in the game's denouement, taking a game that was, if not precisely grounded in reality, at least very slightly supernatural before that point, and sending it way the hell off into left field.
Heavy Rain, on the other hand, is firmly set in the modern world. Its only nod to science fiction is the advanced forensics equipment used by one of the protagonists, Norman Jayden, allowing him to instantly analyze a location for clues. He puts on a glove and a pair of sunglasses, and suddenly an ordinary location is bursting with potential points of information. Beyond that, you'll see nothing in Heavy Rain that you couldn't see in real life.
Jayden is one of four protagonists, two of whom have yet to be revealed to the public, who are on the hunt for the Origami Killer. Each of the protagonists will take their own path to discovering the killer's identity, using their own skills to gather information and discover clues. Along the way, each of those protagonists will encounter problems, and those problems could very easily prove fatal.
According to Cage, each of the four protagonists is in a very real danger of dying after the game's halfway point. If one happens to get killed — as Jayden did during Cage's demo, after losing a fight with an uncooperative would-be contact — the story continues on without them. Any clues they'd have discovered had they lived will remain a secret, and any influence they'd have had on the other three protagonists' stories won't happen. If all four protagonists die, you don't get a game over; instead, you just have a story where four people tried to stop a serial killer, and all four failed. Cage promises that while that might be a sad ending to the story of Heavy Rain, it will be an ending, and you will feel some sense of closure.
As you investigate each location in Heavy Rain, your character's options and internal monologue are communicated by a series of words floating around his or her body in real time. Each is associated with a button, and the more relaxed the character is, the easier those words are to leave. Jayden, when walking across a rainy junkyard to his office, is miserable but calm, so his options are moving slowly and readily legible; they mostly have to do with his internal monologue. When Miranda, the other revealed protagonist, is being held at gunpoint by a man she intended to question, her options are moving quickly and occasionally blurring into illegibility, as she's on the verge of complete panic.
In the event of an action sequence, Heavy Rain, like Indigo Prophecy, resolves it through a series of Quick Time Events. Buttons, thumbstick motions, and SixAxis motion controls all flash on-screen at points relevant to the desired outcome. When Miranda is trying to dance, button commands flash on her outstretched limbs; miss a command, and she stumbles, losing her balance and the beat. When Jayden is fighting a suspect, you break a hold with the SixAxis or via button-mashing. Unlike Indigo Prophecy's sequences, which sometimes had very little to do with what was occurring on-screen, Heavy Rain's at least try to mimic what's actually happening.
The result is a system that does a great deal to effectively create the sense of actual choice in the story. Some of the options that both Jayden and Miranda have, to get out of or into trouble, are surprising, amusing, or both, and the character modeling in Heavy Rain is among the best to date. It's not quite realistic, of course; there's still that faint plastic look to the characters. You could mistake it for a photo if you didn't know otherwise, though, and that's a testament to the care that they've taken here.
There are still questions about Heavy Rain, some of which may persist until the game's actually released. We've yet to meet two of the characters, and of the two we have met, Miranda has a disturbing habit of ending up in her underwear, clocking muggers with lamps. The sequence of gameplay we were shown started off as farce and quickly descended into something deeply uncomfortable to watch. If that was the intent, then mission accomplished, but that kind of thing is a fine line; there is such a thing as pleasantly disturbing, but it's a razor's edge.
I don't doubt that Heavy Rain will turn out to be a groundbreaking work in the adventure genre, if only because of the high quality of its graphics. What I saw at E3, though, was genuinely disturbing in more ways than one.
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