Heavy Rain

Is this interactive drama the future of videogaming?

After numerous years in development, Quantic Dream founder and CEO David Cage's long-gestating and much-touted vision of the future of 'interactive drama' is finally here. The question now then is whether or not the finished game can possibly live up to our own expectations and the creative team's numerous claims. And while the answer - unsurprisingly - is no, Heavy Rain still delivers a unique gaming experience that comes close to living up to the hype.

While this PS3-exclusive is certainly eye-catching (seriously, the graphics in this game are simply stunning at times) it actually starts off pretty slowly. There is method to developer Quantic Dream's madness though, as the opening scenes of you having to trawl through the daily lives of your protagonists enables you to get to grips with the control scheme, without ever feeling like you are being spoon-fed the info.

Towel yourself off
The game does use a fairly traditional stick control for moving the characters about (albeit only controlling the direction they face, you have to hold down a right trigger to make them walk), but your interaction with the world and people around you takes the form of button press and, more often than not, gesture controls with the pad- such as having to quickly move the pad up and down to towel yourself off after a shower. It quickly becomes second nature, even if the graphics engine itself sometimes overcomplicates matters by slightly obscuring on-screen button/movement prompts due to the placement of the in-game cameras (you generally get a choice of two camera vantages to flick between to better explore the locations).

Anyway, after a couple of hours of play, the film noir storyline really kicks into gear, as your four protagonists (a father struggling with the loss of a son, an insomniac reporter, an aging Private Investigator and an FBI agent with even better sunglasses than the ginger bloke from CSI: Miami) find themselves caught up in the ongoing tale of child-murderer 'The Origami Killer'. At this point the game's narrative intentions really start to pull together - as the gameplay shifts between the four disparate storylines there's a genuine thrill as you see the events slowly being drawn together.

Despite creator David Cage's intentions, in purely cinematic terms, the story itself isn't that much better than any generic sub-Se7en thriller you can find to rent at your local Blockbuster store. But as far as videogames go, with its genuinely involving character development and unexpected twists, Heavy Rain's narrative is pretty much Oscar-winning material. Certainly far removed from the usual 'bolt-it-on-at-the-last-minute-to-tie-together-all-the-action-scenes' stuff gamers have become used over years. It's just a bit of a shame that the voice acting doesn't always do it justice.

Interactive sex scene
That said, it's really disappointing to see that this interactive drama's so-called 'maturity' extends only so far when it comes to its treatment of women. When we first meet female protagonist Madison Paige you control her as she has a shower (including gratuitous breast shots) and is then chased around her apartment by attackers while she only wears a vest top and underwear. Admittedly, it's a brilliantly crafted bit of gameplay that drives home how well the on-the-fly interactive controls work, but couldn't she have put some more clothes on first? And if that wasn't enough (Spoiler Warning Alert!) before too long you'll be controlling her as she is forced to strip at gunpoint, followed not long after by an interactive sex scene (lift the joypad up to take her top off!). So it's not exactly the most forward thinking game then in term of female characters.

But, as I mentioned at the top of this review, despite all of these small flaws (and the occasional technical glitch, such as audio slipping out of synch with the on-screen action in one scene), Heavy Rain is still a fascinating videogame experience. You really do feel like you are in control of these characters, despite the fairly tight confines of the narrative. And the way in which you play the game (including who lives and dies) genuinely effects and changes what happens as the story progresses, which means there's a fair amount of re-play value in going back to see what else could happen if you change things around.

A fascinating experiment
So, while it's not perfect, Heavy Rain is a fascinating experiment in uniting the worlds of videogames and cinema (it's certainly far more successful than the usual game adapted from a film). This review might seem fairly negative in parts, but I honestly found the overall experience of playing through Heavy Rain extremely engaging and interesting. And, if nothing else, I really hope that it finds the audience it deserves, because after this I'm very keen to see just what Cage and his team at Quantic Dream cook up with next to further the evolution of their cherished belief in the idea of 'interactive drama'.

PS3, Sony Computer Entertainment, £50 approx, On sale February 26