Video games have come so far in just 10 years. After playing and immersing myself in modern titles like God of War or Detroit: Become Human, I sometimes find it difficult to go back and pick up a game that is clearly from a different time, and that mostly has to do with innovation. Developers and writers have learned so much in the last few years, and going back to a period in which they were “testing the waters” on new ideas doesn’t always feel the way it used to. This is definitely the case for Heavy Rain’s new PC version.
Quantic Dream’s nearly 10-year-old story-driven narrative did a lot of things right back when it came out in February 2010. It’s a staple in interactive storytelling, but again, we’ve since taken the formula it created and have perfected it. Going back took me on a trip down memory lane, but it also proved that everything has to start somewhere, and that change and evolution is both inevitable and necessary.
The PC version of Heavy Rain is currently available on the Epic Games Store for $19.99.
One thing is clear right off the bat—Heavy Rain still tells one of the most well-paced, gripping stories in video games to date. Yeah, it starts off a little slow, but once it picks up, there’s no stopping it.
If you’re not familiar, Heavy Rain explores the mystery of the Origami Killer, a serial murderer who drowns their victims in rain water and leaves behind an origami figurine, through four different characters: Ethan Mars, whose son is kidnapped early on in the game; Norman Jayden and Scott Shelby, an FBI agent and a private investigator respectively, both of whom are investigating the Origami Killer’s murders; and Madison Paige, a photo-journalist who runs into an injured Ethan at a dingy motel.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say this—with all of Heavy Rain‘s pitfalls (and there are quite a few, which I’ll get to later), its story justifies everything. This game is a textbook example of great interactive storytelling and if you’re someone who enjoyed any of the Telltale games or Life is Strange, you’ll want to give this one a try. You won’t regret it.
Choices, choices, choices
Games like Mass Effect opened our eyes to large-scale branching narratives, but Quantic Dream took that idea and made it part of Heavy Rain‘s core draw. For the most part, the storyline pans out in a relatively similar fashion regardless of your choices, but how you get there, who lives and dies and how your story ends all depends on the choices you make along the way. Because of this, Heavy Rain has a lot of replay value and the stakes are always high in the big moments, even if you don’t really understand the repercussions your choices may have. Letting the player choose how a character approaches a situation gives them agency and builds a level of attachment to the characters that a flat cutscene never could.
Here’s where Heavy Rain starts to show its age. Many of the quicktime events are largely unchanged from what we see today, and they play a hefty role in some of the more intense moments the game has to offer. However, general movement just feels clunky and unpolished. As camera angles change, control schemes change with it, but sometimes the directional controls are a split-second too late. If you aren’t hyper aware of this strange moment every time the camera switches, it can be confusing to figure out what the movement configuration actually is in the moment.
It’s all a bit confusing but you’ll see once you play. Luckily though, that’s all there really is to it. Because of Heavy Rain‘s focus on story, gameplay sort of takes a back seat, which admittedly, is probably for the best. For a game of this nature, I think Quantic Dream really nailed the balance between interactive moments and straight storytelling.
Graphics and Audio
Rough around the edges
I can see how Heavy Rain could have been praised for its character models back in 2010, but overall, it doesn’t hold up well visually in 2019. Backgrounds are bland and seemingly unfinished, the world lacks any vibrant colours (which is probably just a style choice to match the tone of the game, but still, very brown) and movements, like Heavy Rain‘s controls, are clunky and unnatural. Yes, this is a nearly 10-year-old game going for around $20 USD, but a couple mechanical improvements never hurt anybody, did they?
This is a remaster with very few noticeable visual improvements from the original. Some of the lighting and shadow effects seem a little more dynamic from the PS3 version, but nothing to write home about.
Sound Design is Messy
Quantic Dream is going for an atmospheric, creepy tone for the most part, often using pianos and strings to convey the tone of the respective scene. Every environment also comes with sounds to make it feel like you’re there. White noise in offices. Muffled chatter in crowded areas. And, of course, rain is a fairly common occurrence throughout the game. However, I couldn’t help but feel like sound design was an afterthought here. That, or again, it’s just a product of being an old game. Sometimes background noises just don’t seem robust enough, and almost feel like the designers went to a stock media website, searched “rain SFX” and plopped that in there.
Good sound design goes unnoticed. It makes the player feel so immersed that they don’t even notice it’s been orchestrated to feel that way. But in Heavy Rain‘s case, I was constantly taken out of the experience because some of the background noise just didn’t match the production value of the rest of the game.
V/O could use some work
The voice acting in Heavy Rain ranges from inconsistent to downright cringy. It’s by far the worst part of the experience. I initially thought the writing was poor, but after spending more time with the game and listening to the delivery of some of the lines, I realized the writing was fine. It was the actors who were butchering the words. It seems that some of the actors, especially some of the kids, are trying to mask accents, and the result is a weird in-between delivery that is completely jarring. Also, the pacing of some of the dialogue is occasionally at odds with itself, and on occasion, characters will speak over each other in an entirely unnatural way. This style of performance can be effective, but in this case, it’s just lazy editing.
Especially after playing Detroit: Become Human, a more recent Quantic Dream game, I know that a lot of hard work and talent scouting can go a long way here. A good cast of voice actors can take an experience from good to great, and I can’t help but wonder how I would feel after playing Heavy Rain if the acting was half as good as Detroit‘s.