Finished 'Heavy Rain'. So here are my thoughts.
I'll start off by saying that Chris Roper's spoiler-free review at IGN is very spot-on objectively, while subjectively I differ from him a little, I'll get into that in a moment. I'll also not give away any spoilers, although I will describe certain situations in order to put my reactions across, without any context they won't be giving anything away. It's not just 'cos Nathan doesn't want any spoilers that I won't be revealing any, it's also because the nature of story-telling or infamy among games is a little longer-lasting than with movies. When I gave away spoilers in my mini-review of Bay's first 'Transformers' movie it was because it had already been out for 3 weeks, so I was convinced everyone knew everything about it. (Even if that wasn't the case; unlike yours truly Nathan doesn't find other people's heavily detailed rants very entertaining.) I'm kind of glad I can't/won't give away spoilers because it means I won't be writing as much.
I want to talk about the graphics first of all. They aren't that impressive. For some reason non-Japanese developers aren't able to produce smooth non-pre-rendered animation, even though Konami/Team Silent first achieved the feat in 'Silent Hill 3'. And that game is now 7 years old. Do non-Japanese developers lack the technology or something? So yeah, seeing this game doesn't feel like watching virtual live-action. There's also the usual silly cop-outs, like Sean is meant to have been watching TV for "hours", when in actual fact, he had just been watching the same 3 animated shorts on a loop (which I swear was 1 on repeat, but the credits state otherwise), or noticing that the music in the nightclub is actually 4 tracks on a loop, as well as noticing that a 'crowd' is actually made up of 30 character designs multiplied (seeing 3 identically-dressed clones dancing together was certainly amusing). You'd think that, considering the PS3 capabilities, it wouldn't be too hard to just have model components and have the AI use those to generate randomly fitted character designs to populate an area. Saying that though, the transition between cut-scene and gameplay...well actually, there isn't one. You can never quite predict when you'll be allowed to make your character move, or when button commands/options appear on the screen for you to press and the transition between one cut-scene and the one to portray your reaction/command is also, really smooth. So I'll forgive the clunky graphics and cop-outs.
Now the hype that 'Heavy Rain' has gotten, having been termed a "groundbreaking" game has been met with skepticism by some. Considering that I knew it was sort of an interactive movie, I hadn't seen many trailers (I did that on purpose) and I thought I would be comparing it to 'Night Trap' when I wrote this. Well it's nothing like 'Night Trap', but it's certainly a more advanced and in-depth version of a long-dead, abandoned genre: the point-and-click adventure. This genre involved exploring the area and figuring out how to either resolve a situation or complete a goal. Unlike the classic point 'n' click, however, 'Heavy Rain' involves plenty more complex actions and button sequences. I also like how you can make your character vocalise their thoughts at the press of a button. Now the thoughts aren't just a gimmick, there's a reason for them. They can represent the character's inner turmoil or give a hint about how to get out of a sticky situation. The game truly does throw at you genuine puzzles and some tense situations, so sometimes you are left thinking with your own head about where you would most likely find something (the game showed me that my parents' house is apparently the only one in the world where medicines and first aid equipment are kept in the kitchen instead of the bathroom). In the tenser situations I found myself moving my character around in an attempt to see where I can press a button, 'cos hey, when I panic and can't see the full picture, I just trust that the game itself will give me a hint.
Now about the gameplay itself, some skeptics did wonder if the game was going to be a long string of quicktime events. Well it's not. The nature of a quicktime event is to suddenly appear out of nowhere and expect you to press the button(s) as soon as you see it, otherwise you'll die and you have to start again, and of course it's never pressed in time 'cos it happens during a cut scene, which is when the player doesn't expect to have to do anything. (That happened to me quite a bit in 'Bayonetta'.) In 'Heavy Rain', the buttons only have to be pressed quickly if there's a winding clock-timer in the command and it's actually enough time for you to see the command, recognise it and press it. Also, it appears where you would be naturally looking. In a fight scene for example, you would naturally keep an eye on the opponent's fists, so that's where the commands appear. This kind of gameplay really helps draw you in. I felt such happiness when I followed the complex set of commands on screen in order to make the character draw a picture or play the piano (both very well). Now consider the other extreme when I made the character do something negative. In one chapter, I screwed up and the character died, and part of me felt like I died with him. Of course I had to sober up since there were 3 others left and the next chapter was starting.
Now one thing I don't understand (and this is where subjectivity comes in) was that reviewers kept saying that the game started slow and that it wouldn't suck you in until about 2 hours later. Well I was hooked after 10 minutes. I think it might have been the possibility that grabbed me. You see, the first character you play with wakes up in a really nice house and after following the first few instructions and learning how to interpret some command actions, I had the urge to explore the house. Of course that could just be because I like exploring houses. Plus having the wife and kids come in at an unexpected moment meant suddenly my character/I was caught up in doing house chores and making sure I didn't upset anyone. A typical day in a family anywhere. I will tell you now you get to explore 3 of the characters' homes, I certainly liked doing that. Thing is though, I'm easily immersed in games. At one point (in a tense situation) I was shouting: "Go Ethan! You can do it!" even though I was the one controlling his actions.
The way this game's represented, the camera angles, music and so on, is like a typical crime thriller movie, although the detail and even doing mundane actions and vocalising thoughts make it equitable to a visual novel. Actually controlling the characters and deciding their fates though, it means there's no barrier and you're almost physically in the story. Now would be a good time to consider this game's legacy. Now the good thing about 'Heavy Rain' is that there are multiple scenarios and endings so unlike older interactive movies there is an incentive to play through it again. Thing is, there is a trophy that's awarded when you activate all endings, so there is the danger that once the game's completed it could just get ditched. But there is downloadable content on the way, which is rumoured to be an extension to the game's backstory or something, so things like that can definitely prolong a game's lifespan. Now what I definitely don't want to see is this game spawning a franchise. I wouldn't mind a spin-off, with another game with similar game mechanics focussing on one of the characters in 'Heavy Rain' in a different situation and story. I also don't want to see a genre forming of 'interactive crime thriller' or some such nonsense. If there are going to be other games that experiment with this kind of free-form button combination control in an open-ended story the best thing to do would be to completely switch genres. I would be curious to see how 'Heavy Rain' game mechanics could be implemented in a period drama for example (which is a genre never even touched on by the gaming industry).