Heavy Rain is one of those cult games that so many gamers love, reference and mock. I hadn’t really had any desire to play it until it popped up on PS Plus in July 2018. As Covid worked its way around the world, mid lockdown seemed a good a time as any to start playing it. I ended up starting it twice as I didn’t get on with it the first time. I did finish the game, but I didn’t care enough to go back and see the alternate endings, or get 100%. I’m sorry to say this piece won’t be all that positive.
Despite my expectations being high (thanks to recommendations from a few friends), I wasn’t really that enthralled from the start. Playing on PS4 I found the controls obtuse, particularly in using the analog stick as I often had to jolt the controller in the same direction to complete the action. At first the controls felt a little satisfying, particularly when it came to completing a drawing, but they definitely grated on me by the time the plot got going.
My biggest issue with Heavy Rain was the plot and the pacing of said plot. For the first couple of chapters, I felt invested. There were enough questions as to what was going on, who was involved and why this was all happening that it felt like an interactive episode of Criminal Minds or something. About a third of the way through though, the game suddenly seemed to take itself too seriously and was slowed down significantly by QTEs in almost every interaction. Chase and fight scenes became almost slapstick, to the point I had to pause the game in several instances to recover from laughter. As the game goes on, there’s far too many QTE fight scenes with too little time to hit the right button or commands that are hard to see against the backgrounds they are superimposed on. The narrative is too dependent on successful QTES. Innovative at the time they may have been, but it hasn’t aged well.
As the game progressed, I found myself losing interest in the main character Ethan and instead found myself wanting to follow the FBI agent Jayden (though largely because of his gadgets) and I didn’t really care about the rest of them at all. Ethan was too ridiculous to take seriously, either through his voice acting (JASON!) or the actions he took. If you were crawling through an air vent booby-trapped with glass shards and you had a leather jacket, why would you try to crawl through it? Swipe the glass aside using the jacket (as also, given who the killer is, how did he get that glass in there?). If you have some letters of the location you need and can clearly access GPS or maps, you can easily work out the address before you get every single letter. Things like that got to me so much that by the final few scenes came along I stopped trying because it was more entertaining to watch the characters stumble around and experience varying convoluted manners of death than to actually try to resolve the problems at hand. By far the most hilarious section was a chase scene through an indoor market and chickens are thrown in the face of the pursuer, followed by a slip-slide through overturned ice.
As you get closer to the ending and the final “twist”, it becomes clear that some parts of the story have massive plot and logic holes that clearly suggest a whole thread of the game was cut for whatever reason. Whilst Heavy Rain seems to start as a noir-y, emotional crime story, the twist brings elements of the supernatural that were otherwise never hinted at, a surprise-not-at-all-titillating “romance” and irritating problems with the trials and the tech in the game.
Speaking of tech, the most interesting aspect of the game for me was Jaydens “ARI” AR kit. ARI is a fun mechanic to use but it isn’t really explained at all in the game. Where did it come from, how come only one person uses it, why does it require a drug addiction? If you die in there (as is alluded to at the end of my playthrough), how are you kept alive for the next person? Are you uploaded to a Matrix style system?
My playthrough of Heavy Rain ended with one of the 17 endings possible, with a fizzled out story and no real desire to replay options to see what happens. Finishing the game was more like a “thank god, finally” than a “yay, we solved the crime!” The game doesn’t inspire me to play any other David Cage games, and I quickly moved on to something a little less miserable.