The big question on everyone's mind is: will Heavy Rain appeal to gamers? Is it even a videogame, or just an interactive movie? We've had an early preview version in our hands for some time now, and we can tell you that it's going to divide people.
Heavy Rain isn't your typical videogame. It's about developing an emotional connection, intrigue, story and quick decision-making with real outcomes. That's the way Quantic Dreams sells it, at least.
There's no action-packed intro cutscene, no explosions and not even a hint of a gun in the first few hours of play. In fact, your first tasks in the game, playing as architect and father of two, Ethan Mars, is to get out of bed, have a shower and shave and a watch some TV as you wait for the missus to get home with the kids.
There's nothing tense or exciting about it. It's also perhaps not the best start to a game that has a giant question mark of appeal over its head. But we can see what QD is doing with this: an effort to build your empathy with the characters.
It's highly interactive - but not in the way other games are. You can't jump or punch at will. With the exception of R2, which makes you walk in the direction you push the left stick, none of the buttons have a direct function - it's all context-sensitive.
As you walk through the internal environment of Ethan's apartment you see arrow icons appear over several objects. Pushing the right stick in that direction activates your interaction with that object and there are a lot of them. Not just light switches, drawers and doors - you can pick up photos, look at letters, toy with electrical appliances, open the fridge, open windows, use the toilet or spend a moment with your pet budgie.
Whether or not you do any of that is up to you - it's your choice, but gamers who are open to this sort of game will take huge satisfaction out of being able to explore every crevice of these detailed environments.
A few minutes later your missus arrives and you spend another 10 minutes speaking with her, helping prepare the house for Jason's - one of your sons - birthday. Even the smallest of tasks are made interactive - holding the correct buttons down to carry shopping to the table, pushing the right analogue stick gently enough to softly set the plates on the dinner table. Do anything wrong and your other half will nag. Do it right and she'll keep her good mood.
After that scene you move on to the shopping mall where your wife leaves you with Jason while she goes shopping. But he's a wanderer, and after buying a balloon for the little man you lose sight of him and enter a state of panic as you run around a crowded mall to find him. This is where you really see QDs work on character emotion.
Ethan's body language changes, his head turning frenetically as he searches the crowds. You can hear his breath deepen and his voice quiver. Hold the R2 trigger and Ethan's calm stroll is now a desperate shuffle as he walks urgently, sporadically taking a few running steps every few seconds. Whereas before he'd automatically avoid nearby people, now he's shoving them out the way as you tap X to call after Jason every few seconds.
The on-screen HUD also reflects your mood, with on-screen icons now blurred and shaking frantically, as hard to read as it would be to think in such a situation. Holding R2 at any point in the game brings up a list of your characters thoughts - a list that takes a sinister turn as you search for your missing son.
This is where Heavy Rain shines because we find ourselves connected with Ethan's plight. We're nervous. Would we care as much if we hadn't just spent 20 minutes playing with Jason in Ethan's garden? Doubt it.