It takes a particular type of player to appreciate a game that asks you to baby-sit a small child, cook scrambled egg, brush your teeth or change a baby's nappy.
It'll take a Shenmue-type gamer. The ones who avidly fetched milk for the cat in the park, made sure Ryo got sufficient sleep, took their forklift job seriously and spent ages browsing the interactive shelves of Dobuita's convenience store. You either adored Shenmue with all your heart or you couldn't see the point and hated it.
Heavy Rain will divide people in similar ways. As huge fans of the 'real life' concept of Shenmue, we hugely appreciate producer David Cage's vision and Heavy Rain's accomplishments as a narrative piece of work. Of course if you want to dive through the air filling faces with bullets, drive cars or blow shit up, go play GTAIV. It's not happening here.
Heavy Rain is a story-lead interactive film, essentially - a series of separate scenes (or levels) that unfold a truly moving plot with powerful and compelling questions of morality and real tests of your decision-making abilities. The story is brilliant.
It's all centred around the murders of a serial killer known as the Origami Killer, who kidnaps small boys before drowning them five days later and dumping the bodies with an origami model in their hand and an Orchid flower on their chest.
You've got four main playable characters whose stories start separately but become intertwined as you progress through the game. Ethan Mars is an architect and father of two, whose younger son is tragically killed in a car accident at the start of the game. Things gets worse when his other son goes missing, leading him to frantically search the streets to get him back.
Madison Paige - the first revealed character in early demos - is a photo journalist who gets caught up in the Origami case. Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler with a drug problem, and Scott Shelby, an old-school Colombo-style private detective, are both charged with investigating the Origami case as the latest victim goes missing and has only days to live.
It's a tense and unpredictable plot with some truly moving scenes - more so than any other game - and some surprising twists.
The best thing about Heavy Rain is its decision-making element. The game constantly throws decisions at you - and usually you have to make them quickly. Some are tense (do you shoot someone who appears to be a threat or wait and see what happens?), some are reaction-based (do you run left or run right), some question your morals (do you kill someone for personal gain or not?) while others test your tact (use aggressive questioning techniques or go easy on your subject?)
You never know which decision is the right one. More importantly, you have no idea how profoundly your decisions will affect the ambitious branching plot. Many of them don't make a great deal of difference at all, while some actions can have epic consequences, the most impactful being death.
And that's the real clincher - fear of death. In no game have we ever properly feared death. But you know that dying in Heavy Rain puts a permanent end to that character and you have that in mind the whole game. It does a fantastic job of building your connection with these characters (such as in the slower-paced introductory chapters we detailed in this preview), so you REALLY don't want them to die.
And so every time someone swings a crowbar at your face, a truck drives at you, or you pay a visit to a potential murderer's house you feel tense in the knowledge that these could be that character's last steps. You feel genuine concern and that's what makes Heavy Rain so special.