Thursday 18 January 2018

Heavy Rain Remastered review: Waterlogged nostalgia

Heavy Rain
Heavy Rain

Daniel Anderson

Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain is back with a new coat of paint on the PlayStation 4- so how does it hold up six year on?

Heavy Rain arrived on the PlayStation 3 in 2010 amid a flurry of media attention, heralding it as the future of interactive adventures with a cinematic feel, glossy production values and a twisty, multi-layered narrative.

At the time, it certainly fulfilled much of that promise. Developers Quantic Dream had managed to create a unique experience for players – an interactive story with seamlessly branching narratives, mature themes and a cast of characters who could actually perish. It was possible to see this story out to an incredibly bitter finale, all driven by your decisions.

Six years on, it remains the same groundbreaking game – and arguably a better experiment than the more recent Beyond Two Souls – but the filter of nostalgia is easily shattered by a number of issues which players may find hard to surmount.

Even in its remastered form, Heavy Rain remains an awkward mess. This starts with the fundamental issue of the utterly terrible walking mechanic, where you hold the right shoulder button to move forward and pray it’s in the right direction, and filters down to pretty much every area of design and implementation.

One element which feels especially egregious in the wake of titles like Beyond and the vastly superior Until Dawn is the performances. The main cast is mostly English despite the Philadelphia setting, and their delivery is stilted and tonally inconsistent, likely more as a result of the recording environment.

But that’s nothing next to the supporting players, who variably sound like they’ve just woken from a nap or really need to be somewhere else. And don’t get me started on the kids, who are clearly voiced by adults who have never met a 10 year old. Their eerie voices and dead-eyed faces are the stuff of nightmares.

The dialogue from David Cage isn’t much better, often playing as though it’s been run through Google Translate and never checked for accuracy.

It’s all a bit janky basically – you’ll spend a lot of time walking into walls and bumbling through QTEs, when you’re not battling the camera or graphical issues. My most fearsome to date came when I was putting my young son to bed and found that the character model wouldn’t close its eyes. Shaun lay there, corpse-like, glazed eyes staring at the ceiling til I fled the room in terror.

And yet, I’ve found myself playing through the story again, despite remembering very well where it’s headed. There’s something about the mix of mundane and mysterious which still makes Heavy Rain oddly compelling, and once you sink into the B-movie style it’s hard not to get swept along.

Where else do you get to take your kid to the playground, investigate a murder, get stalked by a killer, use Augmented Reality to solve crimes and still have time to take a pretty pervy shower? It’s the same elements which worked so well in Fahrenheit and felt a little less effective in Beyond, the notion of stepping into a life with the boring and bombastic bits intact, trying to keep your character alive while also making sure your son eats a healthy dinner.

Heavy Rain also sets itself apart from much of the genre with its branching elements, including the very real possibility of character death. I finished my first playthrough many years back with everyone intact so tried some new variables this time towards a significantly more depressing ending.

Those branching moments are also still very impressive, putting the relatively binary choices of games like The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands to shame. You might not know the knock on effect of a failed QTE or missed interaction for a large part of the game, and there are whole sections I missed the first time around, like when Ethan ends up in the police station.

That said, if you’re not a fan of QTE’s then you might find it tough going. Every episode features at least some of these elements and the action scenes are full on button pressing madness. Personally I’ve always liked Quantic’s approach to these moments, forcing you to bamboozle your fingers in line with what’s happening on screen and making you feel oddly cool for managing to press X in time.

Through a combination of all these factors, Heavy Rain manages to make you really feel for the characters in some surprisingly powerful moments, enhanced by the impressive graphics and then-astonishing motion capture work. Those elements are still noteworthy, and this remaster has higher quality textures in the models and backgrounds which give it a new coat of paint, but the result still pales next to modern examples like Until Dawn.

It’s a tough one to call – if you played Heavy Rain back in the day then you know exactly what to expect, this is the same game with slightly prettier graphics and many of the same issues. If you’re a newcomer it may take a certain amount of patience to get through the opening hour or two, adjusting to the awkward controls and avoiding looking too closely at the dead eyed children. But if you make it that far and your brain is tuned a certain way you might find a worthwhile and still groundbreaking adventure buried within.

Personally, I’m going back to make sure everyone dies this time.

[Heavy Rain is available now on PS4 and as part of a double pack with the remaster of Beyond Two Souls]


- Daniel Anderson

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