Home > Games > Looking Through The Rain: A Sneak Peak at “Heavy Rain”

Looking Through The Rain: A Sneak Peak at “Heavy Rain”

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The Origami Killer

Announced at the 2006 E3, Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer (a PS3-exclusive title from developers Quantic Dream) is finally close to completion, with a release date expected in early 2010. The game received significant coverage at this year’s E3, and with further announcements coming in August at the Game Developer’s Conference in Cologne, the game is shaping up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated titles for the PS3 console.

We recently got a chance to meet with Guillaume de Fondaumiere, CEO of Quantic Dream and executive producer of Heavy Rain, who showed off two scenes from the game, spoke about its development and gave us the opportunity to play through one of these scenes. The experience left us adding Heavy Rain to the calendar and eager to see more.

The Game

Although not a follow-up to Quantic Dream’s Fahrenheit, released across the core sixth-generation consoles in 2005, the basic gameplay of Heavy Rain echoes the company’s previous title in terms of tone and content. Less a traditional game than an interactive experience, the game mixes dialogue and exploration with “highly cinematic sequences,” the emphasis being on the story and characters rather than driving, shooting or other typical gaming content.

The game revolves around the titular origami killer, a murderer who leaves an ornate piece of origami and an orchid at the scene of his crimes. A single-player game, Heavy Rain puts the player in control of four characters, each differently affected by the killer, each with their own abilities and weaknesses and each with their own motives. Two of these characters have already been revealed: FBI agent and recovering drug addict Norman Jayden, directly involved in pursuing the origami killer; and Madison Paige, a photographer who visits motels to relieve her insomnia and gets drawn into the case. More will be seen of the remaining two characters at Cologne.

Madison Paige: A Look At Heavy Rain's Graphics

Madison Paige: A Look At Heavy Rain's Graphics

The characters are not interchangeable: players of Fahrenheit will already be familiar with the story switching from one character to another (and back) as the story progresses, sometimes characters working with the same goal and others at cross-purposes. As such, the game plays more like a movie than a traditional game, with encounters or scenes replacing the standard levels, each scene ending with a narrative reveal or event, rather than achieving a goal or fighting a boss. There are about sixty scenes throughout the game, ranging from five minutes in length to twenty, and depending on the paths chosen, the player will experience around fifty scenes in a single playthrough. In each of these scenes, the playable character can die, bringing a close to that particular narrative strand (and closing off access to other scenes); but even if all four characters die, the game will maintain a full story, with a logical beginning, middle and end.

With its focus on story over gameplay, Heavy Rain boasts a twelve-hundred page script and a focus on its characters, with some scenes not even focussing on the origami killer aspect of the story. At any stage, the player can listen to their characters’ thoughts, sometimes involving the case and the main narrative, and other times regarding their personal lives. Up to four “thoughts” are available at any time, and the full extent of these depend on the game’s chosen difficulty level, although the final product is expected to include over 800 total thoughts, allowing for greater empathy with the characters and stemming from that, a more immersive storyline. M. de Fondaumiere stated that much of the positive feedback received for Fahrenheit centred around the personal nature to the story, with players enjoying the simpler interactions that did not necessarily advance the story, but showed more of the characters’ lives, and stemming from that, the design of characters and their surroundings in Heavy Rain reflects that immersive quality, with each character having their own fully realised interests and lives.

Gameplay

The cinematic nature of Heavy Rain lends itself to an unconventional style of gameplay and control system. Although we’ve only seen two scenes, both Norman Jayden and Madison Paige move with unique styles: over eighty different actors worked on the game with Quantic Dream’s motion capture team, and the feel for each character is different, with Norman’s shuffling hard-boiled detective style a stark contrast to Madison’s sultry high-heeled strut. Movement is controlled with a combination of the left-analogue-stick and R2-trigger: R2 controls forward motion, with the left stick responsible for the direction in which the playable character’s head and shoulders face. Moving requires subtle use of both controls, initially awkward to get used to, but that makes sense once you get into the game proper. L2 triggers an interface to view character’s thoughts, while L1 switches between two camera angles, an up-close camera that follows the player and a panoramic view that provides a better view of the surroundings.

In keeping with the story’s immersive nature, there is no HUD, and no defined control structure: controls are described as “always contextual and always logical,” making use of the right analogue stick, face buttons and right triggers. When the player can interact with an item (or person), a white cue can be seen next to said item on screen, signalling the appropriate gesture to make or button to press, with the discreet white design fitting in with the game’s noir-stylings, providing a cleaner interaction than the usual flashing coloured button that can prove so distracting during Quick-Time-Events in other games.

However, Heavy Rain is not without its own versions of QTEs, with the control system designed to “put the player in the same physical condition as the character.” M. de Fondaumiere referred to these as PARs or “Physical Action Reactions” and the differences between these and your standard QTEs become apparent fairly quickly. In moments of stress, the cues will be more difficult to see on screen or, in some cases, be difficult to trigger: we experienced one PAR which required holding down all the face and trigger buttons and making a gesture with the right stick…which sounds a lot less complicated than it is, if anyone fancies picking up a PS3 controller and giving it a shot!

Norman's glasses give him a CSI-style view of his surroundings

Norman's glasses give him a CSI-style view of his surroundings

The game is grounded firmly in reality, although de Fondaumiere revealed a “special ability” of Norman Jayden’s in the shape of the ARI, or Added Reality Interface, a “pocket-CSI” combination of sunglasses and a glove that allows Jayden to view clues in his vicinity that he can then investigate closer. While other characters have their own abilities, Norman’s ARI was the only “special” ability to be seen (unless we count Madison’s ability to touch up her make-up to increase her super-seduction powers.)

Hands-On

Although two scenes were shown, we only got a chance to play the “Mad Jack” level as seen at E3, taking control of Norman Jayden as he interrogates Mad Jack and investigates his car yard: graphically, the scene is finished, although de Fondaumiere pointed out that there were still some elements to be added, including the voice-over for Jayden’s thoughts. There are three potential outcomes for the scenario, to kill, be killed or arrest Mad Jack, although each path varies from start to end: two different playthroughs resulted in the same ending, but with a different journey in the ten-minute scene, meaning that even watching further playthroughs, things remained original and gripping. The PARs, used in this case for a fight scene, are fluid and seamless, with no noticeable delay triggered from a successful or unsuccessful event.

Graphically, the game remained impressive even on a smaller screen: Norman’s features are impressively rendered, even down to hair and skin. Although there were several smaller parts to the scene, there was no recognisable delay in loading save for a customary fade or wipe, furthering the similarities between the game and a movie. Even the loading screen prior to the scene beginning was impressive, making use of the Heavy Rain name with some realistic water that puts Bioshock to shame.

With the game scheduled for an early 2010 release, it will be a few months yet before we get a chance to play further levels, although more information will become available mid-August after the Cologne GDC. Until then, we look forward to getting a chance to play some more of the game and its characters. And maybe even after that, we’ll want to uncover just who might be the origami killer.

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  1. July 25, 2009 at 12:22 AM

    Really great preview, still jealous that you got to play it. I’m hoping that it’s a bit easier to control when walking around since that bugged me about Fahrenheit but other then that everything about it looks great.

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