Heavy Rain Demo Impressions

Hey folks! I got my  hands on a Heavy Rain demo code earlier today, and took it for a spin. Here are my thoughts.

Upon booting up the demo, what I found struck me was how good the visuals are. The menu screen is simply a shot of an alley that could be in any city, although I believe the game takes place in New York, with lots and lots of rain cascading down the buildings walls, and onto the concrete below. It really oozes atmosphere. The loading screen is an extreme close-up of the current character of the chapter’s face, and I was amazed at the level of detail and character. The game manages to avoid the “Uncanny Valley,” with eyes and facial features that are believable as real people, but slightly stylized just enough to not freak you the hell out.

After selecting “Start New Demo,” the game puts me in control of Private Eye Scott Shelby and uses his solo trek through that same rainy alley as a brief tutorial on the game’s unique controls.

The controls are very simple: You hold down the R2 button to make your character walk continuously forward. Think of it as the accelerator on a car; when held down, you move forward, when released, you stop. Turning left or right with the Left Analog Stick will “steer” your character in that direction. Because of this setup, when the camera angle changes (which often is used to make the game feel more film like), there is no adjustment period to reorient your character or controls. Many a time in other games that use shifting camera angles, I’d find myself walking accidentally back to the previous screen/angle.

This tutorial gives you a good glimpse at the detail in the character models. It truly is striking. Shelby is a hefty man, and his animations while walking through the alley give the impression of an aging man who is, to borrow the saying, “getting too old for this shit.” He holds out his hands to feel the rain drops, and comments on his Asthma being worse when it rains when pressing down the L2 Button, which lets you hear the character’s internal thoughts.

After the tutorial, you are put in control of Shelby as he investigates a hopeful lead in the Origami Killer slayings; Lauren, the mother of one of the victims, who also happens to be a prostitute. I won’t give away anything of the story, but I will say that the meeting seems to be able to go a few different ways, depending on how you chat up Lauren. The first time I played this scenario, Lauren was cold, and didn’t give me any information. As I was leaving, a former client shows up to harass her, and being the guy I am, I intervene (I get the impression that I could have very easily just walked down the stairs and left; will do on another playthrough).

Breaking down the door, Shelby engages in a fight with Lauren’s attacker, and I was able to get a feel for the new implementation of context sensitive actions Quantic Dream founder David Cage was chatting up. The button presses are what you expect in that you press the right button when it appears on the screen, but their placement is more natural, and your eye easily follows. For example, the attacker, Troy, swung his fist at me, and I was prompted to press “X.” The “X” icon appeared at Troy’s fist, so I was able to not only press the button as it appeared, but I was also able to see the fight scene unfold, without feeling like I was taking my eyes off of it to see what button to press. The fight ended with me as the victor (I will also replay to see what happens if I fail ALL of the button prompts). Lauren was grateful, but I still learned nothing.

Sidenote: On my second playthrough of the demo, I played it differently, choosing different dialog responses, and I was able to coax a little bit of information from Lauren about her son, his father, and his death.

After Shelby’s scene, the demo will cut to a new character, FBI Agent Norman Jayden, who has just arrived at the scene of the crime for another of the Origami Killer’s slayings, a young boy. This demo feels like an episode out of any crime drama on TV, with Jayden looking for the Police Officer in charge of the crime investigation, and using a gadget Batman would be proud to own, called the ARI, to scan the environment for clues. Using the ARI, which are a combo pair of glasses that tint the world green, and a glove that can scan the environment, then investigate the things it reveals, such as blood stains, a dead cat on the train tracks near the victim’s body, and traces of an orchid, which was left on the victim’s chest. They feel a bit like the scanner Batman used in Arkham Asylum.

You can also use L2 to hear Jayden’s thoughts on the rain, victim, news reporters, and police, etc. After his investigation is complete, the demo ends, and we are treated to a new trailer, which does a great job of showcasing how unique and intriguing the game is.

Overall, I came away very impressed with the Heavy Rain demo. It instantly established the game as something very different from your standard FPS or 3rd person action game. The voice acting was better than what I was expecting, in particular Scott Shelby and the prostitute, Lauren (who those following Heavy Rain will recognize as the character in the E3 Tech demo, “The Casting” from 2006). I love a good murder mystery, and the mood of Heavy Rain is wonderfully somber and oppressive. I’m eagerly awaiting the game’s late February release.

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