The goal of every story is to form some degree of connection with its observer. Most often, this link is fleeting at best, but every now and then, a much deeper bond is formed. This bond is one in which the observer is less of a passive participant and more of an emotionally engaged accomplice. Though many video games (as well as most novels and movies) strive to be the latter, Heavy Rain is one of those few games that can claim to have truly achieved this lofty objective. A powerful interactive drama, Heavy Rain is an intensely absorbing experience that meticulously conveys the tension, urgency, surprise, and tragedy that its characters feel. Though the overall direction of the plot cannot be changed, the ongoing narrative adapts to your every action and cultivates a deeply personal journey that leaves everyone who undertakes it with something different.
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How far are you prepared to go to save someone you love? This is the central question of Heavy Rain and one that the protagonist, Ethan Mars, is compelled to answer. After Ethan's son goes missing and is presumed to be the latest victim of the mysterious Origami Killer, he vows to do whatever it takes to rescue his boy. Besides Ethan, you also take control of three other seemingly unrelated individuals that have been drawn into the case: private investigator Scott Shelby, FBI criminal profiler Norman Jayden, and insomniac Madison Paige.
Though it takes a little while to pick up, Heavy Rain is an immersive interactive drama that sucks you in and doesn't let go. As you control each of the four characters, onscreen prompts have you press buttons in sequence, move the right analog stick in specific directions, shake the controller, and more to interact with the scenes. Each input is proportionally difficult to the task being performed, and when a character is scared or stressed, the floating prompts tremble accordingly. This unconventional control scheme does a fantastic job of grounding you to the characters and their emotional states. Your actions approximate theirs, and the often short amount of time you have to react to new situations mirrors their own reaction time. There is plenty of action to be found in the form of brutal and violent brawls, heart-pounding chases, and deadly gunfights, but even such mundane tasks as brushing your teeth or rocking a baby to sleep are surprisingly engaging, and help to strengthen your bond with the characters.
Unlike other games that make extensive use of quick-time events, Heavy Rain does not track your progress in terms of success and failure. There is no right or wrong way to play; thus, no matter what your outcome is, the game will move forward and adapt to the consequences of your actions or lack thereof. Though the overall narrative framework is unyielding, your performance throughout the game can have a variety of effects, ranging from subtle changes in how a scene plays out to much bigger adjustments. Entire events may not occur because your actions and choices caused the plot to branch in a different direction. It's even possible for key characters to die, thus eliminating any subsequent contributions to the story that they might have made. No matter what happens in your play-through, the adaptive plot of Heavy Rain becomes a deeply personal sum of your experiences.
Even seemingly mundane scenes like this help better connect you to the characters.