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Leipzig GC: Game Impressions

Right then, due to some technical difficulties, I was unable to blog any further from the Games Convention. Instead I’ll be posting my thoughts and impression of the games that stood out. First up, my game of the show, Heavy Rain.

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Quantic Dream’s, shall we say ‘adventure’ for now was first announced a couple of years back at E3. What was shown in 2006 was little more than a technical demo that hinted at an adult, character-driven game along the lines of Quantic’s last game, Farenheit.

Heavy Rain was finally revealed in its gameplay form at this year’s Leipzig as that adult, character-driven game but, it appears, has much more to offer.

David Cage, the game’s director, told me that Heavy Rain is story-driven experience that, strangley, the player doesn’t play, he or she drives it. The player (for want of a better word) is the actor, the writer and the director of the experience. Now that all sounds a little ‘out there’, let me explain.

The story unfolds over of a series of sets or scenes (note: no talk of ‘levels’) and in each of these scenes you have complete interaction of the environment. By that I mean that you can interact (and not just press the X button) with every object, every cupboard, every thing in every set. You can even was the dishes if you so wish.

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The point of all this is that as you watch (and interact) with your character and the scene you are creating a unique narrative that you watch/play/direct. Every interaction can have a consequence – not only to what you see on the screen but how that scene and the wider story will play out. For example: leaving a fridge door open could have consequences if a particular NPC sees that you have been rummaging around in his fridge.

The overall story stays the same regardless of the player’s input but as David Cage put it, “the game’s story is an elastic band that the player can bend and stretch.”

But I digress. What you’re doing in Heavy Rain is investigating. The scene I saw will not appear in the final game (but maybe as a bonus feature, says David Cage) but gave a good idea of what to expect. The scene’s main protagonist was an investigative journalist, following up on a lead about some missing women. The lead had led her to a taxidermist’s house in a quiet suburban area. Movement is controlled with the R2 button and the left analogue. Pushing R2 will cause the character to walk forward regardless of where the camera is in relation to the player. Moving the left analogue stick will control where the character is looking – the character will also follow where she looks. In this way, the control prevents that age-old problem of movement on the analogue stick where the camera suddenly changes and your movement suddenly along with it. This also enables Heavy Rain to retain a cinematic visual style which, you’ll see, is vital.

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Interaction with the environment is similarly logical and simple to use. You simply use the character’s head to look around – anything of interest, or any interactions, will then pop up at the bottom of the screen. You can then use the various methods to perform the interation. These are designed to mimic the action that the character will perform on screen. So, if you’re opening a mailbox, you’ll use the right analogue to directly control the arm; as you pull down the character’s arm will move down. Another example is kicking a barrel along the ground – here the player’s action was to shove the Sixaxis forwards several times to mimic the on-screen action of kicking. Each of the interaction was context sensitive and designed, as David Cage put it, to draw the player into the game.

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The final thing I want to tell you about in Heavy Rain (there will be more in the next issue of Play) is a bit more about the rubber band idea. In the same demo I was shown two ways in which the scene could be played out; David Cage boasted that each scene could have up to a dozen different ways to play it. Anyway, the first playthrough had the main protagonist exploring the house, collecting evidence and discovering some rather disturbing evidence. Inevitably the taxidermist comes home and she’s trapped in an upstairs room. In the first example she makes her way out of the house undetected (after a particularly tense scene) in the other the taxidermist finds her and attacks. What follows is a series of dramatic QTE-like sequences where you’re attacked and escape. What was great about this was that it wasn’t scripted and would change depending on where you are in the house, where you go and how well or badly you perform in the QTEs. Objects can be taken and used and escape wasn’t the only option: you could grab a chainsaw and kill the taxidermist or even die and here, there’s the option to continue the story. This final outcome hints that, like Farenheit, Heavy Rain‘s story will be told from multiple points of view.

So that’s it for now. Like I said before, it was my game of the show at Leipzig. An adult, story-driven adventure, Heavy Rain could mark the beginning of a new kind of videogame. It might not, of course, but from what I’ve seen of it so far, it’s likely to make quite an impression on the games industry when it’s released next year.

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  • Hoagie324

    Heavy Rain is finally here! I was anxiously awaiting it since it was announced and the tech video was first shown. It’s been a long wait, but it’s finally here! Can’t wait to pick it up and play it.