Few developers have tried more zealously to marry video games and film than Quantic Dream, a studio that has made a name for itself on self-professed Hollywood-inspired gameplay. With a handful of film-style interactive dramas under its belt, a genre that Quantic Dream has most heavily tried to pioneer in the gaming medium, the studio is currently preparing their first proper effort for the current-gen PS4, Detroit: Become Human, but for now, they’re offering remasters of their two PS3 offerings on the PS4’s PlayStation Store (there is a retail package that collects both, but it’s only available in Europe), the first of which, Heavy Rain, ironically released second, and only very recently.
When it first launched on PS3 in 2010, Heavy Rain was celebrated for its film-quality presentation, next-gen storytelling technique, and outstanding technical prowess. Despite reasonable acclaim behind the studio’s prior two games, Omikron: The Nomad Soul and Indigo Prophecy (known as ‘Farenheit‘ to those outside of the Americas), Heavy Rain was the title that put this developer on the triple-A gaming map, and also kicked off an exclusive partnership with Sony, which has Quantic Dream building their new interactive dramas exclusively for PlayStation consoles at this point.
Being considered Quantic Dream’s best game to date by most, has Heavy Rain held up on the PS4 then? Well, mostly yes, though like all of Quantic Dream’s games to date, time hasn’t been all that kind to it. Heavy Rain is the least tainted by age among the current Quantic Dream catalogue, but its attempts at subversive gameplay don’t effectively translate to 2016, especially not on the improved PS4 hardware. That’s before one re-experiences the story, and sees that several elements of the game, namely the plot and voice acting, no doubt aren’t quite as good as you remember, even if the main mystery remains pretty enjoyable and engrossing.
If you already played through Heavy Rain in its entirety on PS3, then the PS4 remaster simply offers a prettier re-skin of the same game, with no real changes in the hardware upgrade beyond a cosmetic boost. This remaster comes far more highly recommended to those who have yet to experience this unique little gaming experiment, but even then, bear in mind that Heavy Rain was definitely more impressive during the previous console generation.
Even with the main draw of this PS4 remaster of Heavy Rain simply being a visual boost, the visuals are the gameplay element that seems to have held up most in the production. Despite originally being designed for the PS3, Heavy Rain still manages to stand tall amongst dedicated PS4 games from a visual standpoint, and that’s pretty impressive!
The graphical upgrade in the PS4 build of Heavy Rain is most noticeable in scenes that incorporate the enhanced lighting, which makes an already atmospheric game noticeably more immersive and lifelike on PS4. The game’s lengthy load times on PS3 have also been shortened on PS4, even if not always by a huge amount, and the framerate performance now stays at a consistent 30fps on PS4, unlike on PS3, when you would notice animation stutters and loading hiccups every so often. This goes along with the predictable resolution boost in Heavy Rain’s PS4 remaster as well, with the game now rendering at native 1080p resolution on PS4, which really allows its graphical prowess to shine a lot better, in contrast to the lesser 720p resolution that the original PS3 build’s graphics capped at.
As much as the visual touch-ups are pretty good though, Heavy Rain’s PS4 build sadly didn’t fix a lot of the technical hiccups and immersion-breaking bugs that sometimes cropped up on PS3, and you’ll still see some of these glitches every so often in the PS4 remaster. My own playthroughs had cutscenes disturbed by NPC’s walking through the interacting characters, loading bugs that had character models get stuck in place when they shouldn’t have, and rarely, events and prompts would fail to trigger when they were supposed to. Maybe some of these bugs were left in for sheer amusement, since they rarely disturb gameplay, and are more often simply funny. Even so, it’s more likely that Quantic Dream simply didn’t bother to touch up the gameplay in the case of Heavy Rain’s remaster, and the fact that these bugs haven’t been fixed in the supposedly improved PS4 build feels pretty sloppy.
Still, there’s no denying that Heavy Rain’s great graphics continue to impress, even in 2016, and even in the PS4 library. The improved resolution and lighting makes character models more detailed, environments more immersive, and effects like rain, blood and dirt look a lot more lifelike. A handful of scenes still feel like they weren’t really updated for PS4, and more or less look identical to their PS3 renditions beyond the native 1080p resolution that the PS4 remaster sports, but Heavy Rain is still a visual marvel, and it’s not too often evident that it was originally made for a last-gen console.
Heavy Rain’s sound design also remains highly impressive, even in 2016. The melancholy soundtrack continues to serve gameplay well, consisting of a lot of introspective piano melodies, unsettling string chords and heart-wrenching brass, and as far as cinematic soundtracks go, this game has a really good one. The soundtrack variation isn’t massive, but the music generally works very well, and does create a Hollywood-style feel to the game’s better scenes at the very least.
The sound effects throughout Heavy Rain are also incredibly true to life, and this works to especially great effect during the horror-driven scenes. While the game still goes to great lengths to emulate real life to an effective degree during dialogue scenes and dramatic moments, as well as the handful of action scenes it tries to incorporate, the grisly Saw-style horror moments are the ones that will really stick with you, particularly as protagonist, Ethan Mars must put himself through the physical and emotional ringer to save his son from being murdered by a serial killer. It’s squeamish and uncomfortable, and it contributes to making Heavy Rain a wonderfully unsettling and ominous experience throughout.
The only element of the game’s audio that really hasn’t held up well is some of the voice acting, which is all over the map in Heavy Rain. The blatantly European lead voice actors can often be fairly good, though they definitely fall short of Hollywood-quality performances, especially when the delivery of some of the supporting cast especially is often detached and tone-deaf. It doesn’t seem to be a problem with the actors so much as with the direction, which sometimes has the characters delivering weird, disconnected performances, and making their dialogue sound very off every so often. The supporting actors can sometimes be downright bad to boot, especially since they tend to do the worst job of hiding their native French accents when trying to pose as American characters. The child characters are actually terribly voiced to the point of being unintentionally hilarious, sounding like odd aliens that don’t seem to know what human emotion is.
Even if it’s normally the technical hiccups that will sometimes break the otherwise respectable immersion that Heavy Rain manages to build, the shaky voice acting is another thing that can sometimes take you out of the game, and that’s really unfortunate for a game that is trying so hard to be a super-serious interactive drama. As much as Heavy Rain wants to be subversive and artistic, it’s more evident than ever in 2016 that it’s best not to take this game too seriously, especially when you’ll end up snickering at some of the performances when you really aren’t supposed to be.
As I said, Heavy Rain is the closest that Quantic Dream has come to effectively marrying the sensibilities of film and gaming. The hook of taking control of multiple lead personalities in a shared effort to investigate and solve a mystery before it results in the death of an innocent boy is a strong one, and the gameplay foundation certainly isn’t bad, especially when it gives you a decent degree of flexibility to alter many of the key scenes in drastic ways.
Heavy Rain unfolds over a series of chapters, which move between the perspectives of four protagonists. Your leads include: Ethan Mars, a devoted father who is forced to do the unthinkable in a challenge to save his kidnapped son, Norman Jayden, an FBI agent that is also trying to find the boy while battling professional obstacles and a drug addiction, Scott Shelby, a good-natured private investigator hired to find justice for the families of the serial killer’s former victims, and Madison Paige, a plucky young reporter who would seemingly do anything to expose the truth about the killings plaguing her town.
Even if they’re not always the most logical or smart characters, the lead personalities in Heavy Rain are likable, and generally realized well. The everyman charm of Ethan makes his plight worth getting behind, just as the perky optimism of Madison will keep you invested in her seemingly selfish motivations. Scott is a particular standout, being an outwardly good man in a seedy world, trying to make it just a little brighter as he goes. Norman is a bit more of a cliched FBI character, but at least his surreal drug addiction and inexplicable futuristic mystery-solving tech help him stand out a little more, with his clue-hunting segments often being more fulfilling than the menial-task-filled chapters that the other three characters can be saddled with whenever they’re not in an action scene or horror scene.
How one actually plays Heavy Rain can vary, depending on the style of the scene. Like a movie, characters can be going about their daily lives, fighting and suffering for their lives, or investigating the next step of the plot. This mainly involves moving them around, having them interact with people and points of interest, and doing whatever the scene calls for to expand the story, with players able to hold L2 and press the face buttons to access character thoughts that help point them in the right direction if they’re unsure of how to proceed. This does mean that the game is rife with quick-time events and button prompts, though they’re more tolerable than in many other games, since the QTE’s are at least thrilling and well-designed in the more visceral scenes, having you do some nifty and surprisingly trying finger gymnastics with the controller on higher difficulties especially, which give the game more of a tense, uncomfortable feel that really works.
Less effective however are the movement controls, which are uncooperative and annoying, and are another element of Heavy Rain that hasn’t held up well with time. You move characters by holding R2 and then steering them with the left analog stick, which can be fine in open areas, but in confined spaces with a lot of prompts, characters tend to jitter around and get fussy about where they’re positioned. This makes finer character navigation needlessly irritating, and feels very arbitrary, since this oddball movement method didn’t make much sense on PS3 in 2010, and it makes even less sense on PS4 in 2016.
Even the needlessly detailed right analog stick movements that try and create immersion when you do things like open doors and search your pockets feel excessive, drawing out mundane tasks to an unwelcome extent, and these could have been done with a simple button press or stick flick. At least the motion controls feel a bit more natural, only having a couple of instances of finicky motion detection (especially if they make you hold several buttons down before moving the controller), though if you don’t like them, there’s no way to disable them, even though Heavy Rain’s PS4 remaster seems to drop the optional PlayStation Move control scheme that was available in the original PS3 build, and forces you to play with the regular Dual Shock 4 controller.
Fortunately, even if you fail QTE’s or botch some sort of challenge, there’s no Game Over or failure state. Heavy Rain will continue on no matter what you do, with the story being altered depending on your actions, decisions, and how thorough you are with your investigations. This is one of the coolest elements of gameplay, and one that still holds up reasonably well in the PS4 remaster. For example, if you fail a certain QTE, or make a risky action that doesn’t work in your favour, your lead characters may become arrested, die, or be thrown off the trail of the missing child, which will affect later scenes, and possibly have certain story chapters not even happen, particularly if certain characters have died in your playthrough.
Finding a clue in a prior scene can provide a big benefit in a later scene, just as failing to find that clue can leave you at a disadvantage for a better story outcome later in the game, so it really pays to be detail-oriented and take your time in Heavy Rain. It takes genuine wits and inspiration to reach the best possible story outcome in the game, even if Heavy Rain rarely presents any real degree of challenge beyond hunting for the considerable roster of trophies, so while it takes work to get the best story outcomes, you also have to intentionally go out of your way to fail if you want to see the worst ones.
Even though this variable mystery hook remains pretty cool in the PS4 remaster, a big part of the reason why Heavy Rain was a lot more impressive when it released for PS3 in 2010 is that the original PS3 build came before various games that followed it which have since improved upon this interactive drama formula in big ways. Ultimately, Heavy Rain’s choice-driven gameplay doesn’t manage to achieve quite the same level of impact as Telltale’s best narrative-driven adventure games that have since released after 2010, such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Tales from the Borderlands, for example. Likewise, the PS4 also happens to be the exclusive home of Until Dawn, a stellar interactive horror movie-inspired experience with even more refined and detailed choice-driven gameplay, which effectively beats Quantic Dream at realizing the very genre that Quantic Dream originally tried to revolutionize and monopolize in the gaming space.
There’s still merit in Heavy Rain, and there’s still fun to be had with playing and replaying the game to try and scoop up every trophy, and see every potential story turn and outcome, but if you’ve already done all this in the original PS3 release, then there’s little reason to revisit the same experience on PS4, especially for the full $29.99 price tag. The PS4 remaster of Heavy Rain pretty much completely leaves the gameplay alone, for better or worse, and that makes it best suited to people who never experienced the game in its original PS3 incarnation. They won’t be quite as floored as many PS3 owners were in 2010, but they’ll enjoy themselves nonetheless.
Heavy Rain’s story quality is generally pretty gripping and entertaining, though it’s yet another element of the experience that probably isn’t as good as you remember, if you originally enjoyed it on PS3. The overarching mystery remains plenty engrossing on PS4 though, and those who don’t yet know how it all ends will find themselves wanting to play on and constantly get answers, especially when they won’t know where some of their big decisions may take them.
The problem with Heavy Rain’s storyline though is that it has an absolutely ludicrous amount of plot holes and unrealistic story elements, many of which probably weren’t noticed by awestruck PS3 gamers in 2010, but are much more apparent on PS4 in 2016, especially for those who already played through the original PS3 version. As good as the central mystery is, the game’s plot is packed with character turns that don’t make sense, laboured events that feel highly implausible, and many questions about why certain things are done when there’s more obvious real-world solutions that would have been simpler. As much as Heavy Rain aspires to be so realistic and serious, there’s a surprising amount of instances where it comes off as unintentionally silly, and sometimes even schlock-y!
Again, I’d advise you not to take the plot of Heavy Rain too seriously, and just try to suspend your disbelief and not ask too many questions. If you can do that, the story is entertaining enough to get players through its duration, even on repeat playthroughs for different outcomes, but the blatant pretentiousness behind the direction, plus the way overwrought efforts to wrench players’ hearts, doesn’t work in the game’s favour, and continues to make it ridiculous and goofy when it doesn’t want to be. Heavy Rain still ultimately stands as the best Quantic Dream story so far, but that simply highlights all the more why this studio still has a ways to go before standing with Hollywood Oscar contenders in the film medium.
Heavy Rain may be the closest that Quantic Dream has come to making a gaming classic, but it seems that the game’s foundation has now become more rickety than it was in 2010, even if the game still ultimately manages to hold up well enough to merit a recommendation for newcomers. Returning players who could care less probably won’t find the visual upgrade on PS4 to be worth it, and will no doubt be fine sticking with their previous PS3 copy of Heavy Rain, though if you weren’t among those who already played through its former PS3 build, the experience does feel like its true home is on PS4, where it’s at its prettiest and most stable, even if not by leaps and bounds.
Heavy Rain has since been outdone by other similar games that have been made available to the gaming public since 2010, not least of which by the PS4’s interactive horror heavyweight, Until Dawn, but there’s enough entertainment in this bleak mystery to keep it among one of the better interactive dramas in gaming, even if it’s no doubt cheesier and less credible than your PS3 nostalgia would wish to recall. In the mission to make true gaming art, Heavy Rain is easily outclassed by even some B-list PlayStation Store indie games available for PS4, let alone the best PS4 offerings between both indie and triple-A, and that’s another reason why the game has only somewhat stood the test of time.
It’s still fulfilling to unravel and shape the story of the Origami Killer, especially for avid trophy hunters, but Heavy Rain’s quest for artistic merit doesn’t ultimately highlight a truly adult gaming experience, but rather, an adolescent gaming experience that wants to prove so desperately that it’s mature and sophisticated. Several years later, that undeserved pretentiousness has become increasingly obvious in the following console generation. You can still look back on that adolescent desperation for credibility with love and fondness, and a little bit of cheeky mockery, should you wish to experience or re-experience Heavy Rain on PS4, but nonetheless, there’s no denying that, like that edgy teenage persona that wants so badly to make its mark, Heavy Rain is not nearly as smart or as cool as it thinks it is.
- Remastered graphics hold up well on PS4
- Haunting sound design is still effective
- Compelling mystery and lead characters
- Clunky gameplay has aged poorly
- Story is rife with plot holes and illogical elements
- Some hilariously awful voice acting