Done Playing: Heavy Rain Demo (PS3)

The demo for the long-in-development PS3 exclusive, Heavy Rain, is finally available for all to download. Having played, and mostly loved, developer Quantic Dream’s previous title, Indigo Prophecy, I’ve been anticipating and kind of dreading Heavy Rain’s arrival. Indigo Prophecy was great in many respects, but also fairly bad in others. So, how did Heavy Rain turn out?

It turns out that Heavy Rain inherited both the good and bad traits of Indigo Prophecy. The animations are still pretty stiff. I never got the impression from the demo that characters were actually interacting with objects or each other. On top of that, the voice acting was really awful. The voice actors are non-Americans, despite the entire game taking place in America. It certainly shows. One of the main characters, Norman Jayden, has a distinctly unidentifiable accent, complemented with unnecessary pauses and inflections. Think of Christopher Walken doing an impersonation of himself, and you’ve got a good idea what Norman sounds like.

On the other hand, Heavy Rain controls very well. On-screen prompts constantly appear. Most of these are in the form of lines and arrows, indicating that you can make a specific motion with the right analog stick. Other times you’re given the option to press the face buttons, either individually or in tandem, or shake the whole controller. It’s a neat way of interacting with a game, giving you constantly changing context-sensitive ways to control it. On the other hand, you often won’t know what each button press or controller movement will do until you input the command.

One thing I can’t help but be hyper critical of is just how dated this game looks. Back in 2006, when the first tech demo for this game was shown, I thought it looked jaw-dropping gorgeous. It was so good looking, it helped spark the infamous debate over digital actors and the “uncanny valley.” Now that we’re in 2010, computer animation has come a long way. The little movie called Avatar jumped right over the uncanny valley. Even games, such as Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2, showed just how believable digital humans can appear to be with a high quality level of animation. Heavy Rain looks decidedly ancient by comparison, which is a bummer.

I’d like to give the game a final verdict based on the demo, but unfortunately I can’t. I’m on the fence with it, but I’m leaning towards the “buy” side. Although you’ll get no sense of it from the demo, the full game supposedly has a very deep and emotional story. Combine that with a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure level of non-linearity, and you have me interested. Heavy Rain is due out on Feb. 23.

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