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Heavy Rain GC Preview
Post by trog @ 03:07pm 03/09/08 | Comments
AusGamers checks out a gameplay walkthrough of a special scene of Quantic Dream's Heavy Rain at the 2008 Games Conference in Leipzig, Germany.

One of the most anticipated PlayStation 3 exclusives is Heavy Rain, being developed by Quantic Dream, the French developer behind Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy, as it was known in the US), which was highly acclaimed due to it's innovative interactive-cinema style of play.

An early tech demo of Heavy Rain was demonstrated a couple years ago which generated a huge buzz thanks to incredible graphics that featured some super-realistic rendering of characters. Since then it has been a bit quiet on the news front; a lot of the details are under wraps so as not to give away too much of the story - which makes sense, given the main focus of the game is interactive storytelling.

A lot of effort has gone into making sure players of Heavy Rain aren't just racing through the game to try and complete it - the story and gameplay is designed to make you care for the characters and get emotionally attached to them, so that you will become really involved in the game.

It’s not a mindless action title - all of your actions will have different consequences, opening up new paths and changing the story. The phrase used several times by Director David Cage was you’re not only the actor in the story, but you become the writer and the director.

We were treated to a fairly lengthy example of the gameplay - not from the main story, it was explained, because again they want to keep the core story under wraps as much as possible. The scene overview - you’re playing a female investigative journalist and you’ve gotten a lead about a possible killer; so you head over to his house to check it out, rifle through his trash, read his mail, break and enter - that sort of thing.

While the initial scene in this gameplay - riding the motorbike to the house - didn’t blow me away, the instant the character gets off the bike the amazing level of detail is immediately noticeable. Motion captured animation combined with incredibly detailed models and textures create a very realistic experience on their own, but even more extreme lengths have been achieved by the developers - going so far as to perform motion capture on an actor’s eyes to provide more subtle nuances in the facial expressions that add volumes to the effect of watching a real person play the role.

The basic controls were quickly demonstrated just to show how you move around - simply holding down R2 will move you forward and the left analog stick controls your direction. The camera moves around you as you play, offering the best viewpoint for the action. Having a consistent way to keep moving forward was thought to be easier than using an analog stick to control the motion. Moving the left analog stick makes your character turn her head slightly, then turn her shoulders so she can move around more - all the motions are very natural.

To help make sure the player stays immersed in the game, as many controls as possible try to map in some abstract way to their in-game actions. For example, in one scene the player has to knock over a barrel and roll it along the ground, so in order to better emulate a rolling motion the game uses the SIXAXIS motion magic - doing a pushing back-and-forth motion with the control will make the character push the barrel along with her leg. Similarly, trying to open a stuck window is done by yoinking the controller up and down a few times.

The game is targeted at adults, and not just in the typical bloody violence way, but in the really scary disturbingly creepy way. The revelation scene we saw in this demo showed your character finding a slaughtered body in a bloody bathtub, shortly followed by discovery of a bunch of stuffed, preserved female bodies in various poses around the house. The tension and sheer freakiness of the scene was obvious even in the noisy, crowded environment of the demo room so I can’t imagine what it would have been like playing it in the dark.

After this point the murderer enters the house. Music kicks into high gear and the game screen splits showing two scenes, the bad guy wandering around downstairs and your position upstairs. You’re trapped, and need to find a way to escape - but have to somehow get past him. More examples of keeping the game controls in line with the action here - you need to stay quiet and still as you’re hiding behind a door while the murderer walks past, but in order to do that you need to hold an uncomfortable series of buttons at the same time on the controller. Your character is in an awkward position, so you should be too.

From there you end up in a faux-combat scene with the murderer chasing you around the house in a frantic scene as you try and escape your fate. This proved to be a prime opportunity to demonstrate some more of the advanced cinematic work that has gone into the game - each area that you can confront the bad guy in has its own unique scenes, apparently dynamically generated based on the objects in the room. For example, if he gets you in the bedroom you’ll fall onto the bed and struggle against his knife attacks - as you run out of the room and hit the railing on the straircase, the character will reach out and use it to move along. Running down the stairs, you’ll use the walls for leverage. If you didn’t know it was actually real-time action being played, you’d assume it was a cut scene - the animations and reactions of the player look far too good to be actually getting generated on the fly. But, we were assured, that’s exactly what was happening.

As cool as it looked, I suspect it’ll be a lot easier to appreciate Heavy Rain with some hands-on experience. When you’re just watching (as I mentioned) it’s just too easy to assume it’s all cut scenes and pre-rendered animations - even when you’re in the same room as the person that is playing it. Visually, the game is stunning - almost certainly the most realistic characters I’ve ever seen in a video game, and not just by a small amount. It’s certainly refreshing to have a game that is aimed exclusively at adults, and the story hints we’ve seen so far imply that it’s going to be quite the thriller. How it plays, of course, will determine its success.