Games have often made claims of being 'interactive movies', but this usually means that you play a bit, watch a cutscene, then play a bit more. If you're lucky, you'll be given the chance to change the ending once, maybe twice. Heavy Rain, a game in development for the PS3 and slated to release at the end of this year.
I got a chance to sit down with producer Emerson Escobar as he walked me through a part of the game titled only as 'Mad Jack'. In it, you play one of the four main characters of the game, an FBI agent named Norman Jayden. After an initial explanation of the movement (which is a little unorthodox: right analog stick to change direction and R2 to move forward), we proceeded towards the garage, through the rain.
Norman, an FBI agent, is searching for clues towards a car seen at the scene of a murder. First, after a brief conversation with a surly black man, you're given the ability to use the Added Reality System (ARI). The ARI, used by putting on a pair of special sunglasses, allows you to find traces of evidence scattered around the scene by emitting a 'pulse' from a special glove. In the garage, you could find tire tracks, oil stains, and blood trails that lead you to a secret and eventually a fight scene.
Walking around, you get the chance to turn your head and interact with the environment. You can also 'hear' your character's thoughts, getting a chance to know their perspective on the current situation. In more action-filled scenes, you control your character through the use of quick time events. These are vastly improved over those in Farenheit/Indigo Prophecy: while the previous title's QTEs often intruded on the cutscenes, getting in the way, those of Heavy Rain are integrated into the scene. For example, Jayden needs to dodge a fist coming fast by pressing square, and instead of the square blocking the action, instead it's super-imposed over the fist that's quickly rushing towards you. It looks really good and integrates well.
The QTEs are also well done in the sense that you don't need to perfect them every time to avoid 'losing' them. The QTEs are branching in themselves, and missing one or two of the prompts merely means that the events go a different way. And there are also a lot of ways to die, but it takes a couple failures before this really happens. I must say, however, that when this happens, it's gruesome. The event-changing also pertains to the storyline, as the developers describe it as elastic, like a rubber band. You can change it, you can bend it, but you can never break it. Main characters can die, even, and the story can continue.
Escobar said that one of the biggest goals of the developer was to get the player invested in the game, to draw out emotions and make you feel like you're in the story. I can't speak for the rest of the game, but this particular section did a good job at it. At one point, Jayden must fight a dizzying sensation while reaching for some pills and keeping a gun trained on a suspect. To communicate the sensation to the player, Heavy Rain has you press and hold an increasing number of buttons on the controller, and by the end of it you're as confused as Jayden.
Another selling point of Heavy Rain is the graphics, impressively rendering characters that have been scanned into the game in incredible detail. Actors are actually scanned into the game: Jayden's face has a scar on the right side of his face. This is simply because the actor playing him has that same scar, and it was scanned in. Likewise, the rest of the game has been entirely motion-captured, using stunt doubles for fights.
Indigo Prophecy had some serious problems with it, but the first part of the game was gold. If Heavy Rain can capitalize on the first part of that game, then it's got a bright future ahead of it.