This upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive is touted as a mature and interactive film noir thriller in which you piece together the mystery of the ‘Origami Killer’. However, the opening chapter makes for an unlikely preview demo for such a game; it begins with your character, architect Ethan Mars, waking up on a Saturday morning in his well-to-do suburban home. In what is a unique way to introduce players to the control mechanics, your first task is to – quite literally – rouse Ethan from bed. A square with an upwards-pointing arrow hovers above Ethan, and the more pressure you apply to the right analogue stick, the closer Mars gets to standing upright (with the square filling up the closer you get to completing the task). This is followed by a curious series of seemingly mundane morning activities: you’ll brush your teeth (shaking the PS3 Sixaxis controller from side to side to simulate the scrubbing), use an electric shaver and even take a morning, er… tinkle. Eventually, you’ll set the table at your wife’s request, which is an instance where the pressure you apply to the analogue stick becomes important. Perform the onscreen gesture too quickly and your wife will chastise you for being too rough with her mother’s finest china!
Another activity of interest is a staged playfight in the backyard with one of your two sons. In what is sure to foreshadow upcoming combat scenarios, Ethan and son Shaun pick up two plastic lightsabres lying in the yard and engage in a mock duel. It unfolds as a series of quick-time-event button presses, and while it’s quite innocent, failure to mash the appropriate button in due course results in, say, Ethan being accidentally kicked in the shins.
After the initial fascination with such meticulously crafted animations for everyday activities subsides, an unfortunate plot event shortly into the game sees things take a turn for the seriously dramatic. At this point, it will make perfect sense as to why very little in the lives of the central protagonists is glossed over. The player’s emotional engagement with these characters will become particularly strong, and you’ll soon become absolutely engrossed in the world of Heavy Rain. These are not your typical two-dimensional video game characters; they shower, shave and even respond to the call of nature. And, as Mars soon discovers, they’re also susceptible to tragedies that will turn their worlds upside down…
The latter half of the preview code sees the player’s perspective switch to that of another unique and unrelated protagonist (of which there are four in Heavy Rain). In true film noir style, this time you take control of aged private detective Scott Shelby, who happens to be investigating the Origami Killer. In a chapter that sees Shelby attempt to question the mother of one of the killer’s victims, you’ll engage in an intense fist fight with one of her particularly aggressive clients. It’s a quick-time event (much like the lightsabre duel from the first chapter) that sees Shelby and his opponent throwing each other on tables, rolling around on the floor and evading swings of a broken bottle. Mis-time a button press (as I did on the odd occasion) and you’ll likely cop a punch or two, or worse.
The final character introduced in this preview build is FBI agent Norman Jayden. He boasts a futuristic, prototype pair of shades that can detect evidence such as DNA samples that might otherwise go unnoticed. After a brief hunt for evidence followed by Jayden making himself at home at his new office, the preview ends.
By this point I’m well intrigued. The story is shaping up beautifully (more so than I can say here, for fear of spoilers!). I’m hoping, however, that there will be more opportunities for the story to branch out and that the game is less of a linear, interactive movie than it appears to be at present.