Going into E3, all I knew about Heavy Rain was that it had some cute chick with facial features that were really detailed for a video game. Now that I've seen it in action for a good 40 minutes, I can say that not only is it the first Playstation 3 game I've seen that will actually make me purchase the system for that one game, but I'm rather upset that I wasn't able to actually play it for myself. (Dan will have brief hands-on impressions early next week.)
Heavy Rain is a Sony-published game being developed by Quantic Dream. It's an adventure in the style of older PC games, but modernized with current technology. The narrative is the meat of the game, a dark thriller involving four main characters trying to track down a serial killer known as the Origami Killer (since he leaves origami in the hands of his victims).
The controls are pretty simple - Heavy Rain is, to some extent, an endless chain of quick-time events done right. Nearly every action you take is triggered with a quick-time event, and since you're always expecting them, and they're context-sensitive, it works a lot better than the surprise button presses in the middle of a cut scene. Walking around is a bit unusual as well - the left analog stick controls where you're looking, and the R2 button moves you forward in that direction. The L2 button will show a few lines of text floating around your character's head, each with an associated face button. Selecting these thoughts will give you more detail on what your character is thinking and what actions you should be taking. During conversations, these floating thoughts will represent your dialogue choices, and in stressful situations they'll be fuzzy and rotate faster, making them more difficult to read (representing it being harder for the character to think).
We already knew about the first character, Madison Paige (the afore-mentioned cute chick). Her gimmick is that for whatever reason, she can only fall asleep in a motel. At E3 this year, Quantic Dream revealed the second main character - Norman Jayden, an FBI agent with some kind of drug addiction. David Cage, writer and director for the game, demonstrated two scenes from the game, and the first had Norman arriving at a junkyard looking for information, and ended up showing how both dialogue and combat works in the game.
One of the neat features in the game is the ARI - Added Reality Interface. It basically acts as a universal CSI tool, showing all traces of evidence in an area - tire tracks, air particles, chemicals, blood, etc. Norman used it to find a pool of blood on the floor, gaining leverage in the interrogation of the junkyard owner to come.
Said interrogation didn't end too well for Norman, who ended up getting in a fight with the big, burly owner. Combat plays out as a series of animations and quick-time events, with failed events worsening your circumstances and successful ones bettering them, until eventually the scene is completed. Each quick-time event result has a unique animation that progresses smoothly throughout the interactive cut scene, making the cinematic experience a fun one.
If you fail too many of the quick-time events, eventually your character will die. At this point, that character is forever gone from the story - no game over screen, no retrying the same scene over and over again. The story continues with the other remaining characters picking up the slack, so to speak, and scenes will play out differently depending on which characters are available to complete them. If all four characters die, it's effectively game over at that point. You still get to see a full, complete ending to the story, but it won't be a happy one. The game saves automatically at each decision point, though the developers want the player to keep playing without reloading and create for themselves a unique experience.
The second scene was brand new, involving Madison going to a club to get information from the owner. This scene really showed off the animation in Heavy Rain, as both the facial animations and body movements are among the best in gaming from what I've seen, and the club scene had Madison dynamically maneuvering through the crowded dance floor in an eeriely realistic manner. Not everything is perfect - hand movements stand out as a little clunky in comparison, as does the hair, but only because the facial textures and animations are so superb.
I won't spoil too much about the plot, but the ultimate climax has a different kind of combat, one mental rather than physical. Madison gets herself into a tight spot and the player will have to choose the right options from her floating thoughts in order to extract her from the situation. Earlier on in the scene, you'll have Madison complete some quick-time events to dance up on a table to try and get the club owner's attention.
With more than 60 unique scenes, each approximately 15 minutes long, there will be plenty of content to digest when the game launches. Currently Heavy Rain is scheduled for release first in Europe at the end of this year, with a US release hopefully by early 2010.