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Game Review

At the movie house, it's 3-D flicks that are the big audience magnets right now. In the gaming room it's interactive drama that keeps the controller-clicking gang guessing. In these creatively interactive titles, a player's choices can add a surprising plot twist here or a tense character interaction there and eventually lead to a slew of different conclusions. French gamemaker Quantic Dream's new game, Heavy Rain, is considered the cutting edge.

Things start out slowly as story protagonist Ethan putters around in an initially low-key existence that includes two kids and a loving wife. Through this easygoing introduction, players get to know the work-from-home dad while they learn the game mechanics—which entail moving around in a fairly open world and choosing from a series of onscreen prompts that float around in the air.

Some of these swirling symbols indicate buttons to push if you want to hear what Ethan is thinking or have him communicate with someone else in the room. Other prompts will direct you to shake the controller or move an analog stick in order to use any number of objects in the environment (shaving razor, gardening tools, kitchen cabinets, etc.).

It's a unique approach to play that requires a little reprogramming of the typical gaming brain. But this almost mundane beginning makes it very clear that Heavy Rain is all about exploring the details and living in the moment instead of running around mashing buttons. And when Ethan's life is turned upside down by the death of one son and the abduction of the other—presumed to be the latest victims of the mysterious Origami Killer—all that chatting and searching starts to pay off.

It's also at this point that the growing dramatic action revolving around finding and unmasking a killer opens things up to include three more characters: a drug-addicted FBI agent; an overweight, rumpled private eye; and a pretty young female reporter. Each character uncovers clues in alternating chapters and can even end up helping the others.

Thus, the game quickly takes on the feel of a psychological thriller. Its movie-like experience is immersive as it poses the question: How far would you go and what would you sacrifice to save someone you loved?

For all of Heavy Rain's compelling gameplay and right-vs.-wrong morality struggles, it's also a very dark, very crude 10 hours of your life. The script includes murdered children (one drowned onscreen), drug use, brawling fistfights, the rawest profanity (including a constant flow of f-words) and some in-your-face sexuality.

An example: One chapter showcases the young female reporter, who, while helping Ethan, is forced at gunpoint to strip down to nothing but a pair of skimpy panties by a heavy-breathing letch. And the game's hyper-realistic graphics leave little to the imagination. Players also control male and female shower scenes (genitals remain covered or out of the frame) and, while controlling the reporter, struggle to fend off rape and murder—in an up-close-and-personal context. (She's wearing underwear and a tank top as you dictate her defensive movements.)

Heavy Rain also uses its cinematic interactivity to push players into scenes that bear no small resemblance to the slash-and-gash Saw movies. Ethan receives a shoebox full of clues and origami figures from the killer that prompts him to take up a series of quests. Each dangerous and tortuous assignment challenges the emotionally distraught dad to push himself further and further to find clues to his son's whereabouts. And he becomes increasingly battered, bloody and bruised as he crashes cars and crawls through glass.

In one situation Ethan finds his way to a burned out apartment building and is instructed to cut off a finger in front of a video camera. A five-minute timer starts ticking and gamers must calm their frightened hero while gathering the necessary saw or knife, anesthetic, booze and cauterizing instrument that will allow Ethan to finish the gory job and survive the situation. The bloody, scream-filled outcome is difficult to watch, much less participate in by way of controlling it.

By the time gamers reach one of the 20 or so conclusions, the story might have a happy ending … or not. Small decisions can lead to a drug overdose, the death of one or more of the central characters (including Ethan's sons) and even a suicidal bullet to the brain.

There's no denying this game's artistic and interactive achievements. And there's no denying it is a visually raw, realistically nasty and, at times, genuinely disturbing experience.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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