Warning: This preview includes spoilers for one of the game's bonus levels. Those of you fearing spoilers for the game's main story are welcome to read on.
While Heavy Rain's teaser video is awesome enough, we were lucky enough to be given a demonstration of the game by Quantic Dream's David Cage.
Before showing us any gameplay, Cage reiterated the thought processes behind developing a game like Heavy Rain. It's an adult thriller with a mature, emotionally driven story. "You're not fighting a war. There are no gangsters, knights, princesses or zombies. You're not going to save the world in this game." We're hoping this grounding in reality saves it from the bizarre tangent Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit for those outside the US) took towards the end of the game.
The part of the game we were shown, the same as featured in the trailer you've already seen, is a bonus scene, used to demonstrate the gameplay without revealing any of the game's story. The full game will make use of "rubber band stories" to solve the problems behind creating truly interactive storytelling. So, while you can deform each rubber band in any way you want, the basic shape of the story remains the same.
Fans of Indigo Prophecy will recognize the basic gameplay mechanics right away. Potential actions pop up in the bottom right hand corner when you're able to interact with something. These actions are usually performed with the right analogue stick, though some also rely on the SIXAXIS motion controls. Your character will automatically look at items that are interesting, akin to Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island, and movement is mapped to the right trigger (walking forward) and the left analogue stick (looking).
Dialogue has also changed since Indigo Prophecy, with SIXAXIS controls being used to choose between options whilst talking. Again, this may sound a little odd, but it means that you can layer your actions over each other. By this point in the demo, our rain-soaked character had walked to the front door of the creepy taxidermist's house. Since speaking is all in-game, with no switching to cutscenes, you can utilize both the SIXAXIS controls and the right analogue stick it to ring the doorbell and yell, "Hello?" at the same time.
With no-one home, our character tries the back of the house to look for a way in. A window is slightly open, and it is at this point that Cage demonstrated the ability to check your character's thoughts. Like asking an angel and devil for advice, you won't necessarily get the correct answer, but you'll have some background before making your decision. This can be done at any time and will give different results depending on the situation.
"QTEs will be common in Heavy Rain, but the emphasis is being squarely placed on living with the consequences of your actions."
Once inside the house, we see a very intricately designed and detailed environment. The room really looks lived-in and, thanks to the stuffed animals everywhere (and we're not talking plush toys, here), incredibly creepy. Walking around, a quick time event is triggered. A bottle is almost knocked off a table as our protagonist brushes past, but with good enough reflexes, you can catch it and put it back. QTEs will be common in Heavy Rain, but the emphasis is being squarely placed on living with the consequences of your actions. If you miss catching the bottle, you're not guaranteed to die, but it might get noticed by someone later on.
The game is seemingly split into two separate gameplay types. Exploration, which is what we've been describing so far, and reaction to events. Both use the same controls, but have a very different feel. We'll paraphrase the rest of the exploration part, but rest assured that the discovery of the sawed-up body in the bathtub and the stuffed women in the taxidermist's bedroom are very creepy, tense moments. While we never see the body up close (a lot is left to the imagination) the reaction of the character is incredibly real and emotive -- stepping away, coughing and spluttering, disgusted.
After these two discoveries, the taxidermist arrives home. It's time to get out of there without being seen. The screen splits, showing us what he's doing. The music rides up and the atmosphere is, again, incredibly tense. Making a way quietly through the house and nudging doors open, we creep past into the garage and out onto a motorbike. Oh, and do pay attention to what the protagonist says. When she mentions that there's a creaking floorboard, make sure you avoid it when trying to sneak out of a serial killer's house. Just sayin'.
Of course, this whole scenario can go a little bit more awry. We saw a second playthrough, with the stealthy exit at the end replaced by cowering in a cupboard. When discovered by the killer, the action becomes more fast paced. Everything happens in real-time, so you can still look around you, even while wrestling on a bed. Objects of interest will cause a face-button symbol to appear, allowing you to interact. This can result in anything from dodging the taxidermist's knife lunges, or picking up a nearby lamp and smashing it over his head.
At times the viewpoint turns to first person, as you desperately look around for where to go next with the analogue stick. QTEs will stand in your way but won't necessarily kill you. The demonstrator fails one on the stairs and trips, giving the character a nasty bruise. She'll keep that in future levels as a souvenir, but it doesn't automatically mean the taxidermist catches up. In the end, the woman manages to escape the knife-wielding animal stuffer and makes her way outside, thanks to the demonstrator's nimble fingers. Did we mention this game is tense? We don't mind telling you that we left the room shaking.