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Review: Heavy Rain is a dark and claustrophobic masterpiece that’s challenging how games are designed and told

I was sure the retired doctor was going to be another dead-end in my search for the Origami Killer. However, now that I'm sitting next to this creepy quack in his badly wallpapered living room, I'm terrified.

He hands me a drink. It looks suspicious. I refuse to acknowledge the circle-button icon hanging in the air, prompting me to take a sip.

The doc looks miffed. He makes a curt comment and goes to the back room.

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Finally. Time to start snooping. With quick, deft swivels of the thumbstick I open drawers and examine papers on the table. Nothing.

I stare at his bedroom door. Slowly, cautiously, I press the thumbstick to the left to silently open it. Not careful enough. The door makes a thudding sound as it shuts. Did he hear?

A card on his nightstand catches my eye. It has a name on it. Probably nothing, but I'm running out of time. It's all I'm going to get. I grab it and exit the room, doing a better job of quietly shutting the door on my way out.

Still no sign of the doc.

I press a shoulder button to reveal my thoughts, which hover as options around my head. I decide to head down the hallway, and a baseball bat comes out of nowhere.


Then laughter.

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The blackness slowly lifts, revealing a basement. I'm tied to a table. The doctor is rifling through frightening looking surgical implements. I press the X-button to scream. He ignores me. I shake the controller madly up and down, from left to right, trying to loosen the knots. I can't tell if it's working.

That's when it hits me: I might die here.

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This is just a snippet from one of about 50 scenes in Heavy Rain, a wildly compelling PlayStation 3 thriller with jaw-dropping graphics developed by Quantic Dream, a French studio that's challenging how games are designed and interactive stories are told.

There are no menus, no health metres, no weapons to master. The game plays out like a movie we control by selecting from dynamic, context sensitive icons that pop up on screen prompting us to tap buttons or swirl joysticks to perform actions as mundane as applying mascara or as consequential as struggling against brutal home invaders.

We take on the roles of four separate characters, each with his or her own interest in a serial killer who drowns children during periods of heavy rainfall. The twisty tale is dark and claustrophobic, like an interactive version of David Fincher's Se7en.

Nothing is certain. Any of our protagonists could die and the story would march on. Every action we take has a consequence. Had I sipped that drink, I might have been drugged and never have found the card. Had I not gone down the hallway, I might not find myself in my present predicament.

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Chad Sapieha's Controller Freak blog has suggestions to help ensure you extract maximum fear and fun from Heavy Rain

It's not perfect. Basic navigation is clumsier than it should be. Plus, a big twist in the final act just doesn't make sense. But the rest of the game is so engaging, emotional, and unique that it makes enduring these problems worthwhile.

The doctor turns around. He's holding a surgical drill, and means to use it. I continue scream and struggle, but to no avail. Did I make a mistake? Is my journey really going to end here, in this madman's basement?

The doorbell rings. The doctor sets the drill on the table and heads upstairs, muttering about interruptions.

The drill. Could I use it to cut the ropes? I have to try. It may be my last chance.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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