Heavy Rain & Beyond: Two Souls Collection - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2016/03/heavy-rain-beyond-two-souls-collection.html

Is it more of a game? Or more of a movie? Or is it both?
Ever since their original releases on the PS3, Heavy Rain and Beyond have polarized the gaming public.
While they both got praised for their technical excellence, some people praised their pioneered genre of the "interactive drama" as the next big step in gaming while others despised their big emphasis on cinematic storytelling.
No matter if you love them or hate them, developer Quantic Dream sure left an impression in terms of the medium of videogames can be utilized to tell an interactive story.

Now, with the Heavy Rain & Beyond: Two Souls Collection for the Playstation 4, it's time to re-evaluate both now updated titles and see how they hold up in 2016...     



Heavy Rain

The Original Game

Back in 2010 when Heavy Rain got originally released on the PS3, it made quite a noticable splash in the video game world or at least the console market. With it's big emphasis on graphical extravagance and focus on storytelling. It all got served in a suite of gameplay mechanics that focussed heavily on quicktime events and decision-making to shape and direct the game's story into unpredictable paths.
Heavy Rain turned out as one of THE standout exclusive titles on the PS3 and to this day marks developer Quantum Dream's most critically acclaimed and beloved work.
However, Heavy Rain also drastically divides gamers' opinions about it. Heavy Rain's focus on a cinematic experience and story rather than actual "gameplay" practically guarantees that you are either going to really like or dislike it. This is all thanks to Heavy Rain having practically its own big individual genre that practically opened the gateway for other "interactive drama" games like most recently Until Dawn.

It's a "Love it or Hate it"-kind of thing.

Looking at Heavy Rain's story itself, it's rightfully the strongest aspect of the game. Even though the story sure is quite some blocks away from qualifying as a brilliant work of writing, it's a well enough told and honestly very entertaining story of a father (Ethan) having to pass and endure a serial killer's sick series of trials in order to get back his kidnapped son. And with the story incorporating several fleshed out and interesting characters on top of several unpredictable twists and turns the storyline takes, for most people it will definitely be the story and will to know how it all ends and "whodunnit" that drives their motivation to finish the game forward.
Yet players surely shouldn't be surprised if they happen to find out that Heavy Rain's story is far from perfect. With quite some plot holes and questions remaining unsolved even with the killer's reveal and his far fetched motivations, Heavy Rain's narrative faults are still just forgivable enough that they don't destroy one's experience. In the end, it's a "Ransom" meets "Saw" kind of story that knows which familiar themes and courses to take to play its story safe yet entertaining - just don't expect it to go above anything else.

Not brilliant but entertaining from start to finish.

Yet, as already said, it's Heavy Rain's (and basically Quantum Dream's) trademark gameplay mechanics that will ultimately divide player's opinions.
Heavy Rain's gameplay practically only exists out of quicktime events, making decisions/choosing paths and some explorative bits where you have to search for clues or solve minor puzzles. And while Heavy Rain mostly avoids feeling entirely on rails, it's nevertheless a gameplay experience that certainly doesn't demand too much thinking but just going with the flow. Yet aside from the general decision making that is typical for such "choose your own adventure"-kind of games, the "puzzles" in Heavy Rain barely qualify as such since they all can be solved by just redundantly clicking or "interacting" with every object interactable in the room. Keeping in mind that Quantic Dream heavily wanted to put the PS3 controllers sixaxis ability and different button combinations to "good" use, unfortunately many players will easily feel left a bit cheated when seeing that most "puzzles" in the game often boil down to you simply having to do mundane everyday tasks with the shown button prompts. However, the button combinations themselves are creatively put together as to really mimic the character's movements, and especially during intense fight sequences, in which your character can actually die, you are really bound to get sweaty palms trying to avoid having your character killed.
Summed up, while Heavy Rain's gameplay mechanics themselves dated quite a bit and too often turn out to be barely more than a gimmick, it's definitely the game's entertaining story that will nevertheless keep you hooked.

Press X to Jason.


The Remaster Updates

The updates in Heavy Rain through its port onto the PS4 mostly concern the technical or graphical aspects of the game.
With that said, without the gameplay or the story being updated or finetuned, all of the aforementioned positive as well as negative aspects are still present in the Collection on the PS4.
However, compared to the original PS3 version, the game runs far better. Now with a stable 30FPS the game's cinematic feel is consistent throughout (even though an option to turn the FPS count up to smooth 60FPS would've been welcome). Additionally, the occasional screentearing issues from the original PS3 version have also been fixed.
Looking at the graphical side, Heavy Rain's textures have received a significant upgrade. While the environments now of course look much sharper and even more impressive with enhanced lighting on the several wet surfaces (because it's always raining), it's especially the much more detailed character models and especially skin textures that give Heavy Rain an impressive visual update. With these updates in hand, at least from a technical perspective, Heavy Rain certainly manages to even "wow" and impress in 2016.

Nice updates to an already great looking game.



Beyond: Two Souls
 

The Original Game

After the success of Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls was set to tell a new story of a different more sci-fi oriented genre as well as for once heavily rely on famous actors powering the game's performances. Thus, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe were hired as the two big leads in the game.
Beyond itself played very much like Heavy Rain, with most of the same button layouts and same overall gameplay design. However, new additions to the formula come in the form of protagonist Jodie, or to be more precise, her spiritual entity Aiden. Aiden, as an entity, exists permanently in noclip mode and can move through walls, ceilings, and other obstacles. However, he is limited to moving only within a certain radius around Jodie due to their spiritual tethering. Aiden itself is the main gameplay feature that marks the one big difference in Beyond (compared to Heavy Rain). Since Aiden can control other human beings, move objects, and other things, Aiden is a very handy and powerful tool that offers some room of experimentation in the game.
Yet at the same time, it always feels like you never truely know when Aiden can do what. Thus, it mostly feels like the player's choices or Aiden's offered abilities are always heavily limited to the very specific situation you are in at that point in the game. For example, while in some moments Aiden can possess other human beings and control them, suddenly during other moments that isn't possible. It marks a big inconsistency in the gameplay and especially combat moments which becomes quite a bit annoying over time.

Aiden apparently only possesses people when he feels like it.

Looking at Beyond's story, Beyond manages to tell a very X-Men-esque story of an outsider with powers. While we have seen that same story being done over and over again in countless sci-fi movies, it's still mostly entertaining to see in what situations Jodie and Aiden find themselves in, starting from their little beginnings with Jodie as a kid, over her rebellious teenage years, to her adulthood and ultimate escape from the science labs she is kept in.
And while it's nice to see the story unfold in many ways one doesn't necessarily see coming, Beyond lacks that certain investing factor that Heavy Rain provided. While Jodie is a servicable protagonist, her characterization is quite clicheed and been-there-done-that territory. The biggest lack is that there are no good enough side-characters that can be played as to balance that issue out.
What's even worse is that most of the time it feels that pivotal choices in the game lead to no drastic changes in the story at all, giving you the intention that the game itself simply wants to tell you a very specific story that it doesn't want you to change in major ways (unlike in Heavy Rain).
Beyond's storyline itself yet still admittedly manages to be just servicable enough but also quite forgettable and partially unfocussed (aside from a quite good final twist). Sure, it's revealed main theme and final third act (which I won't spoil) might come off very far fetched and even silly for some, but in the realms of creative sci-fi writing there have been much weaker stories.

Dafoe is going on?!


The Remaster Updates

Just like with Heavy Rain, Beyond's updates here mostly regard the technical and graphical aspects of the game.
Yet, the differences between Beyond's PS3 version and its PS4 version are way more subtle and less noticable. This sure has a lot to do with the fact that Beyond itself originally launched pretty late in the PS3's life-cycle when the console's capabilities had already peaked.
With the PS4 version, the game of course runs very well, yet is given some enhancements, much like in Heavy Rain, considering more detailed character models and textures that make the actors resemble even more their real-life counterparts and with most notably better lighting making environments more belivable.
It's a nice albeit very subtle improvement over the already very well running and looking original.

When enhanced lighting does the trick.


The Verdict

All in all, the Heavy Rain & Beyond: Two Souls Collection combines a good and an okay game, or rather "interactive drama", and gives fine visual updates to two titles that already looked very impressive when they originally launched back on the PS3.
While Heavy Rain benefitted the most from the port to the PS4, with most notably some technical issues now fixed, the overall gameplay and stories of the two games have remained untouched.
With that said, Heavy Rain ever since has and now still does mark the strongest of the two main games from developer Quantic Dream. While Heavy Rain manages to mostly overcome its many sadly quite dated gimmicky gameplay design choices with enough exciting moments and a thoroughly solid and entertaining storyline with interesting characters, Beyond however still ultimately mostly lacks in all of those areas.

Though Beyond takes on a quite different story and slightly altered gameplay mechanics through the entity of Aiden, both still feel very lackluster with neither the story, characters or the Aiden-mechanics feeling consistent and relevant enough to fully invest the player.

"Interactive drama" games that put most of their focus on telling a good story and giving a cinematic experience rather than hugely varied gameplay, have ever since their introduction heavily polarized gamers and will continue to do so. Thus, Heavy Rain and Beyond are of course first and foremost suggested to fans of said genre. While Heavy Rain most certainly marks Quantic Dream's strongest outing yet, Beyond, although overall just "okay", will still undoubtedly provide some entertainment to those fans.
Though not necessarily industry-changing, the Heavy Rain & Beyond Collection is a nice package for genre-fans (and for the ones who are interested) that nicely demonstrates in how many different shapes the art of videogames can appear and tell a story.


          

 Final Verdict: 7 out of 10 

Status: Only for Fans




Big thanks goes out to Sony Computer Entertainment and Harvard PR
for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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