Friday, 19 February 2010

Heavy Rain Demo Impressions

There has been a lot of noise in the gaming world about Heavy Rain. I must admit, I wasn’t sure about it myself and wanted to reserve judgement until I had at least played the demo. Well, now I have and if you like being sucked into a game head first, to not just play but be in it, to revel in the atmosphere and find yourself in a moody, dark film noir thriller reminiscent of an interactive ‘Se7en’ – then this game is for you.

Heavy Rain is developed by Quantic Dream of Omikron and Farenheit fame. First things first, this is not a game for kids. There are serious, adult themes covered in this game (these are clear from the demo). There will eventually be four playable characters - an FBI profiler, a retired private detective, an architect, and a photo journalist. The aim of the game is to find the serial killer known as "The Origami Killer". Sounds like fun...

In the demo of the game you play as the FBI and the retired private dick. Hmmm. In the words of Dr Dre and Snoop, ‘Hold up’ (from The Next Episode). Should I call this demo a game? It wasn’t just a demo of a game. It was an experience. When my character had an asthma attack, I panicked. When my character was in a fight, I panicked. The music is excellent as are the visuals.I was experiencing an interactive movie of sorts. My heart rate shot up, my sphincter tightened and I was gripping my controller for dear life. All from a demo! Wow. The gaming mechanics feature Quick Time Events which mean that at certain key moments you have to make the right motion on the joystick or press the right button in synch with what’s happening to your character. It sounds lame. It sounds terrible. I thought it would be awful but it works very well. This isn’t mindless ‘X’ bashing but mimicking your actions on screen and it’s not easy. So, when you’re climbing a slippery, water logged and muddy hill, your QTE’s correspond to left leg, right leg, push up etc. *sigh* that is an awful description. I admit it. My writing skills have deserted me (again). But the gaming mechanic works. It’s not the same as the QTEs used in the God of War series or Heavenly Sword. Seriously, it works. Take my word for it. Or better still don't listen to me. The Demo is available on the PSN store. Download it. Play it. Live it. Let me know what you think. And then agree with me. I'm always right. Especially when I'm wrong. Which I never am. Ahem.

Treehouse rating: N/A
It’s not just a game, it’s an M&S game (sorry to those outside the UK who don’t get that).

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Sunday, 14 February 2010

Mini Review: Chime

I’m not sure what it is that makes Xbox Live and music games such a good fit, but there it is, here comes another one. Brighton based Zoe Mode’s “Chime” popped up a couple of weeks or so back, and like Rez before it, is a unique, if less dramatic foray into interactive music games. It is a gorgeously simple and satisfying game, that is a lot easier to play than it is to explain. The player is presented with a silent grid into which you place blocks of various size and shape, in a Tetris stylee. All the while a “beat line” sweeps across the grid, which upon reaching your recently placed blocks , creates a sound. Fitting blocks together into rectangles creates “quads” which claims part of the grid for you as "coverage" – the aim of the game being to get 100% coverage of the board. These quads create musical phrases when the beatline hits them, and their complexity and point value is determined by how big you’ve managed to build your quad before it “expires”. As you play you gradually build the music track up and push it along through it's sections and verses. There's a bit more to it than that, but you can learn more at the game’s excellent website, or watch the trailer after the break.

All sounds a bit dry, but this is a bona fide little gem. The success or failure of such a game is always going to hinge on the music and how well its implemented, and here Chime is resplendent. While only 5 tracks are on hand, each is an auditory joy and provided by artists of real clout; we’ve got Lemon Jelly, a guy from Orbital , Mark Schulz (dunno him, but it’s a nice track, if the weakest) and er, Moby with a toe tapping working of electro pop “ooh yeah”. Crown jewel for me though is Brazil from Philip Glass – an epic orchestral reworking that’s all dramatic strings and woodwind, and wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Punch Drunk Love soundtrack. The interaction with the music throughout Chime is exceptional; you have real influence as you claim more and more of the game grid, starting gradually with plonky bloops and bleeps, gradually building the song up to tumultuous crescendos, all of which are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, the rendition will vary each time you play it.

It’s no picnic either, it’s deceptively difficult to clear the board within the time limit, although with practice you can do this several times within a round. I found it initially difficult to shrug off my tetris mentality of fitting the shapes together, it’s not necessarily the best way to get the coverage you crave - those pesky quads won't go round corners, and it's easy to misplace a piece ruining your multiplier. The experience as a whole though is deeply relaxing, the music builds and builds, flutey trills and phrases bubble up as you put the quads together with hypnotic little visual flourishes, and before you know it the timer is running out and you’re cursing because you hadn’t noticed and you’ve only covered 98% of the board.

Even more remarkably for what is a fully formed, highly polished game, this is going on Xbox Live for a mere 400 MS points, or a little under £3.50 – an absolute steal which probably undervalues it – I’ve paid a lot more for a lot worse. Furthermore a portion of that goes to children’s charities via One Big Game Could this be the perfect game? Go buy it.

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