A brave experimental demo sold as DLC and yet another cash-in or is there more to Heavy Rain Chronicles: The Taxidermist than meets the eye? How this episodic content works in the context of Quantic Dreams’ interactive drama, will be discussed in this short review.
Reporter Madison Paige enters a house of a suspect who seems to be the Origami killer.
Being a prequel to introduce the character of Madison Paige and setting the tone of a suspenseful thriller, the very short story succeeds in parts. The setting and the supposed killer are creepy enough, even if the former is only limited to one house and the latter nothing more than what one knows from standard serial killer movies. The storytelling might not have the most interesting plot or character development, but there are enough gruesome details and some twisted scenes to be entertaining and to a certain extent memorable. There is only so much to tell with a playtime of around 10-20 minutes, and of course a hide-and-seek game has been seen in many forms already and doesn’t stand out as anything special.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward and doesn’t leave room for a lot of experimentation or exploration: looking for evidence, escaping the house without being seen or confronting the psychopath. Despite its tense atmosphere, this isn’t much more than what survival horror games like Haunting Grounds or the Siren series have done. Even the dual-screen method of showing where the pursuer is searching, is the same. With this concept set in motion, there also some problems coming along as well, mainly with the camera control and how the character is moved around.
Using the Move system makes it clear that the controls are far too complicated in the hiding sections. By holding three buttons at the same time and the Move controller in the right direction gets strenous for the hands, while performing other actions also requires some more input than necessary. There are also a few instances when reaction time is simply too small. The normal Dualshock controller doesn’t remedy all these issues, but at least it’s a bit easier to hold in some cases. Still, there are some collision detection problems left which are due to the small space where Madison has to move and because of the moments when she gets stuck or tries to turn around objects like doors. Despite of this, it’s still an immersive way of being part of the action.
What made Heavy Rain such a success later was how decisions affected the story and fates of the characters. This can still be seen in the DLC, but only with a very limited scope. There are five different endings, depending on certain actions Madison performs. But as it’s only a fight for survival or quietly leaving the house without being spotted, there isn’t a lot of room for decision-making, although it adds to the longevity to try out different hiding spots or self-defense mechanisms. It’s also a nice touch that one can load different parts of the episode to save time, even though only the last chapter really matters.
Still looking and sounding extremely good
There isn’t much more to say about the presentation than has already been done in the review of the main game, so suffice it to say that the photorealistic graphics, ambient sound effects and music add to the immersive effect of playing a suspenseful thriller as much as watching one. Only having a different voice actress for Madison is a bit irritating, although that’s mainly because of the time when the DLC was done before the actual main game was released.
Fast food for interactive drama
Heavy Rain Chronicles is certainly an interesting idea, and despite its very short length (playing through all endings doesn’t take more than one hour), the production values are just as high as the tension one feels when treading carefully through the creepy house in The Taxidermist. Unfortunately the lack of real gameplay other than walking around, inspecting things and then hiding/running away makes the title feel more like a prototype, a demo of things to come. The same holds true for the decisions and general freedom of choice which aren’t nearly as elaborated as in the main game.
So the question arises: Is the DLC really worth five dollars? To be honest, it would have worked well as a free demo or at least a stand-alone teaser for less money (and in a sense that’s what it is: an expanded demo shown at the E3 before Heavy Rain hit the stores), just for people to try out if they can cope with the QTE-heavy gameplay and the dark atmosphere. But as it is, the main game is required to run this, so this one is really for those who enjoyed it and want to see something a bit different, although one shouldn’t expect to get any background story of Madison or the Origami killer.
Maybe getting the Director’s Cut edition is the best way to experience it, as this already includes the DLC. I also found out that the European Move edition has it as well as the soundtrack, although apparently there was some misunderstanding with some customers who were looking for a code and didn’t realize this was already on the disc. Either way, even as a free bonus, the review score isn’t affected.
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