Heavy Rain is touted as being "interactive drama" - a game defined primarily by story and choices, rather than combat. While the degree of "interactivity" may be questionable, there's no doubt that as a game this represents an entirely new genre - not quite open-ended, but still offering results for the player's actions.
Heavy Rain tells the story of four characters: The single father, Ethan, the detective, Scott, the journalist, Madison, and the FBI agent, Norman. Their stories are told as short vignettes - the perspective will start at Ethan, switch to Scott, then to Norman, and so on as the story warrants. Their stories center around the Origami Killer, a serial killer so named because of the figures he leaves on his victims. Each character is trying to investigate the killer for different reasons, and while their investigations start out entirely separate they inexorably end up caught up in each others' stories.
The game is carried out through what are basically quick-time events. In some segments, the player character will be allowed to walk around and interact with their environment by making the appropriate movement when near an object. In action sequences, the player simply has to hit the buttons (or do the appropriate motions) when the icon for it pops up. Both try to have actions be fairly intuitive based on the motion. The game's use of occasional motion controls, as well as making the button display shakier in times of stress or crisis, both add atmosphere and player connection to the events of the game.
The game's "choice" varies between the two kinds of sequences. In free-moving sequences, the player is allowed to make an occasional decision that will affect the development or ending of the game. In action sequences, the player's goal is simply to survive - messing up too many quick-time events (or one important one) will actually kill the character off permanently. For that reason, there's always a really impressive sense of weight and drama during these scenes, instead of annoyance or irritation on having to retry if you fail. There's a chapter select, so it's possible to go back and retry failed scenes, but the real drama of the game comes from trying to get it all done on one playthrough without having any characters die or do the wrong thing. Personally, I became more concerned for my success than I had in any other game simply because of this fact.
The main problem I could see with the game is that, while the game's a murder mystery, you're never really given the opportunity to try and solve it per se. While you, the player, might guess at it based on clues you find, there's no part of the game that's actually about going out and getting clues. The characters investigate, but in a linear, pre-determined manner. While on the one hand I found this kind of annoying, the fact that the game has to go on no matter who dies - even if all the playable characters die - kind of balanced it out. There's simply so many scenarios already that making it open-ended on top of that would've been much more difficult.
On the whole I really enjoyed Heavy Rain, primarily because of the aforementioned life-or-death struggles. However, it was only really good for one playthrough - it's not the kind of game that one really replays to find out what happened. The game is about your one story, and going back and doing it again takes away a lot of the pressure, and therefore the drama, of the game's system. It's essentially an extended movie where the player's failure can change the ending. It's worth a playthrough, but might not be worth holding onto.
We purchased this game with our own money from a game store.