A video game can encompass a multitude of experiences. While the settings and scenarios may be different, most titles use similar gameplay vocabularies to immerse and entertain us. Concepts like shooting the bad guys, leveling up your character, and acquiring new items are so pervasive that they have been inextricably woven into most players' definition of what it means to be a video game.

"Heavy Rain" forces you to reconsider that definition. It is barely a game in the popular sense of the word, but Quantic Dream's masterpiece makes groundbreaking strides in storytelling and character development.

"Heavy Rain" is a game about choice, but not the kind of black-and-white moral decisions upon which games typically rely. It's about choices that send ripples through the entire experience, changing what you see and coloring your perception of the characters. On a basic level, you watch the mystery of the Origami Killer unfold. Beyond that, how the plot and characters develop is up to you. Fight or flee? Kill or be killed? Your decisions aren't just brief forks in the road before the paths re-converge. Two players could follow unique arcs through the story, see different characters live and die, and come away with an entirely different idea of what happened and why.

Your control alternates between four protagonists, each gathering clues and driven by their own agenda. The direction of their stories varies depending on how you interact during freeform exploration and context-sensitive button presses and motions. Simply pressing a button may not sound compelling at first, but when your character's finger is on the trigger, or when a child's life rests in your hands, that single motion is just as intense as any boss fight. When you can read the conflict and pain right on the characters' expressions (thanks to amazing facial models), the choices are even more powerful.

Your little choices and big ones fuse in a single, seamless narrative. No matter how you perform during the timed button presses, the chapters flow from one to the other so brilliantly that you'll have trouble imagining how things could have happened any other way. I strongly recommend you avoid the temptation to replay chapters if things don't go as you hope; there is no success or failure, and by retrying until you "win," all you'll end up with is a more disjointed view of the events.

Cracks appear in a few areas. One seemingly major thread is unceremoniously dropped about halfway through, and several of the side characters feel more like stock archetypes than believable people. The voice acting can be tough to bear at times, too -- especially when no one can consistently pronounce "origami." But for every instance where the game's composition falters, there are dozens where it gracefully glides on uninterrupted.

Quantic Dream has shorn away most traditional video game trappings from "Heavy Rain." What remains is an innovative journey through an engrossing and well-paced mystery. You're given just enough gameplay to forge a connection to the world and its characters, but not so much that it interferes with the game's cinematic sensibilities. "Heavy Rain" is a truly pioneering title, and hopefully the vanguard for a new genre of interactive narratives.

Heavy Rain

  • Platform: PlayStation 3
  • Developer: Quantic Dream
  • Price: $60
  • Rating: Mature