Game reviews: Heavy Rain shows its age while Devil Daggers is retro cool
Heavy Rain was influential but seems a little outdated today; Devil Daggers is a glorious look back at 1990s first-person shooters
Several months ago we reviewed the remake of 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls, David Cage’s much-maligned attempt at pushing cinematic storytelling in video games. Here, we’re focusing on more successful Cage ground, 2010’s incredibly influential Heavy Rain. They’re both available separately on the cheap as PlayStation Network downloads, but true gamers should opt for the “twofer” PS4 disc package, if only for an inside glimpse on how the slightest ego-driven decisions can turn a highly anticipated release from being ambitiously rewarding, into absolutely wrongheaded.
For anyone who missed it the first time around, Hard Rain’s multistory concept still comes off as inspired, effectively transporting limited film noir archetypes into a greater virtual setting. Players follow not one, but four hard-boiled clichés as they search for a killer: the grieving father, the tenacious journalist, the derailed FBI agent, and the long-suffering private investigator.
Gameplay takes it all a step beyond, bringing in clever quick-time events, replicated movement via the motion-sensing controller and endless choices that can drastically affect the course of the story (we’re talking permanent death, folks).
It was all incredibly impressive game making when Rain debuted, the kind that played a large influence on the current slate of releases: large, immersive open worlds with a more immediate focus on small-scale stories. But then again, it’s been six years and even the very best show some signs of age.
Back then, developers weren’t quite as confident story-wise as they are now, and many of the beats often drag on, especially when you have to do something as mundane as feed your kid or drink a glass of water. The voice talent too, just isn’t as good as we remembered, horrible accents and all sometimes dampening the experience. And there’s the gameplay again – if you’re a fan of this type of cinematic dynamic, you’ve seen it all before, which is to say there really isn’t much to appeal to either new players or long-time fans.
Hard Rain is still an extraordinary game, possibly the only one of its kind – but that’s not fully a compliment. Breaking new ground always comes with a bit of forging around in the dark until you hit gold, and a few years down the line, Rain feels bit muddied by it all. But as we said, alongside Beyond: Two Souls, it makes for a fascinating history on how gaming has evolved.
There was something almost beautiful about the initial 1990s wave of first-person shooters, a refined sense of modest gameplay that belied the bloodbaths on-screen, infused everything from Doom and Wolfenstein, to Quake and Half-Life. We’re not the only ones to share that sentiment, and the great thing about time and nostalgia is that eventually, the keen-green gamer becomes the determined developer eager to share his ideas with the world.
Devil Daggers is a retro-styled FPS that captures in sheer minimalism everything that was wonderfully appealing about early, ‘90s-era shooters. The concept couldn’t be more humble: gamers are set in the middle of a black void, armed with nothing but a series of daggers that shoot out of their fingers, and faced against an endlessly multiplying army of devilish demons. That’s it. No levels, no missions, no ultimate goal. Just survival at its very purest – which is really the reason most of us fell into those classics in the first place.
But make no mistake here – this isn’t just a stripped down old game targeting the purse strings of the maudlin few. Sure, the graphics resemble that at a glance, but a thorough play through reveals contemporary intricacies that fit Daggers firmly into the modern canon of inspired indie games.
Demons run the range from horned beasts to frightening insects, and each exhibits different characteristics. Some attack from above or below, others sneak up when you least expect, and each has specific weak spots where they can be slain. Learning your enemies’ movements, focusing first on those that can do the most harm, seeking out escape routes – all these factors play like a havoc-filled puzzle as the devils’ numbers increase at an almost alarming rate, forcing you to think, act and kill at a speed much greater than any FPS of recent memory.
Devils Daggers removes all the brash flashiness of modern first-person shooters, distilling their ultimate thrills in a clever indie release that relies powerfully on the very basics. It’s an “endless shooter” if you will, one where your wits are both constantly questioned and at end. For genre obsessives, this is a must-play; for retro-fans, the key here is to keep up; and for very everyone else, well, this is exactly the kind of release that should have you excited about the very state of gaming today.