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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Tax Breaks – Part Two

Before Christmas I spoke about Britain’s position in the world of game development and how other countries were superseding us in the international standings. Generous tax breaks in Canada and France had seen our stock drop as a favourable location to run a studio, and industry bodies were worried that without Government intervention there would soon be a mass exodus of talent.

It seems as though the lobbying has succeeded and the warnings heeded. Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Right Honourable Alistair Darling, presented his budget to the House of Commons and nestled in amongst everything else was the following statement:

“I will offer help to the computer games sector, similar to the steps which are helping restore the fortunes of the British film industry. This is a highly successful and growing industry, with half its sales coming from exports, and we need to keep British talent in this country.”

The finer points are yet to be worked out but in a further statement the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that they would “consult the industry, the Treasury and the Department for Business” after the forthcoming general election. A possible change in Goverment is unlikely to affect the policy as the current Shadow Minister for Culture has already indicated his support.

Throughout the last few years, industry body TIGA have enthusiastically pushed this issue and were understandably delighted to hear of the Chancellor’s decision. Branding it “inspired” and a “decisive breakthrough”, their press release estimated that the measures could produce anything up to 3,550 graduate jobs over the next five years and increase or safeguard nearly half a billion pounds in development expenditure. Quite where they get their figures from is not for me to question, but if they are anywhere near accurate then many dev houses will be breathing a sigh of relief that in this economic climate they can claw back a proportion of their outgoings.

If the comparisons to the British film industry are anything to go by, developers will have to qualify as being British under one of a handful of requirements. Two of the three film qualifications are co-productions with countries that have either bi-lateral agreements or are within the European Union, but the third is a cultural test. Although initially sounding vague, a film is assessed on cultural content; where it is set, it’s native dialect and how many leads are British; cultural contribution, the portrayal of an aspect of British culture or history; cultural hubs, whether the production itself is carried out in this country; and cultural practitioners, whether the key people involved in the film – actors, directors, composers – are British or at least resident.

Similar tests would have possibly seen such titles as GTA IV and Burnout qualify for tax breaks thanks to their largely British development staff. The interesting test for me comes in the form of “cultural contribution” and the impact that may have. Having staff and resources primarily from this country is one thing, but will this signal the beginning of many more games being set at key points in British history, or taking in cultural elements of our society past and present? Nothing has been written in the statute books as of yet, but where would something like Fable II fall? Obviously set in a Britain of the past, would changing the name from Albion to West Bromwich have qualified it for a tax break? Even more interestingly, does this possibly open the way up for GTA: London?

Some may argue in the country’s financial situation that tax breaks are not conscionable at this juncture, but not only are these changes going to take many months if not years to find their way through the many levels of red tape (by which time we might be in a rosier position) but they will also create and secure jobs. In the last 18 months alone employment in the sector has fallen by 7% and 15% of studios have gone out of business, and as unemployment historically continues to rise for a period after economic resurgence stopping this decline can surely only be a positive. Contributing more than £1bn to the UK GDP it plays an important role in the success of the country; one that has hopefully been secured with these measures.

3DS

I had to check the date when the news came through. No, it wasn’t 1st April. And yet there is a press release telling me that Nintendo are launching a handheld machine capable of 3D effects without the use of special glasses.

My initial reaction was not positive. With the DS, DS Lite, DSi and DSiXL all having surfaced over the last handful of years, my patience for another iterative take on their handheld was wearing thin. If the Nintendo 3DS, as it is to be temporarily known, was to be just another minor hardware improvement brought about for no other reason than to give Ant & Dec something further to discuss with their cabbie friends, then any interest I may have had would be quashed instantly.

But then a colleague showed me this…

Available in Japan through DSiWare, the downloadable service for the DSi, Hidden 3D Pictures! makes clever use of the hardware’s camera. By tracking the player’s head it is able in real-time to change the angle at which the scene on display is viewed from, allowing for an illusion of depth within the DSi itself. You can literally crane your head to one side to look around a corner, or duck down to see what is hidden above the screen’s limits; you are the game’s camera, controlling the viewing frustrum.

If this seems familiar to some of you, you may have seen Johnny Chung Lee’s head tracking application using the Wii’s interface which also created the illusion of 3D on a standard television. The principle is the same, except rather than the Wii tracking the relative position of the Wii-mote compared to the sensor bar, it is the relative position of your head to the camera that is of interest to the DSi. However, with the advent of Natal’s full body tracking and the wand based movement of the PS3, this technique is not just restricted to Nintendo consoles.

The key to realising the possibility of this representation of depth is accessibility. And not in regards to the public, but the developers. On the three main home consoles and their respective motion controls, retrieving a relative position of a controller or a person is straightforward as it has been built accessibly into the API. Natal programmers call the equivalent of Player.GetJoint( Head ), and the position of a player’s head will be presented to them for use in calculating the angle and offset from the camera, likewise with the wands. If the 3DS does work as we speculate then such image processing will have to be done as standard and not rely on each development studio rewriting the same code to track a player’s head. Anything less and the experience will differ greatly from game to game as implementations and their effectiveness will vary likewise. This may sound obvious but you’d be surprised what some platform holders omit.

For 3D, the downside to this approach is that it will only ever look coherent to a single person, as only one body can ever be the reference point. On a home console a split screen experience utilising such tech is likely to end in motion sickness, but on a DS when in the vast majority of cases on a single person is ever intent on what is happening on screen, this is not really an issue. You will have a pocket 3D world for you to peer into and gorge your eyes on.

But does it truly need new hardware for such a thing? The example above is running on a DSi so whilst possible you can imagine that as the primarily 2D DS/DSi is asked to shift into rendering complex, dynamic, 3D scenes the processor might come under considerable strain. Even if this head tracking approach is not taken and the technology is instead based on any of the number of full 3D screens that are in the pipeline, more juice will be needed to cope with the complexity.

And my gut is telling me that it will be more likely to be one of these 3D screens that operate sans glasses rather than any of the approaches seen above. Nintendo has made its recent money on accessibility and so something as tricky as image recognition and body tracking could see massive barriers to entry. Anything from an eccentric patterned wallpaper behind the user’s head, a huge hair do or dim lighting conditions could plague such a solution, and as soon as you’re head is not recognised then the whole illusion is shattered. This is a area where the definite nature of the PS3’s glowing wands prove superior.

Of course we’re going to have to wait a further three months for the details on the project. Bar the proclamation of portable 3D gaming and the promise of backwards compatibility with the DS and DSi, details were scant. Speculation as to just what the method for 3D generation will be could easily keep us busy until E3 in June, but if it’s a choice between image recognition on one hand or cutting edge screens on the other then there’s a balance to be struck between accessibility, reliability and cost. Each has been key to their recent resurgence with Wii and DS, but can they keep the balancing act going?

UK Truck Sim – Impressions

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

As the old phrase goes, a change is as good as a rest. When a thousand cookie cutter first-person shooters – only discernable by the size of their guns and the angularity of their space marine’s jaw – have worn you down, rather than swear off them altogether just try something a little different. Several years ago that is how my initial foray into World of Warcraft began. And likewise my dabbling with real-time naval battles, overly dramatic Japanese beat-‘em-ups and art house Flash games. Each time I have meandered off the beaten path I have returned with a warm fuzzy feeling that I had stretched my boundaries.

And so with the same open mind I installed UK Truck Simulator, an intriguing title emanating from the Czech Republic. I’m no trucker; and I most certainly have never 10-4’d a rubber ducky, but instantly three companies were willing to ignore my obvious inexperience and hand me a chance behind the wheel. Wafting a valid driver’s license in front of a friendly Sheffield firm, I hopped up into the cab and prepared for life on the open road.

My first job was to take a shipment from the Steel City to Grimsby, a 70 mile hop to the east. On went the engine, off went the handbrake, and I pulled away grinning at my new choice of career. If there had been a horn, I’d have honked it.

Within moments I was scrabbling around looking for a joypad as the keyboard controls are supremely unforgiving. Their twitchy nature turned each winding country lane into an elongated series fishtails as I fought for control.

Those hoping for hitchhikers or CB radios will be disappointed. UK Truck Simulator takes the mundane nature of motorway driving and recreates it for the comfort of your living room; there is nothing but the truck and the tarmac before it. The trip to Grimsby took roughly 15 minutes real-time but this was followed immediately by a 45 minute trek to the South coast. Though the roads are populated there is very little challenge to keeping your truck going. There are never traffic jams or delays, and even veering from lane to lane will see other road users avoid your bulk deftly. Deliveries are made against the clock to keep you focused but only the most severe of wrong turns on the well sign posted roads could prevent a driver making it on time. The biggest barrier to success is concentration.

Throughout, care must be taken of you and your rig. Regular rest stops are required to prevent you from dozing at the wheel, petrol is always a concern, and too many bumps will see your truck in for servicing. Each element playing their part in keeping Truck Sim grounded firmly in reality.

The highlight of your routine is dropping off deliveries as it provides a true sense of trucking achievement. Once at your destination the trailer needs to be reversed into a designated bay, usually flanked by other trailers. Heavy use of either the steering wheel or the accelerator will result in jack-knifes, so patience and canny use of the various camera angles are key to edging your load in safely. After usually spending the best part of an hour towing the load, the chance to engage in some thoughtful manoeuvres is welcome relief.

Disappointingly, SCS Software has reduced all major conurbations down to little more than industrial parks. Sheffield itself sees no raised motorway slicing through the city, or any hint of the towering smoke stacks that once welcomed you. Instead it has been distilled down to a handful of roads containing lorry dealerships, supply depots and a multitude of traffic lights.

If the cityscapes prove underwhelming, the care spent populating the roadside redresses the balance with our green and pleasant land been brought to life to line your route. Dense forests sweep up hillsides, lush fields taper into the middle distance, and golden crops add a dash of colour to your view. Every road seems to be taken from an idyllic image of English country life and the odd church, water tower and passing train add to a pleasant landscape. For a low budget game, the artwork is very polished.

Though no matter how pretty the view, life in the cab was not fun. The target of completing generic deliveries and obeying the laws of the road all left me feeling flat. No matter the cash rewards or the offers of new employment, the actual job variety was minimal and always tasked me with simply driving from one end of the country to the other. No sooner had I arrived in Cambridge from Plymouth – a 40 real-world minute trip – than I was asked to head to Dover – a further half-hour plus. Having recently done a circuit of the M25 I can tell you that I would probably take the real journey over the virtual one because at least I had my wife to talk to and the radio humming in the background.

Despite any negativity you have picked up on so far, I actually really like UK Truck Sim in certain ways. The team who assembled it obviously have a great eye for detail and creating a complete experience; it’s just that the subject matter in this particular game is lacking any real interest for me. The disappointment is that I couldn’t get over the epic driving sections to truly explore the promise of running your own trucking company and the management aspect surrounding that and I feel that will be a barrier for the vast majority of people.

To say that it fills a niche is an understatement; only those truly interested in trucks, rigs and lorries should seriously consider UK Truck Sim as it contains nothing but the huge vehicles they probably hold dear. For everyone else, if you’re interested in taking a look at a polished product, showcasing a very focused and unerring vision, unaffected by demographics or market trends, then you do a lot worse than what SCS have produced here.

Tennis

In tribute to the efforts of Andy Murray in the Australian Open, I thought I’d take a look back through some of my favourite tennis games. Quite worryingly this list spans some 26 years but begins with a classic.

Tennis (NES)

Although simplistic, allowing only a simple stroke or a lob, I garnered many pleasing hours from this blocky classic as it was how you used these basic controls that mattered. Timing proved crucial; hit the forehand early and your shot would pull left, leave it a little longer and you’d push it wide to the right, allowing for a lot of variation. This was quite a revelation to my young self and the experience was only bettered by a portly plumber sitting in the umpire’s chair.

Mario Tennis (N64)

Another Nintendo entry onto my list but it sits here not just on my behest but also thanks to the three other people I used to live with at Uni. Along with Pro Evo and F-Zero X, this four-player beauty sucked up many an afternoon that should have probably been spent revising or writing up coursework. An array of characters, power-ups, silly sound effects, it had everything to keep us hooked and shouting at the telly. My only complaint was that the colourful court coverings often meant that the ball could be lost from view, like dropping a pound coin on the carpet of a pub last decorated in the Seventies.

Top Spin (Xbox)

Looking back, I have very mixed feeling about this game. Even though I used to play it obsessively I seem to remember hating it by the end of my time with it, the problem being that I became too good. As conceited as that sounds, my doubles partner and I edged up to being ranked 8th in the world, an achievement wrought from sheer effort and teamwork. Sadly in our closing weeks we encountered far too many glitchers and standbyers for the fun to continue and my last loving memory of it is swearing loudly down the headset and shutting off the Xbox in a huff as we were cheated for the final time.

Wii Sports (Wii)

Returning back to the Nintendo platform and we find possibly my favourite tennis game on any platform. If anything, this portion of Wii Sports must have shifted millions of consoles on its own for it exhibits just the same properties that Tennis did back in the early Eighties. For those that wanted to do no more than take part they could swing the racket and see their on-screen Mii mimic their actions and thwack the ball back gracefully across the net. Those who probed deeper discovered with a twist of their wrist or a flick of their hand that they could pull off slices, top-spin, lobs and a great deal more that turned a seeming tech demo into something wondrous.

Pong (and all its clones)

Some time ago I may have baulked at putting this on a list of favourite tennis games, calling the decision too clichéd and cheesey. A couple of years ago, however, I went to an exhibition entitled Game On where dozens and dozens of arcade cabinets and old systems were on display and playable. Having played through things I had only ever touched via Mame I became incredibly sentimental and touched by the entire thing; each time I stood at a new cabinet I felt waves of heritage sweep over me. Asteroids and Missile Command were among my favourites but having gotten to grips with a Pong machine I found something delightful about its basic nature as it almost embodied a time where gameplay had to win out over graphics.

Double value downloads

Regular readers may have twigged that we here at 7outof10 towers are very partial to a bit of Rock Band. Most of the time I can’t sing its praises high enough; for its colour-coded music brings joy to all, has introduced me to a great range of bands, and has even inspired me to learn the drums proper. Some may argue that the final point is not a good one as a drum kit now takes up a large percentage of my front room, but I think only my wife falls into that camp.

Over the weekend I was introduced to The Beatles edition of Rock Band, and my was it an education. No matter how many Beatles tracks you think you know the game does an excellent job of throwing in tracks from throughout your career that many people will be surprised to see. Either because they did not realise that particular track was one of theirs, or because a song that you have never heard before is suddenly streaming down the noteway towards you and you’ve no idea how it is supposed to sound.

At the end of it I felt I had been on a little musical mystery tour, having had my mind expanded and I wanted to find out more. So off I headed to the Marketplace, hoping to see Hey Jude peering back at me. Sadly it was conspicuous by its absence, but the full albums of Rubber Soul, Sgt Pepper and Abbey Road did all sat proudly upon its shelves. And it got me thinking: I’d be far happier parting with my Microsoft points if I could take my music elsewhere.

I’ve downloaded many songs from Rock Band’s music store and a reasonable number have been played once, maybe twice, and then left to mill around with the rest of the RB tracks that litter my harddrive. Some Foo Fighters, No Doubt and Greenday do get some good play time, but the impulse buys out-number them, and I fear that any Beatles downloads I do make would head in the same direction. Especially as you can (understandably) only play them on the Beatles edition of Rock Band.

Imagine, however, if you got the MP3 version of the track with it. In my mind that would certainly give a new lease of life to the music store and those albums that originally looked at little daunting at almost £15 were suddenly a lot more attractive. I’m not saying it would be easy, or indeed feasible, but what if? What if?

Blue Toad Murder Files – Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

Having spent most of their development life producing the quiz game Buzz, you can probably imagine the relief on the production staff’s faces when they were told they were going to create something other than a strong-jawed question master. A situation that should not be underestimated in development terms for, as the old saying goes, a change is as good as a break.

What Relentless Software decided to focus on instead was the quaint village of Little Riddle; an area lost deep in the heart of the English countryside and seemingly dreamt up by a mind that had seen great quantities of both The Railway Children and Midsomer Murders. And, just as in the case of the latter, evil stalks the picturesque lanes for the Mayor has been shot and a killer is on the prowl. The villagers need not fret, however, for you, being a member of the internationally renowned detective agency Blue Toad, just so happen to be holidaying in the village. Unable to keep your professional instincts from interfering with your R&R, you can’t help but stick you nose in and begin investigating this unfortunate case.

What unfolds is a game full of larger than life characters, almost in the same way most Wallace and Gromit episodes are. There’s the snotty doctor, the self-important station master, the American, and several others that all do their best (more impressively still through a single voice actor) to add drama, humour and intrigue to proceedings as you go from location to location within the village questioning all those linked to the crime. The aim appears to be to make Blue Toad as interesting to watch as it is to play.

Once a particular suspect has been interviewed a puzzle is presented to the player. Some vaguely stick with the theme of a murder investigation, helping draw attention to certain aspects of the case, but most are just an excuse to put you in a pub and get you to sort out their mangled pipe work.

The quality of the puzzles does vary but generally improves as your investigation continues. Relentless even include a nice touch in that after every few puzzles/interviews you are given a short quiz to make sure you’ve been paying attention to the facts that you’ve been presented with.

The one negative point I wish to level at Blue Toad is that its puzzles are timed, with medals allocated depending how quickly they are solved. Whilst this may not initially sound problematic you just have to play a couple of their brain teasers to find yourself feeling pressured into making quick decisions. Part of the enjoyment of Professor Layton, to whose audience Blue Toad must be naturally aimed, is that you had the time to mull over the problem at hand and come up with the right answer, unrushed by the man in the tall hat. Here, however, it becomes all to easy to churn through the very meat of the game; taking quick guesses as opposed to considered opinions just to earn a shinier bauble. This may not have been such an issue if, over the course of an hour’s play, I had tackled more than the twelve puzzles that Episode 1 contains.

On the positive side, the game does present you with the option of playing through this who-dunnit with up to four players, passing the pad between puzzles and interviews; but this in itself does not make up for the brevity of the package. It may be episodic but at £6.29 for a single instalment (or £9.99 for two) it doesn’t work out favourably on the pound-per-hour or pound-per-puzzle ratio.

I do believe that price should never be a factor in a review score but value is another matter. Look at what either of Professor Layton’s puzzle-laden adventures offer in comparison and you’ll find greater breadth and depth, so Blue Toad can only be recommended to those who have completed both The Curious Village and Pandorra’s Box and crave yet more mental stimulation.

5/10

Edit: please note that only hours after this was posted we received word that Episode 3 of Blue Toad Murder Files would be offered up for free as of 25th February. For more details check out the Blue Toad website.

Heavy Rain – Review

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

There is something wonderfully ordinary about the opening of Heavy Rain. It presents scenes that fly in the face of the clichéd imagery touted by the likes of the Daily Mail and those worried that our industry is the cause of all today’s ills. Equally, the sheer lack of the spectacular may cause those who are not au fait with David Cage’s and Quantic Dream’s vision to question just what they have agreed to play.

As the curtain rises to a gentle piano score, we are treated to views of a bedroom. Taking in the family pictures, the view through to the garden and general tranquillity of the homestead, the camera settles on Ethan Mars. An architect and a father of two he has an important job to do today, that of getting ready for his son’s birthday party.

Wandering around in a pair of trunks, you guide Ethan through his house, showering, shaving and dressing so he’s good to face the world. Each action is entirely context sensitive and dependant on the task at hand. Walking up to a wardrobe and you’ll be asked to flick the right analogue stick out and back, mimicking the motion your arm would make in the same situation. In the bathroom, pushing the stick down to pick up your razor will then see you asked to move in slow sweeping motions to pull it gently across your chin. In contrast, drying yourself off with a towel is achieved with vigorous movements of the six-axis. It may sound hackneyed but each makes sense in situ.

Throughout the house action indicators appear as you wander by and are setup to familiarise you with these mechanics; chores need doing, children entertaining and a wife requires helping. If the initial openness is a little too daunting, holding down the left trigger gives you an insight into the character’s mind. Choices will orbit them and can hint at just what their current priorities might be.

For me these initial steps into Heavy Rain were some of my most memorable. There is an unassuming nature about the task at hand and embedding yourself in Ethan’s world is one that needs to be savoured rather than rushed for all too soon his happiness is shattered. After witnessing the events that lead to this first hand, we return to find Ethan separated from his wife and trying to do the best by his son.

From this point onwards the strength of Heavy Rain emerges: choice. How would you take the breakdown of your marriage? Would you give in, grab a beer from the fridge and settle down to watch cartoons, drinking until the dead of night? Or would you reach instead for the orange juice (giving it a six-axis shake, first), help your son Shaun with his homework, packing him off to bed at a reasonable hour? This is no black and white however, just shades of grey all made up by many individual choices. Maybe a combination of beer and homework could work, but that’s your call on how you want to shape his world.

Ethan isn’t the only character featured, three others also introduce themselves. There’s Scott Shelby, a private eye who suffers from asthma; Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler with a drugs problem; and Madison Paige, a journalist suffering from chronic insomnia. Each with their own frailties, their stories are woven around the overarching theme of the Origami Killer, a serial killer who drowns his victims in rain water and leaves an origami figure calling card. For whatever reasons, all four playable characters will lead you down a trail that they hope will unearth this killer.

Shelby, overweight and with breathing problems, may not seem the heroic sort but within minutes of meeting him I had managed to get him into a fight chivalrously, protecting a young woman. It played out like an elongated quick time event (QTE), a series of buttons flashing up onto the screen indicating the need for Shelby to punch, dodge or kick his assailant. This is no short burst either as the sections can go on for minutes at a time, all the time your eyes will be darting about looking for indicators to appear on hands, feet or by certain objects as they are dragged into proceedings.

Initially I felt as though the QTEs were injected as a way to keep the player attentive during what would otherwise be dead playtime. What changed my mind was the realisation that, like your decision making, the outcome had real consequences. From losing the faith of a contact to the death of your character, it focused the mind: missing the next button might mean losing a huge chunk of the story.

As an extension, the stressful situations in which you place your characters are reflected back to you through the use of the controller. Basic actions or reactions generally require the odd stab at a button, for instance a punch or taking a swig from a drink, but as pressure and urgency mount you’ll be asked to hold or hit more and more buttons. Dragging someone, for instance, might involve depressing the two triggers, as if each were an arm, and hammering X to simulate the strain and haul them towards you. For the utmost tension the series of buttons will contort your hand. Under a time limit, heart racing, the pad ended up at strange angles as I scrabbled to keep all four buttons pressed firmly down and everyone onscreen alive.

These situations will test your knowledge of the six-axis’ layout, but for people not so well versed it’s worth noting a difficulty setting can be adjusted if you don’t want unfamiliarity getting in the way.

The story was what drove me forward; a murder mystery where you help guide the investigation. With the FBI profiler determined to piece together the evidence and a journalist sticking her nose in to eek out the tiniest of details, you are able to feel a tangible part of closing the net on the Origami Killer. Though Madison uses traditional methods, Norman comes equipped with a piece of high-tech kit known as ARI. Effectively augmented reality goggles, it allows him to identify and analyse evidence as if in a virtual reality simulator by sending out a sonar pulse from his glove. Although farfetched it did streamline its investigative approach and the alternative of shuffling round on your hands and knees, combing blades of grass would by too tedious for words; plus, next to the absurdity of Fahrenheit it is barely worth noting.

The narrative flicks back and forth between the four main characters, showing their journeys which occasionally cross over. Each make choices on the way they behave, react and conduct themselves and it was that I was making my mark on the tale that made me feel unerringly linked with the outcome. This wasn’t just their story but mine as well; I was the fifth character stamping my individuality on proceedings.

The nature of game affords Heavy Rain a very cinematic feel. There is no direct camera control, instead you can choose from a series of camera angles, allowing the director to compose each shot and making sure it never strays too far from his vision. At times this will combine with a 24-esque series of picture-by-picture shots as you are shown others’ actions as you go about your business.

All of the digital actors are of a very high quality with stunning facial modelling. For the main characters, the standard of animation throughout is very natural and barely falters across the entire duration of the tale, whilst the accompanying voice acting matches that standard. Supporting cast members don’t seem to have had as much love lavished upon their polygonal hides and it’s disappointing to see occasionally amateurish voiceovers breaking the spell. This is rare, though is even more jarring when it does occur.

What lets the overall polish down more is the control you have over movement. Rather than operated directly from a stick, the right trigger must be held down to walk. Whether this was to reduce cases of accidental shifting I am unsure, but your steps are so heavy as to make precision movement frustrating. When actions can only be performed in a certain spot facing, moving your actor into position is tantamount to stopping an oil tanker on a ten pence piece; very reminiscent of the original Resident Evil.

However, that alone can not spoil what is one of the most engrossing experiences yet to grace a console. Heavy Rain is the Choose Your Own Adventure book of the new decade, where each action you take or fail to take can have consequences. Some may be vast, others not so, but the way everything pans out is directly resultant from your actions and judgements.

Having reached the conclusion of my own narrative, I am very reticent about playing Heavy Rain through again. I have shaped my world and made a number of judgement calls, whether through gut instinct or heavy consideration, that I feel reflect my personality. To go back and simply see what would happen if I went against those decisions I think would cheapen my experience. For this Choose Your Own Adventure I didn’t leave my finger in the previous page just in case a dragon was about to eat me.

Some may be put off by the setting or themes but the entire production is like taking part in a series of 24 or an ITV1 Drama special. As a game it is unconventional but as a piece of interactive fiction it is currently without equal. I can envisage Heavy Rain drawing in non-gamers who had previously tutted and walked on at the mere sight of a joypad, if only to watch, gripped, whilst you extract yourself from another tight spot.

9 /10