By Jeff Jensen
Updated February 17, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST
Courtesy of Quantic Dream

Heavy Rain is a chilling interactive thriller about a serial killer, so naturally there should be a scene where the player must?change a poopy diaper. And take a shower. And mull existential crises while shooting hoops. Heavy Rain is heavy stuff, and it comes pretty close to being a masterpiece.

You start as Ethan Mars, married father of two boys. The game doesn’t just tell you this — it makes you feel it, requiring you to flirt with your wife and play with your kids. Then, cruelly, these people are taken away. One son is killed by a car. In the heartbreaking aftermath, there is a divorce. And when the other boy is abducted by the Origami Killer, you must submit to near-suicidal challenges to get him back, like crawling through jagged glass. You play three other characters, too, and their crisscrossing stories form a complex weave. Each has secrets; all are complex and compelling.

Every scene in this dark neo-noir finds unique ways to get you to experience the characters’ angst and rush of thoughts. Decisions must be made quickly, and most affect the direction and tenor of the story. Heavy Rain gets under your skin and into your head, rewiring your videogame mind and fingers for emotional choices, not action.

The game is occasionally buggy; it’s ironic — and irritating — that an experience so narratively and emotionally sophisticated should have commonplace flaws like background characters that wander aimlessly into you and through you. But overall, the special virtues of Heavy Rain are enough to captivate your mind, and better, your heart. A-