Rain – Review

Title   Rain
Developer  SCE Studios Japan, Acquire
Publisher  Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform  PlayStation 3
Genre  Stealth, Adventure
Release Date  October 1, 2013
Official Site  http://uk.playstation.com/rain/

I used to hate rain. Whenever it rained outside I would hide under roofs and awnings to try and get away from it, lest one drop hit my head and send me into a flurry of tears (I have never been a particularly strong person, emotionally). So the idea of playing a game set entirely during a torrential downpour brought back some terrible childhood memories, and I very nearly bailed out of playing it. But, drawn in by the gorgeous trailer, promising an engaging story and unique gameplay, I decided to fight back against the fear and dive straight in.

Developed by Sony’s Japan Studio and PlayStation C.A.M.P, most famous for the insane-yet-addictive Tokyo Jungle, Rain begins with a young boy, bedridden by a fever, who sees the silhouette of a girl running away from a monster in the thunderstorm outside. Realising he is her only hope, the boy leaps out of his window and chases after her, suddenly finding himself in an alternate dimension where he is only visible in the rain. Unfortunately, so are the hordes of dog-like monsters that stand between him and the girl, and so it’s up to you to avoid being killed and save her before the giant creature referred to as the Unknown finally catches up.

With a premise like this, you’d hope the game would keep the story interesting, and it has all the trappings of a deep narrative; there’s no dialogue, just descriptive text superimposed onto the world as you run around, and it’s typically abstract and vague, with no names given to the characters and ellipses at the end of almost every sentence. But appearances can be deceiving, and, sadly, Rain simply does not have the rich story to back its pretentious presentation. The vague descriptions of what’s going on don’t intrigue, but lead you to not having any idea what’s going on, particularly after you complete your goal of finding the girl halfway through the game, at which point you appear to be running around the city for no good reason.

Even worse, the vague plot is completely overridden by the most heavy-handed foreshadowing I’ve seen outside of a young adult novel, with one particular cut-scene randomly thrown in that may as well have been accompanied by a triumphant fanfare and a man shouting “THIS IS A KEY PLOT POINT”. The game’s conclusion should be moving and smart, but it’s so heavily hinted at throughout that the surprise is completely lost. It’s ploddy, meandering and never really goes anywhere, and you’re left wondering why the hell you’re sitting through reams of pseudo-poetic text when the entire plot could be boiled down into about five sentences.

The characters don’t help either, with the two human protagonists being about as interesting as a pile of mud, and with similar levels of personality. The lack of speech isn’t the problem; once more it’s the narration that screws them. One scene features the girl wildly gesticulating in a particular direction, while a floating piece of text describes the action as her “gazing off into the distance”, which is frankly jarring, particularly in a game so dead set on being deep and interesting. The Unknown is probably the most well-designed character in the whole ensemble, which is strange given its raison d’être is to kill you; it’s the only character who is given a reason for being there, and has a deeper back story than the two lead human characters combined. With flat writing, an incredibly basic plot, and uninteresting characters, Rain completely misses the mark narrative wise, and for all its wordy prose, it’s really about as deep as a wet blanket.

As uninspired as the writing may be, the setting does allow for an interesting stealth-puzzle experience. You can only see your character when stood in the rain, and are completely invisible when stood underneath a surface, save for a small set of footprints to show you where you’ve been. You’re also completely silent when moving, even while running, so you never need to worry about being heard when running between hiding places. Run through a puddle, however, and you’ll attract the attention of nearby creature, which can be useful if you need to get them to follow you, but a pain if you’re trying to sneak by, although this is avoided by simply walking instead. Puddles come in two flavours – clean and muddy – with muddy puddles to be avoided as they dirty your feet, causing you to leave a trail behind you that creatures can follow even into hiding places.

There’s also some light platforming to enjoy, with scalable objects allowing you to get away from creatures by climbing to higher levels, and some small gaps that require a well-timed jump to traverse. And for all you block-pushing fans out there, you’ll be happy to hear that you need to move some objects about to progress. Some puzzles require you to use both characters to progress, although the girl is controlled by the AI so this mostly consists of helping her reach the same location as you so the two of you can push an object at the same time. There’s a good range of puzzles available, and a few of them will have you stumped for a couple of minutes before you remember how to best utilise the invisibility mechanics and move on to the next one.

The problem is that these trickier puzzles are few and far between and, for the most part, the game is almost too easy. Huge glowing areas highlight exact locations where you need to go to perform co-operative actions, in a complete contrast to the subtlety of the story. More annoyingly, the girl will then walk to that same location and stand there expectantly, which is just as clear an indication of where you need to be to move on. Some of the mechanics are also massively underused or completely forgotten, with new ideas being introduced and then thrown out almost straight after. The creatures can’t follow you into the hiding places, but you can sometimes run into an area where they’re also invisible, requiring you to keep a keen eye on their footsteps to avoid meeting a sticky end. This is a great twist on the mechanic, and causes you to rethink your strategy, but it’s used precisely twice in the entire game and is so heavily signposted beforehand that there’s almost no point in them being there. And in one really strange sequence very early on, the game completely forgoes the invisibility mechanic so it can throw in a different puzzle, which is particularly jarring as this happens straight after the tutorial section which has just carefully introduced the main stealth gameplay. It’s at times messy and confusing, and leads you to getting killed purely because the game has decided how to handle a puzzle, rather than because it’s particularly difficult.

Rain uses a fixed-camera throughout the game, which allows for some beautiful framing of the environment and gives the developers scope to show the city in the way they want it to be seen, but it can hamper gameplay at times. There were a number of times I got stuck only because I couldn’t see my way around an object in the environment, which isn’t great news when you’re being chased down by angry dog-things. It’s not a huge downside, of course, but it would’ve been nice if there had been some sort of camera movement available, even if only to peek around corners.

As much as I can criticise the gameplay and story, it cannot be denied that Rain is a beautiful game. The rain-soaked streets of the abandoned, nameless Italian city you run around is lit up by the moon and streetlights, creating a striking environment that is mysterious, intriguing and an absolute pleasure to explore. There isn’t much point to exploring the place, sadly, as there are no interesting discoveries off the beaten path, but you’ll still find yourself checking every area for additional spots just to soak up the city. There’s a good mix of places to check out as well, and although you’ll be travelling through streets most of the time, you’ll find yourself in a dilapidated church, an abandoned factory and the sewers during your journey. There’s even a segment where the world breaks down into a more abstract nature, and the streets and buildings are replaced with giant blocks with windows sporadically placed around the exterior. It’s a simple idea, but it’s well executed, and makes a nice break from the city.

The character models are interesting, but the graphics can suffer as a consequence of the core gameplay. The boy and girl are essentially no more than outlines in the rain, so extremely detailed faces and bodies isn’t to be expected, but they appear blocky at times, and when the characters are only partially revealed in the rain, the effect looks almost cheap. The stylised look of the beasts works in this regard; the Unknown in particular is very rectangular but still strangely menacing, and the standard enemies are nothing more than collections of bone-esque rectangles that are novel and enjoyable to look at. The abstract style probably would not have suited the human characters, and it is a good method of distinction between the characters and the “darkness” that is repeatedly chasing them, but there’s an obvious difference in quality between the character models. It’s a shame, but the gorgeous environments more than make up for any misgivings in the character art department.

The game’s score largely centres around Clair de Lune (or that piano song from that bit at the end of Ocean’s Eleven if you’re not up on your classical music), but there are plenty of other wonderful songs played throughout that evoke a deep and introspective feeling, and so much so that I almost cried as I walked up a set of stairs towards the moonlight, listening to a soft piano soundtrack. Even the more upbeat theme used for whenever the circus is mentioned fits the world well, and the soundtrack as a whole is one of the real highlights of the game. The sound effects are superb as well; I thought I might grow tired of hearing the rain pour constantly, but it’s strangely soothing and never loud or annoying. The monster’s screams are suitably terrifying, and the pitter-patter of the boy’s feet works to bring a sense of innocence to his otherwise bland character. The entire soundscape is probably the best part of the whole game, and it simply must be enjoyed with a decent pair of headphones for the ultimate experience.

Only a short experience, however; Rain clocks in at around three or four hours of gameplay, dependent on how much you choose to explore the city and whether or not you keep your thumb glued to the run button. Weirdly, once you’ve completed the game, you unlock collectibles, which you must then start a new game to hunt down and learn more about the world and the characters, albeit in the vague fashion that the rest of the game is written. But by the time you’ve finished the game, it’s unlikely you’ll want to go back just to find additional titbits that don’t especially add anything new to the story or game as a whole.

Overall, Rain is a pleasant but heavily-flawed experience. What could have been a wonderful exploration game suffers from its own pretentiousness by not being deep or interesting enough to back up the language choices. And what may have been a fun stealth-puzzle game lacks the variety and ideas to keep the puzzles exciting. It’s beautiful to look at and a real treat for the ears, and is perfect if you’re looking for a short, arty experience to pass an afternoon with. But it just doesn’t go far enough to appease either audience it appears to be seeking, and ultimately feels shallow and pretentious.

  • Gorgeous environment that is a joy to wander around
  • Beautiful soundtrack that nearly brought me to tears
  • An interesting overall concept that could've gone great places
  • Too far up its own arse to realise it's not saying anything important
  • Little overall variety in puzzles
  • New ideas are dropped almost as soon as they're introduced

I really wanted to like Rain. It looks fantastic, with a wonderful urban Italian environment to walk around, scored by a lovely classical soundtrack. It's the perfect setting for a great narrative-led game that explores complex ideas and emotions, and it's a real shame that the developers missed the mark so badly on that front. The narration isn't thought-provoking, it's slightly irritating. The characters aren't mysterious, just completely unrelatable blank slates. And the stealth-puzzle gameplay isn't varied enough to save the ailing narrative. It's a great step in the right direction, and with a more interesting story it'd be phenomenal, but as it stands, Rain is just a flat, bland experience that is only saved by its good looks. A real shame.

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One Comment

  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    You broke my heart, Ric Cowley. I wanted this to be magical; to be one of those games which, while there may be limited replayability, would leave an emotional mark. I even considered USING A PLAYSTATION 3!! Damn you and both your honesty and integrity!!

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