Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-10-08 14:40:18
I've been impressed with Sony's dedication to making artistic games with the Playstation 3. Journey, The Unfinished Swan and now Rain are just a few of the beautifully unique and emotionally demanding games that have made their way onto the system as exclusives. In a world dominated by the AAA game and franchise-milking, it's encouraging to see more of these games with lower budgets but bursting with creative ideas coming out. In the case of Rain, it's all about the experience of playing it, and while it may not be as refined as a game such as Journey, there is a lot to love about getting lost in its watery world.
Going into Rain based on the limited number of gameplay trailers I had seen, I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from it. I certainly wasn't expecting a puzzle-stealth game with horror elements, but that's the best way of describing it. Rain takes place in a city in a perpetual storm - it never stops raining throughout the duration of the game's eight chapters. The rain is integral to the playing experience - the protagonist of the game is a young boy who appears as little more than a ghost. When he walks into the rain he is visible, and when he is covered he can only be identified by his footsteps, creating the stealth element that permeates the experience.
The town the boy inhabits is a horrific place full of ghostly monsters that wish to kill him. Rain was made by the same team who crafted the excellent Tokyo Jungle, one of my favourite games of this generation, and it shows in the enemy design - these creatures are vicious animals that hunt the boy and move with a sinister level of realism. In order to survive, the boy has to hide out of view, taking shelter away from the rain. Thus the rain becomes a danger in itself, and the game constantly finds fresh ways to present it as an ever-increasing threat to his well-being.
The first few chapters of Rain, each lasting about thirty minutes, are a cocktease. Very early into the story the boy encounters a ghost girl who is also running away from her own monstrous assailants. The boy wishes to catch up with her, but she spends the first three or so chapters running away as she doesn't know he exists. While it's an emotional experience to find the one other character with humanity within the game only to have her slip just out of reach, it gets slightly tedious finding her only to have her disappear from sight time and time again without seeing the boy. As a result, the first couple of chapters of Rain are the weakest. They establish the mechanics of the game and do a good job of setting up the ambiance of the world, but they don't provide much indication of how things might progress.
Luckily, the game really picks up around the halfway mark after the boy and girl finally meet. No longer a solo adventure, the game keeps the characters together, looking after and protecting one another. Puzzles start to become collaborative and smarter - there are fewer block-pushing puzzles, and far more that involve the girl and the boy looking out for each other and covering each others backs. Both the boy and the girl are brought to life with some stellar animation - despite being translucent ghosts, the way they move and respond to each other is touching. You'll find yourself constantly remaining close to the girl, making sure that she's keeping up. The girl is smaller than the boy, and thus when she climbs up ledges she has to really put all of her might into it, and this reflects in her strained movements. The way they call to one another and stay close without ever uttering a word is beautiful and, like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons before it, it does a fantastic job of saying so much without saying anything at all.
While there is no voice work - and this is definitely a good thing, making Rain feel like a subtitled silent film - there is text telling a story, and it is portrayed in an interesting way. The text appears on the screen within the environments - as you run across a busy city street, the words might be slanted on a roof; as you climb a staircase, they may be diagonally going up the railing. The presentation of the text isn't always perfect - in tense sections it's difficult to visualize the text whilst avoiding death, and in the game's multiple running sections the text can whiz by without receiving the attention it deserves. Nevertheless, during the slower-paced sections of the game the ambiguous prose works well and does a good job of sucking the player in.
The story is surprisingly interesting and well-told for such a short game. There are unexpected twists and turns in the latter half, and the way it all concludes is among the most beautiful endings to a game this entire generation. Told through a series of watercolour images with a song performed by an angelic-sounding singer (Connie Talbot), Rain's ending reveals a beautiful love story that really deserves the attention of players who appreciate video games as art. The soundtrack complements everything wonderfully, with classical piano arrangements, including Debussy's Clair de Lune, and Cirque Du Soleil flourishes hammering home the artsy production and the emotional weight of the narrative underpinning it. Rain's story is open to interpretation and ultimately satisfying.
In many respects, Rain comes across as a modern Resident Evil 3 - there is an enemy that embodies darkness itself who constantly pursues the boy and girl with the intention of murdering them much in the same way that Nemesis ceaselessly followed Jill Valentine in Capcom's title. This enemy is most prominent in the latter half of the game and his involvement adds an appreciated level of tension - you barely get a chance to stand still in the latter sections as you constantly need to find new ways of prolonging your survival. Chances are you'll die often in Rain, but like games such as Limbo, this is a puzzle game that allows for quick respawning and invites trial-and-error approaches. There is only one way to solve puzzles, but all are logical and easy enough to suss out after a couple of attempts. And, should you get stuck, a few deaths in a particular section causes the game to offer the player an optional hint, which can be useful, especially in the first parts of the game when you're getting used to how things work.
There are a few parts of Rain that aren't perfect - interacting with objects can be kind of haphazard, as you need to be standing in the exact spot the game has decided in order to use them. It's one of the few areas in which the fluidity of the game falls short. In addition, there are parts in Rain where you won't quite know where you're meant to be going and you'll die as a result - you can get chased into corners that look like they lead somewhere but end up being dead-ends. Thankfully, retrying is as simple as pushing a button, and you rarely make the same mistake twice. That said, given the slow start, Rain doesn't necessarily make the best first-impression; it's pretty, but it perhaps undersells itself in the earlier chapters.
Sticking with it, however, reveals a gorgeous tale of two young children clinging together for safety in the darkness of the night. Its soundtrack, while consisting of a few repeated tracks, is a gorgeous work of art and adds beautifully to the ambient and constant sound of water and rain trickling and flowing. And, with such a poignant and lovely ending and with a modest - but well-paced - running time, it's akin to spending a day at an art-house film festival, inviting introspection and consideration. You wouldn't want Rain to be any longer than it is, and each clever camera angle and new locale solidifies its status as another gem in Sony's experimental gaming crown.