by Jeremy Voss
Rain clearly aspires to belong in that upper tier of arty, indie console gems (think Journey, Braid, this year’s excellent Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons). The author explains why it doesn’t achieve its goal.
I came to Rain not knowing very much about it beyond the trailer, which presented the PlayStation Network game as an Ico-ish adventure, a story of two invisible children searching for each other in a lonely, rainy world, told via platforming and environmental puzzles. This appeals to me; this is the sort of experience I can get behind. I thought, if nothing else, this should be a lovely palate cleanser after a day-long GTA V marathon.
To me, the game’s biggest surprise is that it’s actually more of a stealth adventure game (which the developers are more than happy to admit, as per this Kotaku feature. There are rain monsters chasing you, and you will occasionally need to sneak past them in order to go wherever it is you’re going. The game’s novel touch is that if you are under some sort of canopy or roof, you truly turn invisible. This can make it hard to see where you are on screen, although the game tries to help you in that area with puddles in which you’ll see your splashes, or tables and chairs that you’ll knock over.
Rain often feels very much like a dream. The problem with dreams, though, is that they tend to fall apart under close scrutiny.
Here, puzzles repeat themselves constantly, which gets old very quickly – especially as the game is only about four hours long, which isn’t quite enough for the price of $15, judging from the lack of depth within the experience. This mysterious world is full of rain monsters, to be sure, but also of ledges that can only be climbed by giving your partner a boost, and for your partner to kick down a ladder. You will also be required to push and pull objects in order to move through blocked-off areas. We’ve all done these sorts of things before, and they are executed here without any inventiveness; those ladders and ledges are the same at the end of the game as they are in the beginning. They happen in exactly the same way throughout the game, and that’s too bad. They haven’t added strategy to them, nor have they added scope.
The game is not particularly difficult, but it can be frustrating at times. If you die, it’ll generally take place either in a stealth situation in which the puzzle is not adequately explained, or from running off a cliff (which almost always comes as a surprise, as most of the time there are invisible walls that prevent you from doing that).
More disappointing to report is that Rain is more than a little shabby graphically. It definitely does not look as good as a PS3 game should, especially this late in the console’s life cycle. Textures are bland, and the atmosphere never quite feels as haunting or gloomy as it intends to.
I’m reluctant to talk about the game’s biggest problem, though, as I don’t want to spoil the game’s story; and yet this problem is what ultimately soured me on the game. Essentially, there are little rain monsters and then there is The Unknown, a big rain monster, and this Unknown is the main creature that chases our protagonists through the city. Why? Who knows? The game never quite explains the creature’s motivations, nor does it explain the children’s predicament.
But that’s not even what irks me most. I’m OK with narrative ambiguity as long as the experience itself is engaging. The problem is that there are at least six false endings for this monster. You’ll trap it in a cage, or pin it under a boulder, or just flat-out kill it; and then, a few minutes later, it comes back, none the worse for wear. It’s ridiculous; it removes any and all tension, and certainly all suspension of disbelief. It feels like cheating, like the game’s authors couldn’t quite figure out how to end the game. So they keep bringing this thing back from the dead.
And if that’s not enough to ruin a good thing, the game also puts J-Pop vocals over Debussy’s “Claire de Lune”, which (to me) feels blasphemous. Ultimately, Rain falls far short of its ambitions. For me, it never earns the emotional moments it so desperately tries to evoke.
Circle member Jeremy Voss can be found writing his thoughtful essays at Shouts from the Couch.