A boy, a girl, some rain, and lots of monsters.
Publisher: SCE Japan Studio
Genres: Adventure, Platformer
Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment
A boy, a girl, some rain, and lots of monsters.
Does rain have the gameplay to match its visual acumen or is its beauty washed away by a torrent of bad design?
SCE Japan Studio has built up for itself an impressive record of developing or co-developing games that are both highly enjoyable to play and visually marvelous to look at. Past examples of their work include the LocoRoco and Patapon series, along with the more recently released Gravity Rush and Puppeteer. Now the studio’s latest title, rain, has arrived as a PSN exclusive and in terms of visuals it certainly seems primed to keep the studio’s record of great looking titles alive and well. But can the same be said about its gameplay?
|PROS||Gameplay, Visuals, Audio, Story|
|CONS||Controls, Camera, Repetitive at times|
|WTF?!||The characters can’t climb over a stack of tires in order to reach ultimate safety.|
SCE Japan Studio’s rain takes place in an unnamed city (that, to my eyes at least, comes across like a European locale during or shortly after World War II) and stars an equally unnamed young boy. As the game opens, the Boy is sick in bed from a cold that caused him to miss a visit to a circus earlier in the day. Evening has fallen and with it comes torrential rain and the Boy is awakened by strange sounds outside his open window. He looks only to see what appears to be the silhouette of a young girl his own age that, were it not for the rain, would be completely invisible. Before the boy can react to this strange sight an equally rain-outlined invisible monster arrives on the scene and chases the Girl away.
The Boy quickly runs after the two, only to come upon a strange glowing gateway filling the intersection of streets. He only hesitates briefly before running through the gateway. On the other side he finds himself now as invisible as the girl and the monster that chases her. Even worse, the town around the boy has seemingly changed, becoming dark and lifeless and showing various signs of calamity and decay. Most terrible of all, monsters of various kinds now roam the streets and as the rain continues to pour the Boy is visible to them. Now the Boy must set off into the night and explore the strangely changed town in the hope of finding the Girl so that together the two can perhaps escape the monstrous Unknown and find their way back home….
rain is one of those games that will drive you nuts if you only like stories where everything is outlined to the finest detail and every loose end is wrapped up with a neat little bow. This is a tale that is rich in metaphor and layers and while much of the meaning of what plays out on the screen will likely be obvious to most, there is still plenty of room for interpretation. In particular, the exact nature of the Unknown and the world they inhabit is never fully explained. Personally, I thought the story was all the stronger for this. There is no actual dialogue in rain; instead the game employs a running text narration that will regularly appear throughout levels in a dynamic and active manner. The game also relies heavily on its masterful visuals to tell the tale. The minimalist narrative of rain hits all the right notes and unquestionably stands as one of the game’s best elements.
rain is essentially a cinematic platformer whose main character can walk, run, and jump, but only in the limited fashion that one would expect from an average child seemingly between 10 and 12 years-old. Even worse, the Boy is ultimately completely vulnerable to the many enemies that dot the landscape and fighting back is never really an option. Stealth and intelligence are needed to win the day and the game makes great use of its invisibility mechanic throughout. Much of rain is built around moving from safe spot to safe spot while avoiding various enemies along the way. The boy becomes completely invisible to both the player and enemies alike anywhere the rain does not fall, but the same is true for the game’s baddies as well. This can make invisibility a definite double-edged sword at times, since more than once players will need to rely on sound cues and the slight movement of water on the ground to be able to maneuver the boy where he needs to go without alerting his foes.
rain is a game that strongly recalls such classic titles as Journey, Limbo, and Ico (the latter in particular) yet never manages to quite reach the level of quality achieved by those games. This is not to say that rain is a bad game; far from it. Indeed, the game is rarely anything less than great and is often genuinely awesome. rain simply lacks that certain extra spark that takes a game to the next level and as a result it never achieves the highs that fellow SCE Japan title Puppeteer frequently reached with seemingly effortless ease.
For one the thing, the game too often relies on invisible walls and seemingly passable obstacles that suddenly become impassible to herd players along. I understand that some compromises needs to be made to keep players on track in a game like rain, but the seams end up showing just a little too often and it soon starts to take one out of the experience and mood the game is trying to create. The game’s controls can also be a little sticky and non-responsive at times and the fixed camera can get stuck at odd angles that makes it difficult to see what is going on. Altogether, I ended up dying over a dozen times during rain through no real fault of my own and it remained frustrating every time it happened.
Furthermore, while rain does make clever use of its invisibility mechanic for the most part, a number of other gameplay elements end up coming across a little half-baked. For example, at one point the game introduces massive benign Unknown who can be used as mobile shelters of sorts to get past more hostile enemies. The problem is that these friendly creatures are only used in one remarkably brief sequence and then never seen in the game again. I am all for avoiding padding, so if the game was simply trying to move from one new element to the next that might be fine. However, the humanoid Unknown that first appears chasing the girl and remains a constant threat throughout the entire game keeps showing up again and again across the game’s eight chapters in slight variations of the same sequence over and over. Essentially, the game under-uses some of its more interesting mechanics even while overindulging in a few basic scenarios often enough to make the latter feel a bit stale by the time the credits roll.
Even with all of these problems, there are still plenty of reasons to recommend rain. The game is truly a visual marvel with numerous examples of breathtaking beauty waiting throughout. Delightful little touches abound, nowhere more so than in the often subtle minor animations employed to bring the main characters to life. These include the Boy rubbing his nose or scratching his hair at various random intervals, hunching his shoulders to try and keep out the damp cold, or reaching out and running his hand along walls when he walks near them. Then there is the way he will occasionally trip over uneven ground or move awkwardly after running for extended periods of time. When playing rain there is never any doubt that its lead is cold, wet, and scared and it makes him all the more engaging of a protagonist as a result.
The game also makes deft use of color throughout to help further sell the mood of a location or sequence. Most of the time the game’s world looks muted and drained of life and it makes loneliness and desolation of the strange place the Boy has found himself in truly palpable. But every once in a while an extended area completely free of the Unknown comes along and the game will brighten lights and colors in the area to help sell this fact. In one particularly memorable sequence, the developers make use of the remains of tents and cloth left behind by a circus to add bright reds and whites to a location. By doing so it seamlessly gets across the temporary safety of the place the players have found in a wordless and elegant fashion.
rain, like so many stories really, is all about a boy, a girl, and the building of a bond between them. It is steeped in metaphor and ideas and when these aspects combine with visuals and gameplay firing on all cylinders it can create something truly magical. Sloppy implementation sometimes gets in the way of the magic, but even so these missteps are still worth putting up with if only to reach the game’s magnificent and brilliant final levels.
Ultimately, rain is a game that all PS3 owners need in their libraries. It serves as proof that the system still has plenty of life left in it, even at this late date. This is an emotionally charged experience of the best kind and one that will likely leave many a player breathless throughout its several-hour running time. Like the Unknown themselves, frustrations will appear from time to time while playing rain, but a triumphant gaming experience awaits those not afraid of getting a little wet.
A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes and completed in about 3 hours. The title is currently exclusive to PS3.
Also, feel free to follow the reviewer on Twitter @bigred_13 please if you feel so inclined.