Posted on October 1, 2013 AT 06:00am
During Sony’s 2012 Gamescom presentation, a number of previously-unseen titles were unveiled or hinted at. Among the big names and blockbuster surprises, a little Japanese project called Rain was given a few moments to shine.
Rain is the story of a boy—we’re never told his actual name—who happens to catch a glimpse of what looks to be a young girl running along the street on a cold, rainy night. Chasing her is a hulking monster, and as the boy spots her pursuer, he finds himself joining them out in the storm. Well, not all of him—his body seems to have vanished.
Controlling an invisible character may seem like a peculiar idea for a videogame, but it’s where Rain’s core gameplay elements come into play. While the boy is standing out in the falling rain, the water bouncing off of his incorporeal body will create enough of an outline so that you can see him. Stand below an awning, overpass, or other location where the rain can’t fall, and he’ll vanish from sight. Of course, being invisible means control over the boy is a bit more challenging—but it also means that enemies can’t find you.
Rain plays out as part exploration, part puzzle solving, and part stealth. At first, keeping up with the mysterious girl requires little more than hiding from the rain when monsters are around and solving basic challenges. As gameplay progresses, you’ll need to be quicker and smarter about how you combine those two tasks, especially as new enemy types or elements are introduced. For example, a ways into the game the boy will encounter mud, which—when covered in it—gives him the ability to be seen even when there’s no rain present. This helps Rain to offer up locations beyond those that have a reasonable explanation for offering up rainfall, but it also adds another layer to encounters: One moment, being seen will be something you’ll want; the next, you’ll take a quick jump into a water puddle to wash yourself off and regain your ability to return to nothingness.
That element—being so controlled by the environment—is at the heart of what makes Rain unique, and it’s one that’s pretty fascinating in its execution. Of course, it’s also, in many ways, a gimmick—and even the best gimmicks can lose their luster over the course of a game. I held that as a real concern going into Rain, and as I cleared its first couple of chapters, I still worried if the entirety of the adventure would be able to avoid wearing thin. Thankfully, what the teams at PlayStation C.A.M.P. and Acquire put together here holds up surprisingly well until the end credits roll, in part by making sure that locations continue to be varied, that players never stay stuck in one type of situation for too long, and that the narrative itself advances in ways that help each chapter feel different enough from the previous happenings. To be fair, however, another part of what keeps Rain’s gameplay ideas from wearing out their welcome is that the overall experience is only a few hours long your first time through.
In fact, there’s a certain elegance to nearly everything that Rain does, much more than many other games out there that try similar things. It’d be easy to be heavy-handed or over-developed in telling the story that’s unfolding here, and—outside of a few moments where I wished the game had just shown us what was happening, instead of showing and telling us—Rain is wonderful in how it never tries too hard to pull on our heartstrings. Connection to this world and its characters is created naturally, not forcibly, and the relationship between the boy and the girl grows in a sweet, innocent way that I was glad to see not fall into the trappings that can happen when you’ve got such a premise.
The rest of Rain’s presentation feels just as genuine. The boy’s introduction to the bewildering world that awaits him is told through watercolor paintings, and they too never felt out of place or inappropriate. Accompanying those images are the first hints of Rain’s soundtrack—and it is that music which might be the game’s biggest strength in terms of atmosphere. While this may be composer Yugo Kanno’s first gaming-related work, you’d never know it from how artfully his tracks blend into and lift up Rain’s various moments.
If there’s one thing I wish had been done differently in Rain, it’s the overall structure of the game. Progressing from chapter to chapter is pretty linear; with Rain’s runtime being on the shorter end of the spectrum, and its challenges never proving to be seriously difficult, you could easily blow through the game in one (extended) sitting. At times, Rain reminded me more than a little of another Sony title, Ico, and I feel as if some inspiration could have been taken from the PS2 classic and applied here. Had Rain’s city segments been one giant, interconnected world, a higher sense of exploration could have been infused into what was already here, and the core aspect of darting in and out of the falling rain would have (in my opinion) scaled beautifully to that type of world.
Really, it boils down to this: Rain is a wonderful little game in what it does, but you feel (and wish) that what it does had been expanded to its full potential. My fears about its gameplay concepts thankfully never panned out, and by the final chapter, I was audibly yelling at my television due to my emotional investment in the fate of our two protagonists. Absolutely, Rain had the potential to be more ambitious than it ended up being, and I’m sad that that potential may never have the chance to be built upon.
Then again, I’d rather see games that try new things but maybe don’t take those ideas as far as they could, versus never getting those attempts to give gamers something different in the first place.
|Developer: PlayStation C.A.M.P., Acquire • Publisher: SCEA • ESRB: E 10+ • Release Date: 10.01.2013|
Rain is a creative and charming adventure that provides a refreshing set of twists beyond what we’re used to. Nearly everything it does it does with a sense of style and grace, but it’s also easy to feel as if Rain’s ideas could have been fleshed out even more had the project had a bigger scope to it.
|The Good||A gaming experience that’s both emotionally satisfying and a genuine change of pace.|
|The Bad||Its level of difficulty and length betray the game’s full potential.|
|The Ugly||Southern Californian weather. If there’s anything that Los Angeles needs, it’s a good washing.|
|Rain is available on exclusively on PS3.|
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