The afternoon after 2015 became 2016, and the world was completely different/the same, something inside me stirred and demanded that I at least complete one game on this very first day of the new year. Like a ceremonial ship launching, of setting out to sea and beginning an unfamiliar voyage. I can’t really explain compulsions like this; surely you don’t want to have convince me why you grabbed that Snickers bar while in the check-out line at the market when you weren’t even hungry.
Anyways, I felt like I had been ignoring my PlayStation 3 these last few months since Fallout 4 came out and I got an Xbox One, so I powered it on and began to scroll down my lengthy list of games. A handful of which I purchased, with the majority being downloaded “freebies” for being a PlayStation Plus subscriber. It’s a hodgepodge of big and small games, and I stopped on Rain, an atmospheric platforming adventure game based around precipitation. I only wish it had been raining in real life as I played, in one single session, but it was a cold, quiet winter afternoon outside. A digital rain soundtrack had to suffice, plus the purring of two cats on my couch.
Rain is set in a nameless Western European-inspired city, in an invisible world revealed only by never-ending falling rain. You play as a little boy who finds himself lost amongst the rain-slicked cobblestone streets and chasing after a young girl. She herself is being pursued, for reasons not immediately known, by ethereal monstrous beasts hidden in the rain. For half of the game, you are simply trying to make contact with this girl, always ending up a few steps behind her with some roadblock in the way; the second half of the game sees the two kids working in tandem to defeat these monsters and the Unknown–a leader amongst all the baddies–and make their way home. The story itself is minimal and actually hard to decipher by the end, told only in blatant text on the screen. It kind of becomes a tale of literal light versus dark, health versus sickness, familiarity versus foreign, but I’m sure there are other ways to interpret things.
The twist to Rain‘s mechanics of hiding from monsters and using the environment to solve platform puzzles is that the little boy becomes visible to the monsters when standing in the open rain. If he finds shelter under a roof, he is invisible. This creates some stealth sequences, which are honestly full of tension as you creep past the monster, only able to see the light splashes in a puddle or wet footprints the little boy leaves behind on the ground as a clue to where he is. Yup, when you are invisible, you are invisible. It can be daunting at first, but you’ll get used to it over time and learn how to control somebody you can’t see. Other than that, you’ll do some running away, you’ll push and pull items to make new platforms, and you’ll work with the little girl to lift her to unreachable ledges.
One aspect of Rain that I actively disliked and even began rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath at is that the Unknown, that stalking, leader of the rain baddies that chases after you from chapter one, just kept coming back from the dead. Every time you think you’ve stopped it and can safely resume your journey, it rises from the grave with an ominous soundtrack in tow. This happens even two or three times during the game’s ending, which is already far too long as is and not very clear on what these little ghost kids were up to. Lastly, and this might be a minor complaint or a major complaint depending on your feelings towards collecting things as you play, but Rain‘s collectibles are only available after you complete the game. I went back via chapter select and got a few, but they really aren’t even worth collecting unless you want the three Trophies associated with nabbing them all.
From a concept perspective, Rain is really cool. It has style, a gorgeous soundtrack peppered with piano and accordion, and a lot of potential, but it doesn’t really deliver. The puzzles are at first neat and interesting, but they repeat in every chapter and often don’t do much with other elements, like the muddy water that makes you visible even when out of the rain. The game itself is fairly short, around three to four hours to finish, but poorly paced. I did enjoy staring at the imaginative, spindly monsters one could possibly picture emerging from the mist in…well, Stephen King’s The Mist. When compared with the likes of other short, narrative-centric experiences like Journey, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and Botanicula, this could have been so much more.