It’s odd to remember that downloadable indie titles are a fairly recent addition to the video game world. As kids, we used to have to go to the store and pick out games based on nothing more than the awesome box art and what your friends say to buy. As an adult, I don’t even have to leave the futon to find the next hidden gem I’ll be telling all my friends about for months to come. If anything, I’ve grown used to stumbling upon wonderful and creative new titles on PSN and XBLA rather than looking for new triple-A titles to play.
Games like Journey and Limbo have become indie legends, telling beautiful stories while integrating minimalist gameplay and still managing to be fun, similar to rain, the latest PSN exclusive to steal my attention. In fact, the similarities to other award-winning indie titles are striking: a small, voiceless character is stuck in a treacherous (yet gorgeous) land, and the story is open to interpretation while always remaining memorable.
In rain, a young boy sees a girl being chased through the rain by mysterious creatures and decides to help her; running into the night to save the stranger. Once outside, he finds that, along with the girl and her monsters, he has become invisible and can only be seen when the relentless rain is beating down on him. Since the children are defenseless, they must do their best to help each other through the dangerous rain-soaked nightmare by sneaking through packs of enemies, manipulating their strength against them or killing them with light.
As the title suggests, the rain mechanics are at the heart of the game, and they serve as more than just a gimmick. If you stay out in the downpour for too long, you’ll be spotted and swatted into nothingness before you can hide. To survive, the kids create makeshift roofs to hide under, creep under large creatures who pay them no mind and sneak under bridges for protection from the rain. It’s a fantastic element that adds a new layer of ingenuity to the stealthy gameplay, even if the sneaking never becomes terribly difficult or challenging.
At other times, a large force known only as the Unknown will pursue the children, leading to extended chase sequences through the soaked city. Due to the strict linearity of the game, these sequences are again rarely challenging, but most of them end up being tense, photo finish sequences. It’s a shame the monsters were designed so poorly, because rain could have been pretty creepy if I weren’t running from what looks to be the polygon fighters from Super Smash Bros.. Despite that, knowing that a single hit will end the game is enough to keep me out of the rain.
The threat of death is dulled quite a bit by the frequent checkpoints, quick load times after death and overly helpful hint system. Most of rain isn’t too challenging, but there were one or two moments where I found myself stumped. After only two or three deaths, the game was already offering me hints to get passed; with hint being a generous word for “solution” here. Granted, viewing the hint is totally optional, so if you enjoy the DIY lifestyle, it’s easy to ignore the prompt and work things out on your own.
Like other indie masterpieces of late, rain is a story driven experience, which may explain why the game is so quick to tell you the solution to a puzzle and keep you moving towards the end. The plot is pieced together by writing that appears naturally throughout the level, an approach that works to keep the actual game moving by never stopping to weigh us down with over-explanatory cutscenes.
It also helps that the mystery of the rain is compelling enough to make you want to push through the game, because the repetitive gameplay does begin to wear out its welcome towards the end. In each level, you will either sneak by creatures, use the creatures to destroy an obstacle, run away from the Unknown or platform through the intricately designed abandoned city. To be fair, rain is a brief game, clocking in at barely four hours, and it’s not until near the end that the gameplay starts to feel underwhelming, but by then, figuring out why we were alone in the city was more important to me.
I’m a fan of ambiguous endings, as long as they can foster good discussions afterwards, but I’ll admit that by the end of my first playthrough, I was still in the dark. Luckily, once you beat the game, a memories collection becomes unlocked, and three memories can be found throughout each level, adding more detail and some clarity to rain that wasn’t clear the first time through. Needless to say, that second run through the game is much more enlightening than the first, and if you have the time to delve deeper into the world of rain, then you should definitely do so.
I’ve compared rain to other indie darlings so far, and those comparisons are true to a point. However, rain lacks a certain spark that keeps it from becoming a masterpiece. For example, Journey had a multiplayer aspect that was expertly crafted and integrated, and Limbo had challenging brain teasers along with a much more grim setting. Although rain has atmosphere and setting nailed down, the gameplay was never challenging and felt like it was there simply because it had to be. The story is what’s on display, but the two elements just didn’t come together. Neither element is done poorly, but they could have worked together to create a more challenging game and a more coherent story. Rather, we’re left with interactive art.
That being said, though, rain is still an enjoyable indie title that sits squarely on the cusp of greatness. It’s easy to recommend because of the gorgeous landscapes, absolutely beautiful score and excellent use of rain, even if it does have its flaws here and there. I try to avoid using the word “beautiful” just so it still has some effect when I do, but I feel comfortable calling rain a beautiful experience, even if the actual game part is lacking.
This review is based on a copy of the game for PSN, which was given to us for review purposes.
Even if it's closer to an art experiment than a game, "rain" has a memorable setting and a beautiful score that make the experience worth it.