Game Review

by Dave Riley,


Playstation 3

Rain is a the story of a boy and a girl, lost in the rain, who explore a sleepy city and hide from the beasts therein.

Rain is a game about a boy and a girl who have slipped into dreams and lost their forms, who now travel about a sleepy city in search of their bodies, invisible, but for the vague shape of their outline, drawn by the constant rainfall. On the way they hide from monsters, explore churches, and cross abandoned factories. In the distance, a crescent moon hangs in a sky that is more like a backdrop. On occasion, a few chords of Claire de Lune will play.

It sure is pretty.

To say "this looks like a PS2 game," would be doing Rain an injustice, but you could say Rain looks like how we remember PS2 games look, when our nostalgia applies a graphical upgrade beyond what 2001's hardware could muster. There's too much grit to those stones for them to be last gen, too much craft in those posters, and too much wavering, ebbing, and flowing fullness to the water, whether it be river, puddle, or precipitation.

But there's a certain angularity to Rain that tricks the mind. It reminds us of how games used to look: rectangular, from boxes to car tires, everything, sort of squarish. Rain's buildings and walkways and street carts may be blocky, but they are often deeply textured, and even when they aren't, their careful construction hides the lack of polish. It characters are not without detail though their transparency and the distant camera mask their finer features. We should assume that a game called Rain has exceptionally detailed water, but the stormy river at night is more beautiful than anyone could rightly expect any moment in a $15 game to be, and does a great job at easing the irritation at framerate hiccups when the camera angle changes.

It's not a very complicated game.You are invisible when out of the elements, so you skirt from under awning to under scaffolding to under roof when the monsters' backs are turned and, when they look the other way, you do it again.

There are small wrinkles. Enemies go on alert when you splash your way through a puddle, but this can be used to your advantage if you'd like to draw them away from their patrol route. Stepping through dirty water cakes the boy's legs with mud, making him visible, rain or no, until he finds a place to wash off. Each of these add a nice twist to the stealth, but most of them appear less than a handful of times. At one point you hide under a series of passive, plodding beasts, using them as makeshift roofs to get through an open area teeming with foes. Once, and never again.

The average game, so concerned with giving its customers value for their money, seizes any mechanic it can think of and repeats it ad nauseam. We can forgive Rain for being circumspect, because bloated is one of the worst things a game can be. That being said, on the other side of bloat is scarcity, and Rain's major flaw is that its gameplay never builds upon itself. The puddles, and the mud, and the hiding under the gentle, elephantine beings, we expect these to amount to something, puzzles where you must chain these elements together, like a final exam in stealth. Instead, the game is a series of tutorials that are never referenced after they're completed. It's strange that we'd see this from Playstation CAMP, who had a hand in Tokyo Jungle, a game about a Pomeranian scrabbling to to the top of the post-apocalyptic food chain, a game that slavered over health bars, hunger bars, and pentagonal graphs of strength, speed, and other attributes.

Rain doesn't include a single pentagonal graph. It doesn't even have a HUD, just the word "Open" hovering in mid-air near a door, or the word "Crawl" near a basement escape route, and, once in a while, a sentence or two narrating the boy's thoughts as he waves for the girl's attention, or the girl's bravery as she hurls herself into danger. The words that Rain traces along its walls perfectly match its tone. This is a storybook. This is something a parent might read to their child before bed.

But it isn't a storybook, not quite. Rain is a game, and one wonders if a child would sit still for the four hours it takes to play through it. Maybe a chapter at a time, one every night for a week, would keep their interest.

They would have to cover their eyes during the scary parts.

Rain radiates a stillness that is soft and doleful more than it is expressly sad. Its soundtrack punctuates the long moments of melancholy and short bits of enthusiasm. You could compare it to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, another recently released, short, artsy platformer, but that game is geared towards producing a specific emotional response (tears). Rain is not a tragedy, and the response it expects is more contemplative, more muted. Rain seems content to simply exist. Even in its greatest moments of peril it is not especially thrilling or tense.

It should go without saying that our engagement with art doesn't start and end in narrative. Non-narrative film, poetry, and music all operate in a different affective register, evoking emotion through tone, wherein the sum of their parts lies a meaning not readily broken down and analyzed piecemeal. Rain is essentially a non-narrative game; a story book, but a deconstructed one, that allows the player to meander through a series of emotions, and its true that the emotions in its palette are somewhat bleak. Loneliness, confusion, alienation, the desire to connect, but being thwarted at every turn, the occasional triumph of finally connecting, only to discover that communication is frustrated.

But there is a sweetness to the struggle to overcome these obstacles; a bitter sweetness to the challenges to connect and to protect, and to receive protection in return. Like its persistent downfall, which is a shower, not a storm, Rain is not aggressive, and it is certainly not intrusive, the TV screen like a window onto a rain-swept street, something we observe, but only barely interact with. In that way we can't fault it for its lack of mechanical density, because that wasn't really the point in the first place.

Overall : B+
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : B
Gameplay : C+
Presentation : B+

+ Dreamy storybook atmosphere, subtle, evocative melancholy
Mechanics never expand on the density they seem to promise

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