Rain: review

  • Format: PSN
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developer: PlayStation C.A.M.P, Acquire, SCE Japan Studio
  • Players: 1

A deserted, nameless street waits, heedless of the ceaseless rain pouring in sheets atop it. Echoing pianos backed by strings and the occasional overtones of a French circus penetrate the night, and two children stumble into view, mute and running from an unknown threat. The stage is undeniably set for a moody art piece to begin, yet something is wrong: have we seen this one before?

Rain is a paradox; it’s the utterly commonplace masquerading as the boldly unconventional. It begins with an intriguing enough premise: a boy awakens to find a girl running from a mysterious beast and, in an effort to help her, follows them into a strange mirror of his own city. However, this parallel world has forsaken the sun and sky for an endless and probably symbolic reign of rain. These aren’t inherently bad concepts, but when introduced with scant smatterings of pseudo-meaningful text and watercolor paintings it can’t help but feel forced. It’s as if Rain’s creators saw just enough like-minded games to trace a copy, but not enough to really understand the meaning and techniques behind such thoughtful masterpieces.

The narrative continues its attempts to tell more with less using short sentences of text projected across the environment throughout your journey; this admittedly looks cool, but serves as another example of a borrowed concept with lacklustre effect. The result is telling less with less, as a lack of real symbolic or atmospheric depth leaves just a few hundred words to create a story simple enough to fit in a children’s picture book, though lacking the witty rhymes or valuable advice concerning the alphabet.

The plot never leaves the young boy’s desperate efforts to save the girl and escape the monster. In fact, it barely does much of anything until the last hour where it gets potentially interesting before cleanly wrapping up with a predictable and unsatisfying conclusion. Though we can’t claim to fully grasp the story’s underlying themes, our working hypothesis is that it’s all a metaphor for death; or possibly just bad dreams, but our money’s on the former.

What’s truly unfortunate is that the narrative is a welcome distraction from the wasteland of monotony that is actually playing the game. Inspirations from 2001’s Ico seem evident, with the emphasis on cooperative traversal in a barren world. This means little more than tapping a button to hop, crawl, and push your way through the city, but it’s not a terribly frustrating way to progress and see the sights. Rain is lacking Ico’s awe-inspiring works of architectural majesty and unparalleled sense of isolation; instead, it traps you in a maze of grey streets with almost no artistic integrity to back the dated muddiness up. It certainly had the potential for some memorable visual effects, since Rain’s premise centres on, well… rain. Everyone’s an invisible shadow of their true selves in this world, except when the downpour plays against them, revealing shapes. However, instead of cleverly using the rain to create splashed and spotty silhouettes, models are simply rendered as translucent “ghosts”, which hardly makes for an evocative effect.

This is admittedly a small complaint, but it’s made bigger by how large a role this transformation from visible to invisible plays in Rain. The mysteriously morose city is infested with deadly monsters and, as a defenceless child, it’s in your best interest to stay out of their way. Avoid the rain and you’re safe, so long as they haven’t already spotted you; this makes the meat of Rain’s play, if it can be called such, as you dart from overhang to overhang while occasionally waiting for a given monster to turn its back. A slim assortment of mechanics are thrown atop this as the game progresses, but they rarely take more than a second or three to grasp, and are certainly never used in even moderately intelligent ways. Simply splash your way forward and, if things happen to go ill, jump back a few seconds and try again. It’s bafflingly dull in practice, and had us sighing in relief that the game only lasted a few deadening hours.

The creation of a minimalistic art piece, more metaphor than matter, is an undertaking that should mean more than simply justifying a tight budget. Rather than promote lazy design and lifted ideas, it should do just the opposite. It should mean that every element of a game, be it a single mechanic or line of text, is a precious commodity that can’t afford to be misspent. Rain seems to think the fact that it’s trying to be art means it can ignore all this, and deliver nothing more than a melancholy introspection for its own sake. The result is a sad distortion of a laudable genre, best left as a poignant warning to those who follow.

critical score 4

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Written by Bryan K

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