There are many different kinds of rain. The shower that comes out of nowhere and is gone just as quickly. The driving storm that makes you think about building an ark. The gentle mist that makes the summer air even thicker. And then there's the steady, relentless thrumming of drops beating a steady staccato on your roof, never slackening, never intensifying, just monotonously droning on and turning your day into a doleful shade of headache gray.
Rain, the latest from Sony's Japan Studio and PlayStation CAMP, falls into that last category.
The PSN game starts off promisingly enough, with a watercolor cinematic telling the story of a young boy who follows a girl through a magical door into a world where the rain never stops and the day never dawns. The girl is chased by the Unknown, ghostly beasts with a Terminator-esque determination to hunt her down, and so the boy casts himself in the role of savior and races along after her. The city in which the boy finds himself is beautiful in its darkness, a vague memory of the world he remembers, with shadowy streets, elongated alleys and looming buildings. Rain keeps pushing you forward, however, leaving little incentive or time to explore. There's a very clear line through the environment, and Rain wants you to keep trudging along it, so it can better spin out its tale via the sentences and phrases that artistically emerge to reveal the sparse story line by line.
The unceasing precipitation not only provides Rain's moody atmosphere, but also its most interesting feature: The boy, girl, and creatures are invisible and can only be seen when they're in the rain, disappearing again as soon as they duck under cover. It's a simple mechanic that anyone who's ever been caught without an umbrella can appreciate, and it allows for an unusual twist on hiding in plain sight. You can walk right past the Unknown, so long as you're dry, though they can do the same to you. It works perfectly well, but it's an idea that never develops as fully as it could, this shared space out of the rain where both pursuer and pursued can vanish, yet remain safe.
Though it's unclear at first what the Unknown want with the girl, you'll swiftly learn how deadly they can be. If they see you, you're toast, and without a way to fight them, your only hope is to vanish by finding a safe place out of the rain. Navigating levels becomes a study in moving from dry spot to dry spot, or distracting the beasts long enough to get away when there are no safe areas to be had. It's a very creative take on the simplicity of stealth, but it gives up everything it has to offer fairly quickly. You'll encounter a variety of ghostly beasts – fast-moving dog creatures, ponderous giraffe-things whose bellies are high enough to hide under, beetles that attack their own kind – and while each new enemy presents fresh challenges, they are never more than a simple variation on what you've already been doing. The solutions to puzzles, such as how to get past a locked door without being spotted by guard dogs, are usually fairly obvious, and when they're not, your punishment for failure will usually be swift and certain death.
You will die and retry a lot as you play Rain, oftentimes despite the fact that you know exactly what you need to do. Rain's camera will frequently fly far back to better let you appreciate the stunning scenery, leaving the children very tiny on the screen. The forced perspective can make jumps and angles difficult to discern, and it's frustratingly easy to simply walk off a ledge because you couldn't quite see it correctly. Moving around is even more aggravating when you're invisible, though Rain does make a conscious effort to help you see where you are with wet footprints, clouds of dust that billow with each step or objects that rustle as you walk past.
The puzzles, however, are so simple that you'll never really feel enough of a high from succeeding to make up for the annoyance of failure. Beasts will often block your path, so you'll need to attract their attention to get them to leave their post. The first time you do it, by splashing in a puddle, you feel clever and daring, but it eventually becomes rote and mechanical. Get monster's attention, run away, hide, sneak past while it's confused. Next. There just isn't enough to keep you wanting to move forward other than a sort of vague desire to learn how it all turns out. You discover just enough about the children for it to be clear that you're supposed to be intrigued by their situation, but not enough to become emotionally invested in their fates. If it weren't for the innate instinct most of us have to protect children, it's unlikely you'd care about Rain's protagonists at all. Maybe they escape, maybe they get trampled by a ghost rhino – whatever.
The puzzles become slightly more complex once you finally manage to reach the girl and can begin to help each other out, but Rain stays disappointingly one note from start to finish. Certain elements of Rain are highly successful: The streets and buildings of the city are lovely, the music is exceptional, and the humanoid Unknown, searching the air with a long, needlelike finger – and clubbing down walls with an enormous second arm – is a genuinely scary foe. Rain is also careful never to become overtly sad, instead sitting in an area of melancholy that's oddly appealing.
As a work of art, Rain masterfully captures and maintains a mood that will speak to players, but as a game, it's soggy and unrewarding. It's also quite short, so if you'd like to explore which side of Rain appeals to you more, you can do so in an afternoon – rain or shine.
This review is based on a PSN download of Rain, provided by Sony.
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