Rain soothingly trickles onto a street silhouetting an, otherwise, invisible boy. A guttural growl bellows from an unknown enemy in an unknown place interrupting the serenity of the scene. Moments later, the enemy reveals itself by landing in the street behind the boy with a thunderous thud; my controller vibrates. A menacing abstract metal sculpture towers over the boy, and a swelling score drowns out the cadence of the rain implying that I should run, so I do. Fleeing the enemy causes the boy’s feet to pitter-patter against the wet cement harmoniously with the score. I see a small light illuminating a crawl space, so I head for it. I reach the crawl space, and I am frantically pressing the circle button to get the boy to crawl in, but he won’t. The enemy reaches me and with one swing of a steel club he kills me. What did I do wrong? I needed to move a wee bit closer to the left in order for the action prompt to work. Great, inaccurate controls just squandered all that tension.
When rain, the new game by Sony’s Playstation CAMP, is at its best it is functional. Unfortunately, those moments are scarce, and the rest of rain is frustrating and plain ol’ boring.
rain tells the story of a boy who is drawn into an unknown world by an invisible girl -silhouetted in rain- being chased by a creature called The Unknown. Curiosity overcomes the boy and he pursues the girl into the darkness. Once he is there, the boy finds that he is also invisible unless standing in the rain, thus, the tale begins.
Narratively Sony’s Playstation CAMP took a risk. rain’s main characters have no voices, no faces, and are invisible unless in the rain. They are given generic descriptors like Boy and Girl. How do you tell a story without defined characters? rain manages to do it with a story that is minimal in it’s details, but miraculous in it’s execution. rain‘s gray and blue hues perfectly elicit the games mood, while super imposed text narrates the story. Voiceless and faceless characters dramatize the text through simple animations, while the hum of the rain, and masterful score set the pace. At times rain looks like a page torn out of a children’s book, and in an era where face and motion capture are prevalent, rain‘s simplistic style feels refreshing.
rain’s plot resembles that of a Pixar movie, but a bit more earnest and dire. Omitted details from the story are filled in by the players imagination, and multiple events in the game could be interpreted differently. The game’s conclusion is predictable, but the ambiguity of the journey left me wanting to replay to reaffirm my interpretations.
You spend a decent amount of time in rain invisible. One would think that controlling an invisible character would be strenuous, but the game does a exceptional job guiding players. On the occasion where your character is invisible there are usually chairs, bottles, newspapers and puddles around. These objects are meant to be knocked over, and tip-off the player to their location. If none of those objects are around the boys feet create little footprints if he has recently been in water, or puffs of dust if he hasn’t.
When in rain‘s soaked streets, players must navigate through the game by solving environmental puzzles, avoiding creatures and platforming. It’s hard for me to even call rain’s puzzles, puzzles. They are, more or less, obstacles. They don’t provide any challenge, or engagement and are minimally entertaining. rain mimics the age old game of hide and seek. When the boy or girl are in the rain they are visible to the creatures, but when out of the rain they are not. There are a slew of enemies in the game that are constantly on the prowl seeking the boy and girl, and players must hide in plain sight under bridges, or awnings escaping the rain to avoid them. rain adds to the hide and seek mechanic with mud that once stepped in must be washed off, and objects that can be used to distract enemies later in the game. There are even bits where both the player’s character, and enemies are invisible. Sounds interesting enough, right? Too bad predetermined paths are so rudimentary you’ll probably avoid most encounters without any difficulty, and puzzles are solvable at a glance. All of the mechanics culminate to create one interesting puzzle in the middle of the game, leaving rain with a grand total of one minutely challenging puzzle.
Regrettably, Sony’s Playstation CAMP abandons the one lone interesting mechanic, in lieu of, moving stones, climbing ladders and godawful platforming.
rain does itself no favors with character mobility; everything feels stiff. Engaging with objects can be fickle. If you are not in the exact position to be prompted with an action you can’t climb a ladder, or push/pull an object, and that inaccuracy will lead to several deaths, and ultimately frustration. I never quite mastered the boys jump, and always felt as if I was taking leaps of faith. Jumping is also not one smooth animation, and a slight stutter is apparent right before the boy hits the ground. Climbing anything from ledges to ladders takes a noticeable amount of time.
The frustration of the mechanics are multiplied in parts where the boy and the girl have to work cooperatively through an area. rain tries to create tension by separating the boy and the girl. Once separated, The Unknown will chase the boy and corner him, while the girl slowly meanders to a ladder and lowers it, so the boy can climb up it. In an attempt to create tension rain made me watch an NPC perform the same mundane mechanics that I already wasn’t enjoying.
rain‘s cinematography is remarkable, but the fixed camera angles are antithetical to the games platforming. rain is not a movie. It is a game; a game with platforming. There are sections where the player will have to jump from platform to platform, while invisible. In addition, to having no context to where your player is, with the exception of footprints, the fixed camera angle is positioned in a way that makes judging distances impossible. I just had to jump, and hope I saw footprints on the other side. Not only is the platforming fundamentally bad in certain areas, it is also dull. It never graduates from feeling like busy work, or traversal. Ironically, the only challenge is the camera.
rain’s narrative and aesthetics carried me through the majority of the game, and the narratives joyous conclusion initially had me smiling through the credits, then I remembered how I got there. rain doesn’t fail in its narrative. It doesn’t fail in its art direction. It doesn’t fail in its score. It fails in its interactivity, the very thing that makes it a video game.
I walked away from rain wishing that it was in a different medium.
[+Great art direction] [+Great score] [+Entertaining narrative] [- Simple puzzles] [-Lackluster platforming] [- Stiff controls] [-Clunky animations]