When Rain was announced at Gamescom 2012 I couldn't help but get a bit excited. The last C.A.M.P. game I had played was Tokyo Jungle which, while unpolished, is one of the most unique and consistently fun titles I've played in years. Rain's minimalistic style reminded many of Ico, which was another reason to be excited. So things were looking good, but does Rain actually live up to all of these expectations?
If there's one thing Rain's developers did perfectly it would have to be the introduction. Beautiful watercolor illustrations tell the story of a young boy who was excited to go to the circus but has had his hopes crushed by the weather. He notices a girl's silhouette in-between the water droplets. She's being chased by some monstrous entity and he immediately decides to set off after her. Most of the storyline is told through text presented during gameplay, which works well except when you're in a rush, being chased by something or other and you don't have time to read the story text before it disappears. It's a strange, seemingly metaphorical narrative, which proves more mysterious than anything and is never fully explained.
There are some emotional moments but the bulk of the time I was mostly filled with bewilderment. Collectable memories strewn throughout the levels give more insight into the story, but they only appear after you've played through the game once. To be honest I don't really understand this decision because it would've helped give the narrative more meaning, not to mention supplied a decent incentive during the first play through to continue on. It would've also made the three hour adventure feel much less linear if the collectibles were there from the get go.
Once the boy heads out into the torrential downpour to try and help the girl he quickly finds himself invisible as well. The gameplay takes most of its cues from this. When you're out in the rain you and the monsters that you interact with are revealed, but if you find shelter you'll be invisible. This turns Rain into a stealth game, since your character has no offensive capabilities of his own. You'll use cover and the interactions of the creatures you discover to make it through obstacles. Eventually the boy will partner up with the girl, but this mostly is used for fairly predictable things like helping one another up a ledge. There are some stand-out moments where the two are running in parallel on separate paths and helping each other past obstacles while being chased by the game's main monster, but those are the exception to the rule.
The creatures you come across are well varied. It feels like there's an ecosystem, instead of just a group of enemies designed to impede your progress. Some are wolf-like and come running when they see you but will stop if they lose vision, others are like giraffes, unperturbed by your presence and useful as mobile cover. There are even some that are like locusts and will happily eat your enemies as well as you, given the opportunity. Near the end of the game the feel of an ecosystem is lost, unfortunately, as you're stuck dealing with a single creature who gains more importance than the rest. It would have been nice if the last few puzzles had made greater use of the strategies you'd learned to adopt throughout the rest of the game, but with only one creature to contend with that never happens.
The puzzles, in general, are fairly easy to figure out and the few times that they are more difficult they're explained explicitly by the story text. I understand that it's tough to walk that line between having obstacles that are too difficult to figure out and irritating versus having puzzles that are too simplistic and therefore leave you lacking a sense of accomplishment when solved, but Rain really is much too far on the easy side. There are some puzzles where the solution is clever and it would have been tough to have figured out on my own, but they're ruined by the text supplying the solution by default.
While the gameplay leaves a bit to be desired, the presentation is extremely well done. The constant shifting of the silhouettes of the children as the rain reveals their forms works well with the backdrop of an Italian city and I didn't come across any technical issues. The music is particularly noteworthy, featuring European influences that reminded me of the catchy tunes from Gravity Rush; there aren't many game soundtracks that feature the accordion and piano, but they fit perfectly with the atmosphere and environment created in Rain.
Rain is one of those titles that is so close to being the standout downloadable title of the year. It certainly has the look and an interesting soundtrack, but the gameplay is just too simplistic for a puzzle game and the lack of narrative incentive (or even Easter Eggs) for exploration on the first playthrough makes Rain feel far too linear as well. All told, it's a unique, if somewhat disappointing title from a development team you should definitely keep an eye on.
This review is based on a digital copy of Rain for the PS3