- Street Date:
- October 1st, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- October 1st, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- SCE Japan Studio
- ESRB Rating:
- RP (Rating Pending)
'rain' is the product of PlayStation C.A.M.P. ('Tokyo Jungle' and 'echochrome.'), with help from Sony's Japan Studio and Acquire, but more than that 'rain' is presented as the kind of low-key, independent style game that Sony has managed to associate with their PlayStation Network. Probably the most famous of these avant-garde, Sony-backed games is thatgamecompany's 'Journey.' And much like studio-backed independent films, these games can be simultaneously pretentious and laudable.
With 'rain,' Sony has promised the kind of interactive journey that is more meaningful than the destination. Key for this kind of game is the story, which will not be spoiled in this review, and keeping the player engaged. Now, let's see if 'rain' is worth the price of admission.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
As a game, 'rain' is a composition of simple elements. The somber fairytale story is told through some basic platforming, stealth, and puzzle gameplay, all in a simply made environment. There is no voice acting, nor is there any dialog. Instead, narration comes in snippets of text that appear in-level as the player progresses.
The game begins with one of its few water-colored cutscenes, a boy awakes feverishly in the night to see the outline of a girl outside. Suddenly, a fearsome being, (called 'The Unknown') appears and maliciously chases the girl. The boy pursues and follows the chase through a large door. Once through the door, the boy is startled to find that he is reduced to invisibility, and only is visible when outlined by the falling rain.
From there, the player controls the boy, who is at times pursuing the girl, and other times attempting not to be found by the Unknown (scary thing) or one of the many creatures that are similar to the Unknown.
In general, this means progressing though the nighttime town, which maintains a mid-nineteenth century European feel. The player can jump and climb over or under some small obstacles, but the main mechanic is one of concealment. By standing under areas like a shop awning, the player's rainy outline disappears. Such concealment, where the player character is invisible onscreen (usually partly offset by wet footprints) is not something most games are willing to allow. The Unknown and the other creature/enemies also become invisible in the dry shade, but the game only rarely confronts the player with concealed enemies.
Although the playable area, characters, and environments are in 3D, the game's camera is old school in nature, and the player is at its mercy. Most puzzles, obstacles, and enemy encounters occur in a segment with a fixed camera, so despite the player not being able to control the camera, there really isn't any camera angle issues of the 'Resident Evil' severity.
The game's controls and puzzles are simple enough that novice players should not be baffled. The game even has a hint system. Should the player die a few times in a given segment, pressing Select will bring up a hint along the lines of "The creature can be distracted by noise."
But while the puzzles are simple, the solutions can be tough to execute. Every enemy is faster than the player, and the player dies instantly when touched. The game over screen, a water color dotted "The children were swallowed by darkness" screen, is never far off. The timing for most enemy evading maneuvers has little-to-no margin of error or allowance for hesitation. While this aspect might kill the game for those completely unfamiliar with video games, both the checkpoints and the short time interval between dying and playing again should keep most players from throwing the controller.
The levels are broken down into chapters, each with a little "Chapter 'Number' fin" message at the end. Levels are tight, and puzzles have single solutions. There are few-to-no offshoots and only just enough blank level space to keep the player contained. The likelihood of dying and being chased keeps the tension up, but also can affect the telling of the story. The narration can be forming a nice sentiment when "Oh, crap I ran slightly left of the crawl hole and the Unknown got close to the boy, which means 'bam, children dead.'"
The game eschews the normal temptation to hide collectibles throughout the levels. (more on collectibles later) This allows the player to focus on the story, the puzzles, and enemies, rather than trying to look in every ugly nook and cranny of each level. For me, this makes a big difference, and games like 'Max Payne 3' can be sullied by collectible hunting.
The game's story, which is presented as a mysterious fairytale set of circumstances, "Who is the girl? Who is the Unknown? What's with the invisibility?" isn't ground-breaking, and is fairly predictable. The end even falls prey to some bad movie tropes. And yet, the means of telling the story and the restraint employed in using various techniques makes, for lack of a better term, for a journey that has the right amount of hot and cold touching moments. (Players will be hard pressed not to think of 'Ico.')
The in-game narration and pleasant gameplay allows the brief game to nail that excellent indie game/foreign film feeling, which helps it to serve as a nice break from a massive, mainstream and violent game like 'Grand Theft Auto V.' It's unfortunate that the game does not indulge a bit more in surrealism, which is reflected by one of the later levels, an obvious stand-out.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
While some of the lighting effects and the rain outlines on the characters exhibit a high level of detail, the game skews more towards the look and feel of PS2 title. Even with the occasional high-detial model, and dense poster and graffiti textures, most levels seem to be built entirely out of a brown stone texture, and give the game a monochrome feel. These techniques don't hurt and likely do enhance the story-telling, e.g. important goals are bathed in light and have a color not present elsewhere. Areas of rain and puddles look so much better than dry areas, and as a result the game, with its grounded streets and alleys is less visually impressive than similar works.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The audio department mainly consists of pouring rain, and a piano-heavy soundtrack. There are a few sound effects from actions like splashing in puddles or knocking down wooden scaffolding. Again, the restraint seems to suit the game. (For comparison's sake, the voice acting in Sony's 'Puppeteer' is both unpleasant and unnecessary.) The game supports a wide range of audio options from 7.1 LPCM to both Dolby and DTS offerings, and the gamut of support is appreciated.
Once the game's eight chapters have been completed, the player is given the ability to find Collectibles, and many players will be tempted to find all twenty-four and presumably net the three remaining trophies. Otherwise, the game lets you jump to any checkpoint in any chapter. Most likely a replay would involve showing someone else all or part game.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Pre-orders for 'rain' netted customers a dynamic theme, five hand-drawn avatars, a musical montage, and a static theme. Sadly, my copy, which was provided by Sony, had none of these goodies. The game seems in many ways to hold the appeal of a Van Gogh oil print, and it is a shame that a dynamic or static them is not included as standard with each copy. The game's digital manual is a nice bonus.
'rain' isn't 'Journey,' but some smart design choices helped me enjoy it more. Some later rough spots were redeemed by the penultimate level. The game's imperfect story invokes the kind of thought normally reserved for short stories. Enjoying and supporting a game like this is part and parcel for wanting more games like it. Hopefully, success for the title will result in a version for the Vita, which is something that Sony should have already managed.
- 7.1 LPCM
- 5.1 LPCM
- 5.1 Dolby Digital
- 5.1 DTs
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