The Heavens open and darkness falls
Sony have a strong history in recent years of nurturing development talent eager to try something a little offbeat, risky or arty. We’ve had Journey and The Unfinished Swan and we’re bound to see more of their kind on the PS4, but before we take that leap onto next-gen in November, we have a title many of us have been looking forward to since its initial reveal back at Gamescom 2012.
Rain takes place during one evening in the rainy streets of Paris. Hearing a noise outside, a boy looks out his window to see a ghostly silhouette of a little girl run past. He climbs outside to investigate only to discover that he himself has turned into a similar ethereal figure. There isn’t much time to dawdle though as there are sinister creatures on the prowl too, so you must guide him through the streets to help him find the girl and make his way back home.
Rain's unique hook is that you are only visible when rain falls on you. Step under cover or go indoors you will become invisible. You’ll need to keep an eye out for telltale wet footprints, or small dust clouds kicked up by your feet. Bumping into small items like chairs and paint cans gives you an indication of your whereabouts to yourself and nearby creatures.
Environments are 3D, but linear with no room for exploration. Your path is usually abundantly clear as you make your way through the streets to catch up with the girl. There are simple platforming sections and the odd puzzle involving pulling blocks to climb to higher areas. Nothing you couldn’t handle in your sleep.
Rain becomes more interesting when it adds stealth to the scene. As a small child, you are truly defenceless. There is no combat; instead, you must flee for your life. Hiding in the streets are vicious ghostly creatures, who are also only visible in the rain. Generally, you’re evading skeletal dog-like creatures who can take you down with a single attack.
Staying hidden is key to surviving. Get out of the rain to disappear and hide from the enemies. For the most part, it's simply a matter of watching their patrol routes and slipping by when their backs are turned. They can also be distracted by splashing loudly in large puddles.
It's not all about stealth though; sometimes you just have to run for it. One of the creatures is a spindly giant with one huge deformed arm that will smash you into the darkness at the slightest hesitation. To escape you’ll need to crawl through gaps and climb over scaffolding before it smashes obstructions out the way. It may look like one of the monsters from Silent Hill, but it's relentless like Nemesis from Resident Evil 3.
Visually, Rain isn't particularly striking with the watercolour cutscenes being particularly dull. In-game, the scenery does what it can, but when the majority of the game is set in rainy nighttime streets, there's only so much you can do with grey buildings, abandoned warehouses and building sites. Although, the stage based in an empty circus adds some welcome colour.
There's a strange desolation to the stages that work in the game's favour, giving it some unique character. We all know that the streets are just quiet because it's late at night. But there also a feeling that everywhere has been abandoned, we only ever see the two children and of course the monsters.
The story dissolves much of the atmosphere though. The game is a far too keen to spoon-feed you the plot and the boy’s feelings via floating lines of text. The reason so many of us fell in love with Journey, was the complete lack of narration. Everyone was able to freely interpret events as they pleased.
It would have been better to ditch the text and rely on the music to set the scene and push any narrative agenda. If you've seen any of the trailers, you'll have noticed the game uses the iconic piano piece Clair De Lune by Debussy. It's not used in the game as often as I would have liked, but the new compositions and the vocal track added to the Debussy piece certainly serve the game well. There’s a healthy mix of piano, orchestral score and some very French accordion music.
As the momentum of the game speeds up you can tell the end is coming, which I’m afraid isn’t that long after you begin. After less than two and a half hours I was done. There’s some crudely placed replayability though. After finishing the story, collectible orbs or 'memories' appear in each chapter for you to pick up on a replay. Seasoned gamers will be able to see this coming from miles away during their first playthrough as there are many side-allies or wrong turns which are blatantly meant to have something in them. I can appreciate that maybe the devs wanted us to enjoy the story first without any distractions, but shouldn’t that have been our choice?
The intrusive narration text doesn’t derail the overall experience though. Sure, the gameplay is extremely basic and it’s very short, but there’s an undeniably soulful side to the game, which beautifully blends the music with a desire that two lonely and frightened children can make it through the night.