Rain is immensely depressing. It’s only fair to warn you that like the sodden world you’ll spend a good few hours in your joy will be dragged to the bottom of the well, crippling even the most stringent optimist with melancholy. No matter how hard you try, how far you run, you’ll remain alone. The darkness never relents, attempting to engulf you at every possible moment. The monsoon pours down continuously in this miserable world and the fleeting moments of hope are dashed faster than it takes for a drop to hit the ground.
There are glimmers though, those cursory junctures where all does not feel lost and solitude is dispelled for the briefest of occasions. When you, the boy, and the girl you so desperately try to find are together it lights a spark in your heart, one that promises that everything will be okay. Yet, those promises are swiftly extinguished time after time as you’re separated by an Unknown entity – something is hunting you and it just will not let up.
This SCE Japan developed is tremendously difficult to play, not because there’s anything disgustingly awful about the gameplay, just that it is so draining. Time after time I thought I’d scaled the hopeless mountain, that everything from here on out would be uplifting, but it just knocks you down again and again; it’s brilliant really. With a heart-wrenching melody, no voice work and just a some text on-screen, Rain manages to evoke such a powerful emotional response.
“As a work of art – exceptional. As a game – woefully inept.”
Its artisticness stretches from the wonderful soundtrack to the beautiful yet gloomy environments, constantly drenched in the downpour. Despite its lack of colour, the realm you’re in has a charm to it that’s entrancing; the way the rain shapes you and your enemies, the footsteps that appear when you’re invisible, even the deserted nature of the world populated with scattered bottles and discarded chairs. There’s always that continuing reminder that you’re alone and it’s crushing.
The rain also acts as the core gameplay mechanic as well. When you stand out under the clouds your form is visible but when you shelter your figure is lost and you’re hidden to those that want to cause you harm. It’s an ingenious system so it’s hugely disappointing that it’s never fully utilised. There are puzzle elements mixed in with the platforming sections but they never challenge nor is it ever progress beyond what feels like the opening few stages.
At only eight chapters Rain isn’t the longest of titles but it feels underdeveloped and lacking in substance beyond the wonderful atmosphere. In most areas of the gameplay it is severely inadequate and the archaic implementation disrupts it frequently. Having to press circle to ascend a ladder or crawl under a space feels like technical limitations rather than clever design decisions to set the pace; ultimately it feels outdated. Stealth elements are used well but also underused and never require more than a seconds thought.
Other than creating the right atmosphere Rain’s visual positives end there. Animations are clunky, textures are poor, character models vastly too simplistic and graphically it never impresses. This wouldn’t be a problem if the gameplay was something to shout about but it’s a facile attempt. Misdirecting baddies with sound by jumping in puddles, becoming partially visible thanks to mud and hidden enemies attempt to give an otherwise droll interaction set some live but never muster more than a whimper.
Rain has to polarised sides. On the one hand it’s an emotional tale that, upon completion, is clever and expertly executed despite its dispiriting nature. How friendship, fear, hope and grieve were all created using so little is mightily impressive, but almost everywhere else Rain disappoints. There is no depth to the gameplay and little enjoyment to be found from it – and despite unlocking “memories” for a second run there’s little incentive to do so.
As a work of art, Rain borders on exceptional. It keeps pushing you until you feel as though you’re going to break before hitting you with a punchline that sets it all into place. As a game though, it is distinctly lacking, woefully inept and vastly outdated. There is little that holds your interest to play and it sadly would’ve been far better without a controller of any sort.