With a boy-meets-girl premise strongly influenced by Ico and a soundtrack fronted by Claude Debussy’s Clare de Lune, Rain has its sights aimed squarely at your heartstrings. And for the most part, Playstation C.A.M.P’s short adventure is a sweet and melancholic fairy tale – the polar opposite of their previous work on the raucous, animal kingdom survival simulator, Tokyo Jungle. But any ambitions to dampen your cheeks with tears are all too quickly thwarted by repetition and a foggy, muddled narrative.
For all the ways that Rain does remind of Ico – its straightforward platforming puzzles; the interdependency of two strangers forging a narrative and mechanical bond; and a group of mysterious, otherworldly antagonists that try and separate you – its central, defining concept is wholly original. We learn, in a watercolour painting-styled opening cut scene, that when an unnamed protagonist boy first lays eyes upon the ethereal figure of an unnamed girl he’s mysteriously drawn towards, he becomes invisible to the ordinary world, just like she is.
Controlling a see-through character might sound like a confusing setup for a videogame, but Rain introduces its simple set of mechanics at a gentle yet brisk enough pace to remain interesting, but never overwhelming. When covered by a roof or awning, only disturbed scenery and damp foot prints indicate your location. When exposed to the perpetually soaked, dream-like interpretation of early twentieth-century Parisian back alleys, however, the collision of water droplets with your figure creates a ghostly blue-white, transparent character model.
These two fundamental states – covered and invisible or uncovered and visible – are the crux of Rain’s gameplay. At a glance the game might appear to be a pure puzzle platformer, but it mostly functions around rudimentary stealth mechanics based on this dichotomy and the spindly antagonists who stalk its ghostly otherworld. Most of these skeletal aggressors take the form of animals, but their leader, referred to as the Unknown, is an overgrown humanoid and pursues both boy and girl relentlessly, much like Resident Evil 3’s Nemesis.
One touch from any of these adversaries and it’s game over, so much of Rain is structured around avoiding the gaze of its monsters by only exposing yourself to the downpour when they aren’t looking. In the outskirts of a run-down industrial estate, placid, Giraffe-like ghouls with wide, rain-blocking torsos provide moving shelters under which to take refuge. In one indoor sequence, both yourself and a pack of dog-like monsters are invisible, with only their soggy paw prints telling of their whereabouts, and the rustle of newspaper pages or disturbed empty bottles to give you away. These are tense, smartly designed moments that experiment on a visual and mechanical level. But such ideas dry up around the half-way point, from which the rest of the game regurgitates much of the more interesting first half, and the final two twenty minute chapters (of the total eight) prove to be uninventive.
Rain is at its best during earlier moments, whilst you’re chasing after the girl’s heels, and then again when you initially pair up. Here, C.A.M.P’s level design bristles with the potential suggested by its original premise. Moments where you have to save the girl from the Unknown’s giant bone club by interacting with the environment surrounding and often blocking her path are the most inventive on offer. And it’s also during these initial sections that Rain’s aesthetic design feels most potent.
Eminently, this is a sad game, with its damp grey streets and sombre, emotive soundtrack, but in the substance of its story, there’s nothing quite so touching. A young boy and girl’s plight to escape a world of aggressive monsters is an affecting setup, but it’s difficult to discern quite what is going on by the end of the game, which ruins much of the empathy initially built for these characters. There’s a suggestion that the otherworldly plane in which they both now exist is some form of escapism from an illness, but this idea is never fleshed out, and by its conclusion, Rain has become so abstract and convoluted that it’s like peering into a muddy, clouded puddle. There are discernible reflections, but they’re so warped and obscured as to be unrelatable.
Even through its written narrative, displayed via text floating throughout its roughly textured, linear environments, there are no answers to be found. Most of the writing comes in the form of overly obvious descriptions of currently transpiring moments – “the roof protected him from the rain and hid him from sight” – that add little to the flow of the experience.
Rain’s emotional potency is progressively diluted by tiresome design, but there’s no one particular grievance that completely ruins the experience. Playstation C.A.M.P’s singular furtive idea provides some fantastic initial sequences, but all too quickly these begin to wane and give way to a confusing story and blander moments of Deja Vu. As such this isn’t about to become the latest stable mate in Sony’s ever expanding line up of small-scale, experimental PSN darlings that many – including myself – had forecast it might be.