Rain has the same ethereal quality as ICO. Much like Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece, this is a muted experience, orchestrated only by the sound of running water and composer Yugo Kanno’s twinkly score. It’s also a tale of boy meets girl, where two kindred spirits connect under the starlight of a sodden dream world. The parallels are so strong – fixed cameras, clever co-operative gameplay, persistent phantom-esque enemies – that Japan Studio’s latest digital download almost feels like a spiritual successor of kinds. But does the soggy excursion make the same kind of splash as its PlayStation 2 counterpart?
Not quite, but it’s only a drip or two away. Set in an outdoor environment engulfed by a never-ending drizzle, you play as a gangly adolescent lost in a snivelling city. Having heroically followed in the footsteps of a damsel in distress, you find yourself locked in this wishy-washy world, with no immediate means of escape. Your only option is to track down your ponytailed accomplice, and try to find an exit. Sadly, you swiftly realise that your body has evaporated in the driving rain – and that you’re being pursued by squelchy spirits dubbed the Unknown. Fortunately, the downpour plays a cunning role in helping you to emerge from your miserable plight.
In a twist of fate, what remains of your ghoulish physical appearance disappears under shelter, allowing you to hide from the unearthly enemies by stepping out of the rain. This forms the basis for a string of stealth puzzles, where you must use coves and coverings to dupe your disgruntled adversaries. It’s a simple system, but it works really well – and the game does a clever job of keeping puzzles varied over the course of its two to three hour running time. You can, for example, lure foes by jumping in puddles, pick up dolls and keys to direct their attention, and even tempt them into cages in order to keep them out of the way. Take any damage and you’ll die, but the restarts are frequent enough to forgo any of the usual frustrations found in the undercover genre.
Once you do eventually catch up to your counterpart – spoilers, sorry – you’ll need to work as a team. The puzzles never really escalate in complexity, but you’ll find yourself boosting your female friend onto hard-to-reach ledges, working together to operate machinery, and pushing heavy blocks. Sometimes you’ll need to save her from the clutches of a silvery knight that remains a mainstay throughout the narrative; other times she’ll come back to save you. This dynamic is designed to make you develop an affinity with your accomplice, and it’s certainly successful, even if it is a little heavy handed with its approach.
As you traverse the waterlogged districts of abandoned factories and gloomy sewers, the game will layer narrative on the screen. There’s no dialogue in the PlayStation Network exclusive at all, but these literary snippets give you an insight into the character’s thought processes, emotions, and relationships. The text is written in an earnest, matter-of-fact manner that’s befitting of the sombre tone, but it’s much more playfully integrated into the world, taking considered advantage of the adventure’s fixed camera perspectives to implement words onto the screen as you move forwards. There were a couple of instances where we struggled to keep track of both the prose and the gameplay, but the title generally does a commendable job of allowing you to multitask between the two disparate tasks.
Such a clever implementation of plot accentuates the title’s overall artistic direction, too. While you will breeze through the adventure swifter than a gale force gust, you will want to spend time to soak up the scenery. The macabre art direction is excellent, augmenting familiar urban districts with an otherworldly quality. Steam swirls from the cobbled pavement, while rippled water reflects church windows, streetlamps, and circus attractions, giving each structure a menacing size. The world feels big – and that’s an appropriate characteristic considering the childish eyes that you explore it through.
As alluded, the art is complemented by a sizzling score, which jumps from tearjerkers to free spirited fairground music with accomplished simplicity. The range of instruments is impressive, with pensive piano melodies, daring accordions, and sombre strings employed throughout. There is a slightly French flavour, but it’s never really explored deep enough to resemble anything other than a glint of sunlight in an oppressive overcast. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting influence, and it culminates in an indescribably exotic flavour that showers the overarching sadness with something a little more uplifting.
Unfortunately, the game’s mechanical undercurrents make its elementary brain teasers a bit of a letdown. While it’s very much comparable to more existential affairs such as Journey and The Unfinished Swan, the puzzles here play a more prominent role. And despite being clever – and fairly cinematic in places – you’ll clear the majority of them without breaking a sweat. As a consequence, the curtain will be closed on the adventure before you’ve properly had time to ponder it all, and without the online component or greater sense of discovery of the aforementioned favourites, there’s never really the incentive to go back. You can replay the game to collect memories, but the appeal isn’t quite the same.
Still, that shouldn’t take anything away from Japan Studio’s artistic achievements. This is an eye-wateringly beautiful release, and it’s technologically sharp, too. Don’t assume that its downloadable origins insinuate a lack of set pieces, as there are a couple of sequences that would make even Sony Santa Monica smile. It’s the water effects that are the real highlight, though, glittering as puddles and pools are infiltrated by water droplets. The whole game looks sodden and shiny, without ever encroaching on the slimy sensibilities that make Unreal Engine releases so unattractive.
A wet and mild ride through a spirit-infested city, Rain is soaked with smart stealth-lite systems and awe-inducing presentation. The simple puzzles and short running time wash away some of its triumphs, and it certainly won’t leave you streaming like Japan Studio’s most memorable excursions, but the adventure will still linger on your lips like a kiss under a dark cloud.