'Rain' on the PS3 is a haunting homage to silent French film
In Rain, you are invisible. The only time you can see your character — a small boy wandering a dark city — is when you venture out into the seemingly never-ending downpour. With a lead character who is not only invisible, but also mute, Rain's main appeal lies in its presentation: a haunting soundtrack coupled with dark and moody visuals make this an experience that feels more like a French film than a traditional video game. The adventure has you following the trail of a young, equally invisible girl, and attempting to unravel the mysteries of the monster-filled, people-free world. The end result is one of the most unique and beautiful experiences on the PlayStation 3.
Rain is a relatively straightforward title. It plays like a basic, puzzle-centric platform game, tasking you with climbing and jumping around the environment, trying to find the way forward. There's also a heavy emphasis on stealth — the boy has no way to defend himself, so instead you need to sneak around foes or simply run away from them. Naturally, the invisibility theme plays into this. Enemies can't see you when you're not in the rain, so there are both risks and rewards at play when it comes to taking shelter. It takes some time to learn how to move, with little in the way of visual feedback, and the game also adds in some clever twists to keep things interesting. If you run through a puddle of mud, for example, you'll be visible and exposed no matter where you are. You can only clean it off by splashing in a pool of clean water.
When you venture out from shelter you become exposed and vulnerable
The game moves forward in an entirely linear fashion. There aren't multiple solutions to puzzles, and the city is made up of a series of tight corridors with little room for exploration. You can't even move the camera around to get a better look at things. The fixed camera angle initially feels constrictive and jarring — especially in 2013 — and you'll find yourself constantly fiddling with the right analog stick to no avail. But for the developers, it's a purposeful decision: the fixed camera angle limits you as a player, but frees the game to present a more cinematic experience.
That filmlike feeling is what prevents Rain from being just another platform game. From the dark, empty city streets you'll explore to the haunting, piano-heavy soundtrack, Rain really transports you to what feels like another version of our own world. It’s strange, but also rooted in reality. A lot of it comes down to the tiny details — the way the boy stumbles as he runs from danger, or bumps into furniture and debris while he's invisible. Likewise, the fact that you can't fully see any of the enemies makes them all the more terrifying. This is particularly true for the Unknown, a Pan's Labyrinth-style horror that follows you the entire game.
The music, art, and animations do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to narrative and world building, and that's because there's no dialog in Rain. Brief snippets of text, cleverly integrated into the game world, help move the story along, but you're never stuck watching a lengthy cut-scene.
It accomplishes a lot in a few short hours
There are shades of the PlayStation 2 classic Ico in the way the boy and girl interact with each other, and it's hard not to care about them, despite never hearing them utter a word. Rain presents a lot of questions — What is this world? Why are there monsters? — but the relationship between the two children is easily the most compelling aspect. You only get to spend a few hours with them over the course of the game's eight chapters, but it's more than enough to form an emotional connection. The story's ambiguous ending leaves a lot open to interpretation when it comes to the pair's relationship — both to each other and the mysterious world.
Rain's dialog-free narrative and intense focus on its theme calls to mind games like Journey and Shadow of the Colossus. And while it doesn't quite reach those lofty heights, it manages to scratch that particular itch in a way few games have before. It's lonely, sad, hopeful, and beautiful all at once, and it manages to accomplish all of that in just a few short hours.
Rain is available to download today on the PlayStation 3.