Some of the most successful indie games over the years have employed unconventional methods of storytelling to great effect. Titles such as Limbo and Journey may contain few plot elements, but their adventures are largely player driven and enrichment comes from one’s own experiences. These titles demonstrate that the removal of tutorials, interfaces and other common gaming staples don’t necessarily detract from a narrative but, when done effectively, can lend a sense of discovery to the gameplay and immerse the player within the story being told. As such, Sony Japan Studio is hoping to replicate these feats with the upcoming downloadable title, Rain.
Developed in collaboration with Acquire and PlayStation C.A.M.P – a wonderful initiative which supports intuitive ideas regardless of programming experience – Rain tells the story of a young boy transported to a world blanketed in constant downpour. The player must navigate the titular Rain in pursuit of a silhouetted girl, whilst avoiding the ghostly creatures that hunt her. Simple white text appearing intermittently across the screen relays the story while often providing the player with subtle directions. It’s a tale that draws notable comparisons to Ico, but what we’ve seen suggests Rain could forge an identity of its own.
Rain is played predominantly from the third person while a shifting camera changes perspective as the player traverses the environment in ‘sections,’ similar to proceedings in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. However, it’s Rain‘s sombre tone that captivates early on: alongside soft piano comprising a lonely soundtrack, the dreary atmosphere lends a distinctive melancholy feel to the overall presentation. The overcast weather is not just an indicator for the game’s mood, though, as rain plays a hand in gameplay too.
Our demo begins with the Boy entering Rain and discovering he, like the girl he pursues, has become a silhouette. Being exposed to the downpour renders the player a ghostly greyed-out image, while obtaining cover from the rain turns you completely invisible. It’s a simple mechanic but a hauntingly beautiful one: to know you exist in Rain‘s world essentially means standing out in the cold, soaked and shivering. When visible in silhouetted form, for example, the Boy will at times huddle over and try vainly to stay warm against the elements.
While invisible, clever environmental cues such as footprints on the ground or items falling over make traversing the game world possible. This becomes essential during stealth segments, where the player must avoid Rain‘s enemies – an eerie mix of bone and apparition – as they patrol the environment. During our demo, engaging in stealth involved dashing through the deluge while enemies were focused elsewhere, while staying under cover when in their line of sight. Moreover, smarter enemies later in the game will be able to see the player’s footprints, suggesting stealth moments will grow tenser over time.
In addition to stealth are elements of puzzle-solving and light platforming, too. As our demo took place at Rain’s outset, puzzles were appropriately basic and comprised of basic block pushing and clambering over objects. However, one notable example we saw involved the player luring some enemies into a network of scaffolding, whereupon the structure tumbled down onto the creatures below. Sony Japan Studio has also confirmed that both children will eventually work together in unison, meaning that puzzles should increase in complexity.
Rain has left us with good impressions thus far due largely to its subtle and simplistic approach to story. In particular, Rain‘s haunting aesthetic encapsulates that vulnerable feeling of being a lost and frightened child alone in a strange world, which should help draw players into the experience. There’s no denying the game will attract comparisons to Ico and Limbo as it already has, but if Rain can match the sense of discovery and wonderment of those games, then it should make for one compelling title indeed.
Look out for Rain later this year on the Playstation Network.