A boy and a girl stand looking at each other, finally face to face but still merely silhouetted by the constant downpour of rain. It’s a poignant and beautiful moment; these two strangers both turned invisible by something unknown, and chased by beasts, fiends and monsters through the midnight hours, coming together at last.
Together they forge ahead, the boy having rushed from his house at the start of the story with no idea of what was ahead of him, just a desire to help the shadowy figure of a girl being chased by a monster. It’s a world full of peril for these two, as just one hit from a beast which has spotted you will kill you and doom the girl to a similar fate.
Yet for a long time at the start of the game you are kept apart from one another. A locked gate, a wall which has collapsed or just her ability to always stay one step ahead of you. Your help is purely altruistic, seeing someone in need and finding small ways to help, and she doesn’t even know you are there at this early stage in the game.
Her flight sees you chasing after her before then working together as you cross the town; an amalgam of many locations from across Europe. The prevalence of electric lighting and certain styles of car make the period clear, somewhere during the early part of the 20th Century, but the stylised depictions of the city’s architecture combines with German, French and Spanish words in the posters, the street signs and even graffiti.
It’s a curious mixture at times, but creates this evocative feeling that this could be unfolding anywhere on the continent. It’s both inconsequential and wonderfully atmospheric at the same time, something enhanced by the music and sound.
Clair de Lune has featured heavily in what has been shown of the game so far, but it’s just a small facet of the wonderful soundtrack which has been crafted for the game. Certain themes come to the fore at appropriate times, with various instrumentation adding to the multinational feeling I got from the environments. The accordion lends further to the hints of France, but the soft acoustic guitars elsewhere are again reminiscent of Spain.
When the music recedes, you’re left with just the sound of the rain. The ever-present hammering of water droplets on the roads, cars, buildings, and of course, the boy and girl. Very rarely do they get a respite from the rain, and early on, the boy casts a desperately lonely figure when he bows his head, hunches his shoulders and clasps his hands together. It’s made all the more oppressive and forlorn as you pass through some of the environments, with the roof-less church and abandoned factory making him look particularly small.
The brief moments where you pass under shelter turn the boy completely invisible, with just his footsteps leaving prints on the ground and kicking up a small amount of dust. He could knock into a chair, a box or some bottles, and come the morning nobody would think that he had passed through here. His passage across the city leaves no marks. He is insignificant. He is hunted.
The Unknown, the most intelligent and ruthless of the invisible beasts, chases you and the girl across the city. Its angular features and design are common to the other fiends which you encounter – dog-like creatures are the main enemies you see, which will chase you if you are spotted – but the Unknown is distinctly powerful and determined to find you. Its spindly left hand with a single elongated finger through which it seems to look through is in stark contrast to the huge and sword-like right arm, which it uses to smash down what gets in its way.
The only hopes of survival the boy or the girl have are to hide in the dry and evade, distract and escape the beasts they encounter. It’s this core of stealth-like play which combines with simple puzzle elements throughout the game, to create something which I feel is quietly understated and always enjoyable.
Other elements are added gradually, from muddy puddles which leave your feet visible outside of the rain to more beasts and critters, and the more collaborative gameplay with both the girl and the boy. Only on a handful of occasions did I die, over the course of the roughly 4 hour experience, with those few retries never frustrating or leaving me unclear as to what I wanted to do. There is the ability to bring up hints via the Select button, should you need one, but I never felt impeded.
The pacing was also quite delightful, transitioning quite seamlessly from exploration to puzzle solving, then dramatic moments of action and tension and all the way back again. Each area of the city had a rather unique feeling and look to it with some impressive gulf-like tonal shifts throughout, emphasising the shifts in pace. The only detraction from this was a final act which lost that variety and inventiveness by returning to the same idea and situation too often, though it is certainly tense.
It could also, on occasions, feel like it was telling me too much of what I should be relating to, rather than letting me simply intuitively understand. The way that sentences of exposition can hang in the air as you walk past them is a lovely way of integrating the story. It’s almost like a silent movie in some ways, with no dialogue or voice acting, and so the floating words are a necessary evil in this regard. It’s at its best when it lets you discover things for yourself, or see them in action. So at some points it’s intrusive and unnecessary, having simple concepts laid out so plainly for me, or being told how much I should empathise with the boy or the girl and their plight, and loses some of that early magic on a second play.
Yet empathise I do, and the genuinely touching moments show up time and again. When the musical touchstones return at key moments of the pair’s silent interactions, when the music falls away to leave you alone in the middle of a forbidding city with just the sound of the rain, it can be an incredibly moving game.
Rain is a simply beautiful experience, and a perfect example of the kinds of games which Sony have tried to foster on their platforms over the last few years. A few minor shortcomings hold it back, but at the same time it’s a game which I feel is on the cusp of joining the lists of games you must play on PS3.