Rain of Reflections, an episodic series by Swedish developers Lionbite Games, is a bold mix of genres that aren’t traditionally mingled together. Blending a strong narrative approach where your decisions matter with XCOM-like tactical turn-based encounters is certainly daring, but they’ve achieved a clever symbiosis with Chapter 1, “Set Free”.
As your story begins, you’re introduced to Wilona (Wil) Hart – the protagonist – as the 22ndcentury’s infertility crisis is explained. Though the initial information is scarce, you’re led on a journey to free the last natural-borne child from a totalitarian government. It’s equal parts dystopia, cyberpunk, and neo-noir, and though the character’s animations can look a little stiff, the voice acting meets a surprisingly high standard across the board.
The real hallmark of quality, however, is how effectively the game blends its mechanics. In a heartbeat, you’ll go from negotiating your way through a tricky conversation with a government official to taking control of Wil in grid-based combat to escape their lackies. I say ‘combat’, but the turn-based tactical portions of Rain of Reflections: Chapter 1 are primarily designed around evading guards and avoiding detection.
This is bolstered by Wil’s keen scientific mind and knack for technology, which allows her to hack into computer systems and enemy communications, which takes the form of minigames that serve as interesting distractions. The pièce de résistance, though, is her home-made cloaking device, which allows you to spend a turn entirely invisible and slip through tricky sections undetected. It’s a refreshing take on XCOM-style gameplay, with the emphasis on avoiding combat rather than engaging in it.
You do acquire a weapon later in the story, and other non-lethal means of confronting enemies can lead to victories on the battlefield, but the turn-based portions are primarily focused on skulking and survival. The dialogue portions of the game, though instantly familiar to anyone that’s played a Bioware or Bethesda RPG, are equally engaging. Interactions feel organic and there’s a familiar rewarding feeling to digging into conversation paths to find new ways to complete your objectives.
When you aren’t directly stealthing or sweet-talking your way around guards, you’re sleuthing your way around the environment using simple point-and-click controls. Coupled with the dynamic dialogue sections, Rain of Reflections: Chapter 1 ends up feeling awfully like an Indie Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human. I mean that with the utmost respect, as someone that’s always enjoyed Quantic Dream titles, but also as a testament to how well-made Rain of Reflections’ first chapter is.
From the level of detail in the environments and lighting, to the believable interactions and nail-biting decisions, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a AA or AAA title; it feels like a game with a much higher budget. Of course, this does come at the cost of playtime, which only lasts around 5 hours, depending on how deeply you wish to dig into the world’s lore. That’s not unusual for titles with a strong narrative focus, but it is a shame considering the episodic nature.
You see, Rain of Reflections’ chapters will likely release several months, even years, apart, with no official information for when to expect Chapter 2 to release. The developers have promised the future release of at least two more chapters, but game development always has an air of uncertainty to it. There’s no guarantee that they will ever see the light of day or have the same degree of quality as Chapter 1, which is a real shame.
The final minutes of Rain of Reflections: Chapter 1 leave you wanting more, and I would be excited to dive into the second chapter, if I could, but we’ll have to wait and hope that the future content lives up to this initial offering. It’s worth noting also that the future chapters will be sold separately, so bare that in mind when considering the value for money to you. Personally, I loved my time with the game and will definitely follow Lionbite Games’ future endeavours closely, but I did come into it with existing loves of XCOM and Quantic Dream titles.