Loneliness is not an emotion many are eager to admit to. We think it needy and insecure; people don't like it. Even so, some of us go a bit crazy when we don't get our regular dose. Even more so when lost at night in a dark town bereft of people, outside in the rain. With an honest spirit and a genuine heart, this is the emotion Rain is set on tackling - an exploration of what is arguably the most feared human condition.
It's raining outside my window as I write this. A boy in my same position sees the contour of a girl running away from a Silent Hill-esque creature. He runs after them and so finds himself turned a silhouette. He remains visible in the rain, but becomes transparent under shelter - the only place safe from the phantom-like creatures and the monster traversing the city.
Here the boy finds his dilemma. If he walks in the rain other beings can see him, but so too can the figures haunting the streets. Conversely, if he remains under shelter he'll be secure but also unknown to everyone, including himself. He's confused and unsure how to handle his predicament. So he does the only thing he knows how - trudge on. Such is the nature of loneliness that Rain so beautifully encapsulates. A story that composes both narrative and gameplay, all working in the same symphony for the same purpose. That's a commendable feat. It's unfortunate, then, that not everything is in harmony with the wider vision.
Most of the story is narrated via floating sentences. In tenser moments, they proved engaging and ancillary to the story (especially when being chased by the 'unknown' creature), but Rain feels the need to tell you everything. When something was blatantly obvious, gameplay or story-wise, it would be explained anyway - much the same way a teacher over-explains their point to a classroom. I wouldn't go as far as 'patronizing', but I was already putting the pieces together myself. Players will engage themselves voluntarily if you give them what they need and assume their intellect. If you can harness that, if you can stimulate the player's mind to do most of the work for you; he or she will invest themselves. It's not necessary to hold our hands the entirety of the way. It seems like a missed opportunity to make an engaging game even more so. When in doubt - give players the option.
The aforementioned running and hiding will comprise the majority of your time. You're a child; the only option is to evade any creatures you encounter or outwit them. New gameplay schemes are gradually introduced - adding more layers to the 'stealth'. Stepping in mud will reveal the outline of your feet even when you're out of the rain. The only remedy being to step in a clear puddle to wash it off. Enemies can also see you when carrying objects.
Rain utilises light puzzle-solving. Occasionally you'll be tasked with moving a box, pulling switches, or finding keys. I say 'light', because the puzzles given only provide a satisfactory challenge. While certainly interesting, the play mechanics never get too complex nor prove themselves new. Most of what is here you'll have seen in some shape or form, but it's still executed with skilful craft. You'll find being hunted by the forenamed 'Silent Hill' monstrosity will make for some of the best moments. The gameplay's real purpose though, is to serve and support the narrative's endeavour to expose the agonizing reality of human solitude - it's a means to an end.
As you puzzle and run you'll bear witness to a lifeless city that seems to take much of its architecture from early 20th century Europe. The austerity and coldness of your surroundings won't let you forget you're alone. Graphically, the city is impressive, particularly the endlessly flowing water. The only thing withholding excellence are the building textures which look drab up close on occasion. You'll also be accompanied by piano-based sonatas that provoke both misery and hope - a soundtrack that synchronises brilliantly with the on-screen happenings.
Rain will last you 4-5 hours - an adequate length. It wasn't too brief nor did it outstay its welcome. It will cost you $24; whether it's worth the price depends on how much you value such an emotional experience. The game does unlock collectible 'memories' scattered around its world, but apart from that there isn't much incentive to revisit.
Rain is a moving yet quiescent exploration of a very real emotion. It manages an unsettling but tranquil tale that wants you to confront your own fears of being alone. It does so with story and gameplay in unison, though it could have told us a lot more by saying a little less. The narrative is the gameplay's only raison d'etre, which is something I'd like to see more regularly in games (think BioShock Infinite.) The gameplay nevertheless achieves some unique and interesting elements itself. It may not be very difficult, but that again doesn't seem to be the point. In the same vein as Journey, Flower, and Shadow of the Colossus, it seeks to deliver something more heartfelt. By story's end, it will have done exactly that.