Rain is a game where an invisible boy is chasing after an invisible girl while both are perused in the rain by invisible horrors, any of which can only be seen when in the torrential rain. Perhaps part of my disappointment for rain can be attributed to the fact that I accidentally purchased it last month before it was available for download from the PSN and eagerly waited for the first of the month so that I could play it. I find that high levels of anticipation have a tendency to modify the opinion of something, and I would personally cite the Stargate movie as one in which I had no expectations at all when going to see it and was so blown away that I now proudly still have all seasons of all shows on DVD despite being able to watch any and all of them instantly via Netflix. But I digress, because -- video games.
Rain promised to be a fun and enjoyable romp similar to Ico which is still one of my all time favorites, but it just fell flat for me. The reason is simple, actually. It has nothing at all to do with gameplay, which was enjoyable an fluid (pun intended), but rather to do with the method of narrative delivery. As the (presumably) ex-boy makes his way through the delightful little dark and twisted environs of what is apparently a western European town in the mid 20th century, the narrative voice comes in the form of a text overlay. Now I have nothing against text overlay's per-se, Thomas Was Alone is one example that I will laud and applaud off the top of my head, and truth be told, I tend to turn the captions on for all my games - but rain breaks a cardinal rule of storytelling: SHOW DON'T TELL.
It boils down to this. When we see that the little girl is running down the alleyway away from the "unknown terror" trying to kill her and text pops up that says "The girl ran down the alleyway from the unknown" -- there is a narrative disconnect that immediately pops me out of my willing suspension of disbelief. This type of text is called "out of game content" (technically a misnomer as it is still part of the game) and is has to do with agency, the fourth wall, and the nature of interactive storytelling -- but more importantly it's just bad form! Ico had text. It even had incomprehensible text -- but it didn't have needless redundant text. More than once I found myself trying to run from a thing in the dark while trying to also read the text at the top of the screen. Annoying!
Perhaps I'm being hard on the storytellers choice in delivery, but the real final disappointment came in the ending. I have no idea what was happening. Normally this is fine, as long as we get the big reveal at the end (this is called disjointed narrative by the way) or there are enough enigmatic context clues (i.e. disrupted narrative) to figure it out (I'm thinking Shadow of the Colossus) but with rain I literally said "huh?" at the end. I really thought that it was about a dead kid, and I think I know that I think it still was (not a typo), but I'm really not sure. The greatest irony to me about the heavy-handedness in the text-based narrative is that in the end it was not used to clarify what the whole point of the thing had been about. Was it limbo? was it death chasing them? Was it all just a dream? Was it a metaphor to illustrate the threat of children's deadly diseases in a homogenized industrial era advocating vaccinations within the context of a post-modern dystopian gestalt society? Got me.
At any rate, play it for the gameplay which is a lot of fun, embrace the linearity which is not a problem for me, but don't expect much of a big reveal at the end. There just isn't one in my opinion.