When the PlayStation 4 is unleashed on the public later this year, expect to see plenty of nostalgic looks back at its predecessor along with the usual minefield of reflection that springs forth when December 31 approaches. As the PlayStation 3 steps aside to make way for its replacement, legacy becomes an important consideration. What is the PS3’s greatest contribution to gaming? There isn’t be a single, simple answer, but there’s a clear frontrunner: the system’s contributions to the breakout field of digitally downloadable games.
It’s something that all current gaming platforms can take credit for, but it’s an area in which the PS3 excels. From Journey to The Unfinished Swan to Guacamelee!, the list of exceptional games designed exclusively for the Sony’s console (and in some cases the Vita) is remarkable – and possibly even daunting. It is to that auspicious list that SCE Japan Studio, Acquire, and PlayStation C.A.M.P.’s upcoming platform/stealth game Rain hopes to add its name.
As you might expect for a game attempting to join the pantheon of Sony’s downloadable hits, Rain has a unique hook that you may not have seen before. The game presents itself as art, but whether it deserves that description or not remains to be seen. The haunting and melancholy settings take on a more specifically layered and deliberate orientation than your typical, static backgrounds. Rain certainly has lofty ambitions, if nothing else. Sony’s latest demo proves as much, serving to lay out the story and highlight the quirky and unusual game mechanics.
The plot, related through painted storyboards, opens on a boy staring wistfully out his window when he is startled by the ghostly outline of a girl. She is invisible, except when the rain hits her, creating a translucent silhouette. The girl is being chased by similarly silhouetted beasts that have a vague similarity to giant dogs, but with a more sinister countenance. The boy decides to climb out of his window and follow, only to discover that he too is now transparent.
Rain uses the precipitation to show where you and the enemies are, and similarly allows you to hide where it is absent. The beasts hunting the girl soon begin to chase you as well, and their vision works as well as yours does. Stepping out of the rain renders you invisible, though running through puddles is a giveaway. The beasts also disappear when they step out of the rain, forcing you to guess what their movements might be.
This leads to an emphasis on stealth as you wait for your enemy to move in a particular pattern as it passes you, then advance by sticking to the dry areas and remaining out of sight. Sometimes this is not an option, however. On those occasions, you must run. In one cover-free section from the demo, the boy leads the pursuing dogs toward a collection of crates. He ducks under a convenient awning at the last minute as the beast crash into the obstacle, subduing them and clearing the way to progress.
Rain is mostly linear, so you usually know where to go as the design of the world pushes you in a particular direction. In that sense the gameplay is not terribly unique, despite the invisibility hook. There is stealth with platforming elements: you run, you dodge, you hide. It is in the presentation where Rain differentiates itself.
From the first moment, when the haunting notes of “Clair de Lune” play and the cobblestones streets of the city call to the boy, there is the sense that this game is designed with a purpose. It is meant to be experienced as much as played, and the gameplay is just one part of a more elaborate package. Rain will certainly be compared to recent insta-classics like Journey, but whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen.
Sony is on a hot streak right now with its digitally downloadable games coming from smaller teams. That puts a lot of pressure on Rain. Good isn’t enough; it needs to be special. We’ll find out this fall if the trio of devs can live up to that burden, but so far the elements are in place for yet another PSN classic.