Title: Rain World

Platform: PS4, Windows, Steam

Reviewed on: PS4

Genre: Platformer

Players: Single player





Written by Whistler 14th April 2017

















Difficulty can arguably be the hardest aspect of any video game to accurately quantify in terms of quality. What can be deemed as nearly impossible to some is a fun challenge to others, likewise what can be considered unfair can simply be beyond a player’s skill level.  

This largely plays into what has made Rain World such a challenging title to review and one of the most conflicting titles I’ve ever tried to play.


Arguably that plays to it’s strengths considering the title’s world is wrought with effective imagery and brutal challenges that illustrate how uncaringly indifferent nature can be. The 16bit decaying world offers a plethora of striking and unique visualscapes, wild alien vegetation grows over the corpses of steel structures and monolithic concrete jungles. Screens are filled to the brim with a crazy amount of detail is etched into each and every panel alongside a deceptively realistic lighting truly giving brevity to the environments. That being said though screens almost feel a tad too populated, creating a visual diarrhea overloading the senses and regularly making it a hassle to discern your surroundings.

These decrepitly beautiful scenes envelop the player into the foreboding hellscape and leave you with an unwavering uneasiness that will stay with you well after playing.


The visuals go hand in hand with delivering an almost downright overbearing presentation right down to taking the role of Slugcat, a (pardon the pun) sluggish bipedal cat-like creature who is separated from their pack. Slugcat is an adorably pathetic creature who just barely avoids the very bottom of the post-apocalyptic food chain and represents a sense of utter helplessness that is persistent throughout the game.  


























Rain World feels like an amalgamation of several titles, drawing clear influences from some retro cinematic platformers, Dark Souls’ bonfire mechanic, and the unpredictable AI behaviour from Alien: Isolation. These influences ripple throughout Rain World’s mechanics, feel and core gameplay, creating an incredibly oppressive and dangerous planet.


Make no mistake, Rain World demands the utmost pinnacle of iron-like willpower and unshakable patience. A large amount of frustration will stem from plenty of trial and error brought about from Slugcat’s pitiful maneuverability and gymnastic skills. By all accounts it’s amazing Slugcat’s species has not long since joined the Dodo bird; they can barely keep up a light jogging pace nor can they climb or jump higher than waist high wall. While you do have a long jump at your disposal, you can’t perform it without preparing it; you’ll need to go into a prone position then hold the jump button till Slugcat’s hind legs raise up slightly. This seems harmless in itself but the imprecise sticky nature of Slugcat’s movement are highlighted by this action. Pressing down too close to an edge will have Slugcat roll off and every pixel matters for maximizing the depressingly short distance. In high tension situations when trying to escape pursuers it would seem I was a frame too quick on the release resulting in a pathetic hop in the air (and another bloody trip back to my previous save room).


Movement is intentionally cumbersome with clunky feeling controls that would lead one to deem it a poor design choice, more than often this does feel like the case with deaths feeling out of the player’s hands. It works thematically, but you will feel like you're wrestling against the controller as for the third time in a row Slugcat refuses to jump the way you want or crawls yet again into the wrong tunnel.


























One of the main threads throughout Rain World is survival, but takes it in a more primal approach. You’re not gathering materials to for stronger gear, nor are you trying to build a homebase for yourself while you increase your stats. You’re job is simple, find your way home and survive by the skin of your teeth through the insurmountable hardships that take the form of carnivorous beasts, deadly platforming and even the rain. As a creature who might as well be on the endangered species list you’ll need to feed on various fruits and those on the weakest link in the foodchain. Daily, Slugcat requires the absolute minimum of four food units so they can hibernate at one of the save points dotted around the world, save their memory of the map and continue to fight another day. Of Course it’s not as easy as all that, firstly you’ll need to avoid other predators and locate food sources that quickly become rather scarce to find as you progress. Not only will you need to do this in order to simply save your progress, but you’ll always be fighting against the unbelievably harsh time limit placed upon each waking moment.


Rain World has this title for a reason, at the end of each ingame-day’s cycle you better find yourself the game’s equivalent to a save point, a hibernation chamber asap (even half a day left might be considered risky) otherwise you will be sleeping with the fishes. While next to everything in this bloody game wants you dead, the rain will kill you and you cannot outrun it. There’s a helpful yellow alien who can point you in the direction of food, your main objective or even save points, but he rarely seems to point in the most optimal direction and there’s times he’s absent completely.


Exploring is always a race against time which in culmination with so many aspects often has Rain World feeling completely unfair in more ways than one. Hibernation chambers feel rather haphazardly placed from time to time, some appearing mere screens away from each other, and entire zones seemed empty of them. Even should you make it to a hibernation chamber you’ll still die if you haven’t had four square meals that day, so my sigh of relief turned to bitter resignation as I awoke back in the previous save point.

Bitter resignation made all the worse thanks to Rain World’s most punishing mechanic, the Karma system.
























 


Progression often gives way to regression as your Karma rating acts as a sort of key to gain passage through various gates separating Rain World’s zones from one another. These Karma gates can only be opened so long as you have the corresponding or higher rating than what is displayed on the doorway and will close again once you pass through. You can raise your Karma by consuming more than four units of food before hibernating however you can easily lose one notched in your rating from death. Rare karma flowers protect your rating from one death, but given how frequently you will die, you can easily end up in a permanent failure state especially in zones where food is next to nonexistent.


Calling Rain World punishing is a stretch when punishment would meant I learned something from each death, but too many times does the game feel abusive in how unfair it can be. Enemies can kill you with a frame of entering the next screen, I’ve even died from an attack offscreen, and yet in what I swear is a case of Stockholm syndrome, I kept coming back for more.

I have no intentions of returning to Rain World for the near future after being ripped to fought over by lizards, drowned by seaweed, eaten by sea serpents and speared by scavengers. But my thirty or so hour experience, wrought with frustrations, still lingers in my mind.


Rain World is such a unique and demanding experience, it’s a game that throws you in the deep end, then continues to push you further down.

It’s initial ‘levels’ are incredibly taxing, teaching nothing more than how to eat and where to save, beyond that you’re on your own. Rain World tells you absolutely nothing, and drowning with a lack of understanding will turn most away from it’s harsh landscapes and punishing gameplay. But for those that persist, the play by play adrenaline rushes will heighten the experience, giving a true fleeting moment of life and death. The chaotic randomness of enemy spawns and behaviour will continue to be a cluster fuck is still incredibly punishing for something that the player has no agency over. But observing the many ways to die then learning and reacting in improvisational moments make for great gameplay time and time again.

Believe me, it never gets easier and this is by no means a game for everyone, but it’ll leave you with an unforgettable experience you’ll be glad you risked drowning for.



Pros:

Procedural physics based animations breath life into the creatures,

Creative and varied enemy designs,

An entire ecological system of flora and fauna create a living world,

Unique open ended world to explore.


Cons:

Random enemy spawns often feel far too punishing,

Controls feel intentionally clunky,

Karma System can land the player in seemingly permanent failure states,

Sparse food resources can make it feel impossible to recover from failure.


Final verdict,

Rain World scores a 7/10.

 

Written by,

Whistler

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