PS4

Review: Rain World – PS4

Happy Easter folks! While you’re dealing with chocolate-related indigestion, how about a nice Pure PlayStation review to keep you company. This time out, our reviewer gives his opinion on the latest title from Adult Swim Games – a 2D platformer and survival game by the name of Rain World. We know from the pre-release trailers that the Slugcat protagonist is adorable as hell but did the game leave us with dreams of becoming a Slugcat rancher or ordering an extra shipment of salt to keep our gardens free of this menace?

Rain World is a conceptually interesting game. It drew me in with an interesting hybridisation of retro platforming and survival mechanics. In the end, though, I was left with a distinct feeling that, while the concept here is sound, the execution is deeply flawed. While there are moments of tense survival to be found and moments of distinct beauty, they are bogged down in the frustrations of working with the game’s inconsistent platforming mechanics. Coupled with the title’s obtuse approach to everything from story telling to actually explaining its systems, this leads to a game that provides many more moments of irritation than enjoyment. Slugcat is undeniably adorable though, join me below as I explain why, sadly, my only remaining emotion for the character is a strong urge to squash him with the largest boot in my collection.

Rain World manages an effective introduction, the minimalist storytelling approach is apparent as cartoon stills tell the tale of a little creature, the oddly limned slugcat, separated from its family and left to fend for itself. After this short intro, the player is left mostly to their own devices. As you awake into this unfamiliar world, you’ll find your only real objective is to find the food and shelter needed for your survival. As you move toward this goal, you are tempted further into the unknown by a mysterious yellow guide that will point to various exits, directing you to food, shelter, or the next area. As you progress further, you’ll find that this little guide is taking you somewhere, should you choose to follow it. That is, if you can follow it and assuming that it doesn’t choose to lead you into a death trap in search of food or otherwise. The amount of times this little thing lead me toward my death or just down a dead end was ridiculous.

This leads me into my major criticism of the game, its total insistence on the player discovering everything beyond the basic jump and move commands by themselves. Occasionally, this approach can lead to joy as you uncover hidden mechanics and reach previously inaccessible areas. All too frequently, though, it leads to a feeling of having just wasted an hour when one line of text could have guided you to the same solution in under five minutes. This willful obscuring of what the game wants from you extends to your guide as well. It’s up to you to determine what the symbols you’re shown mean and thus whether following them will actually help you achieve anything, up to you to determine what aspects of your environment help or harm you, and up to you to even discover that there is a progression system in the game that will lead to achievements and allow you to progress to areas that are initially gated.

All of this mystery would be fine, maybe even enjoyable, if the game encouraged experimentation. However, the penalties for death are a loss of progress and a return to your last resting point, which can be crippling if you get stuck in a death loop. Rain World is essentially a series of safe rooms that allow you to hibernate away from the titular deadly rain that will periodically come and ruin your day. As you survive your time outside these rooms and either gather enough food to hibernate in the same place again or find the next safe room and do the same, you’ll gain ‘karma’ levels. These levels are what determine whether you can progress through certain gates to later areas. Just to make this clear, this is never explained, just hinted at. When you die, you’ll lose a karma level and potentially your chance to progress for a while. This makes the aforementioned obscurity incredibly frustrating as you’re acutely aware of the time limit ticking down to a harsh penalty.

The frustration isn’t helped by some incredibly loose platforming mechanics. This seems to be a consequence of the developer’s decision to use procedurally generated animations. As you move around and take actions, animations are generated on the fly, both for you and AI creatures. This leads to some awesome, natural looking movement as you scrabble through the busy environments. It also means that, unfortunately, you’re never quite sure if your character is going to do what you intend at any given moment. I was beset in my journey through Rain World by jumps that were inexplicably too short, my character failing to grab climbing points, or grabbing without being told to, random crouching that slows movement literally to a crawl, and endlessly getting stuck in nooks and crannies I didn’t even want to enter in the first place. Not great when you’re on a time limit or being chased by a hungry predator.

You might be forgiven at this point for thinking that I’m slamming Rain World but, strangely, I’m not. There’s a lot to dislike in the way the game plays out but there are things that work as well. As a survival title, there are genuine moments of a delightful tension as you evade predators to gather precious food and scurry back to a safe room just in time. In the same vein, there are discoveries to make that are capable of inspiring genuine wonder as you explore the pixelated world. Some nice lighting effects and art direction lead to scenes of real beauty among the cluttered and dilapidated environment. If you can bring yourself to progress far enough, you’ll also find some nice variety in the environments presented to you. Sound is used sparsely in the game and to good effect, usually highlighting danger and ramping up the tension or creating mystery as you explore a new environment.

There’s some subtle story telling hidden away in the game and a narrative direction beyond reuniting with your family that I doubt anyone playing the game will expect ahead of time. Be warned that it is by no means easy to uncover this story thread, though, hidden as it is under the obtuse progression system and unwieldy mechanics. One thing that is really enjoyable about the game is observing the myriad creatures, predatory and otherwise, figuring out how best to evade or overcome hostiles and how to make use of benign or helpful critters. The animations and AI really come together here to create some interesting behaviors, though they also occasionally create bizarre contortions this mostly just adds little moments of amusement to the adventure.

There’s enough charm in Rain World that I really wished I had more tolerance for the frustrations it brings up but overall I spent a lot more time annoyed than enjoying myself. Rage inducing, seemingly unfair deaths are frequent and the mechanics I’ve mentioned above only compound the frustrations. For fans of survival titles, there’s definitely some interesting gameplay to enjoy here. For those with the wherewithal to progress far enough, there’s a lot of hidden depth to uncover both mechanically and story wise. There are even NPCs to find and befriend, though you wouldn’t know it without some real digging. The dense layers that obscure the game’s finer points are far too thick for me to recommend this to anyone other than hardcore survival fans. Certainly, if you’re expecting a lighthearted platformer then look elsewhere.

Rain World PS4 Review
  • 5.0/10
    Overall - Not Bad - 5.0/10
5.0/10

Summary

A cute main character hides the devious nature of Rain World. It's not a forgiving game, it's not a sweet game, there are things to like in the style and atmosphere but go into this with your eyes open, should you choose. Expect frustration aplenty to accompany your every accomplishment. This might appeal to survival fans, more so than those after an old-school platformer, but for me Rain World is a hard pass.

Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.

 *Reviewed on a standard PS4

Dom is a gaming orphan; after his surrogate father SEGA was killed in the console wars, he was adopted by Sony and raised by various PlayStation consoles. He swears he’s not biased in any way though, so that’s good enough for us.
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