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It starts with a gunshot to the head. Well, actually, Rainswept starts with a warning that the game contains references to suicide. So straight away it’s clear that despite the pastel colours and slightly cartoonlike 2D graphics, this will be a dark and emotional ride. Developer Frostwood Interactive do their best to deliver on their promise of an adult story with powerful themes, featuring a detective with a messed-up mind and a murder mystery that isn’t quite what it seems. In some standout scenes, with the help of a melancholic soundtrack, they succeed. But Rainswept has a lot in common with Night in the Woods, not just its palette but also large parts of its narrative (lonely protagonist and creepy goings-on in small town America) and gameplay (interacting with the local characters through dialogue choices). Whilst games borrow from and expand on each other all the time, here the comparison only highlights the elements that don’t quite meet Rainswept’s high ambitions, packing a torrent of emotional beats into just a few hours of gameplay when a steady drip would have been more impactful.
You’ll recognize protagonist Michael Stone as soon as you see him. He’s the archetypal detective featured in so many other games, films and books: chain-smoking, unshaven, jaded and lacking in sleep, with dark thoughts on his mind. He’s arrived in the small town of Pineview to help out the local police force with what they believe to be an open and shut case – a murder-suicide of local couple Chris and Diane, who were seemingly having marital issues leading up to the incident (therapy is much more expensive than a gun these days). Naturally, there’s more to it than meets the eye, both with the case and with Detective Stone, who suddenly has a violent vision at the start of the investigation, creating some kind of new world record for “shortest length of time before my co-workers get concerned I’m probably not fit for this job.”
Graphically the game has a light cartoonish touch: people have button eyes but no mouths, and character animations are a little comical. For example, the protagonist’s long bandy legs never quite seem in sync with the rest of his body when you’re moving him about. It certainly adds a level of comic eccentricity to the experience, but the quirky tone can feel a bit off at times, especially considering the mature subject matter.
As the dysfunctional Stone, you’ll navigate the 2D streets and bars, shops and houses of Pineview using the keyboard. Points of interest pop up as a magnifying glass icon as you walk past them. When clicked, hotspots open up verb coin options of looking at, using, or talking to the object or person in question. The developers are reportedly also working on a mouse cursor option that doesn’t require being near objects to interact with them. While this feature wasn’t available at the time of my playthrough, its absence didn’t really cause an issue because there’s very little in the way of puzzles here, and not a huge number of objects are vital to the story. Any slight challenges, such as getting a dog to let go of an important photograph (as you do), rely mainly on picking up an item nearby (usually in the same screen) and then using it.
Much like Night in the Woods, the lack of puzzles seems intentional. Rainswept is a narrative-focused game rather than a gameplay-heavy one. Detective Stone only has a few days to try to wrap up the case before the town’s big festival comes, and the chief has more important matters to attend to (small town cops apparently love festivals). The story is split into these distinct days, with each one more or less starting with our investigator waking up and meeting his partner Officer Blunt in the cafe for a lowdown on the objectives he should look into for that day, whether that be meeting the coroner or interviewing a potential suspect.
You’re then free to travel around Pineview and carry out these plans in any order you see fit, and can interact with various characters around town that are going about their daily lives, just for the hell of it. There’s a rudimentary pop-up map that can be used to guide you to your goals, but the street system takes a little bit of getting used to, and often it’s more fun just wandering around anyway. You can check your objectives at any point or even bring up the journal where Detective Stone writes all of his notes about the case, though you’ll never need to refer to any of these to solve anything, so it’s more just for show, or for remembering the names of the people you meet.
You can opt to completely ignore chatting and get on with cracking the case, but then you’d be missing out on some of the game’s best moments. Whether helping come up with lyrics for a street guitarist’s latest song; rolling your eyes at Grandpa, the town’s resident elderly lothario; or shooting the breeze with a group of teenage skaters, these fun little encounters make Pineview – and Rainswept as a whole – feel more alive, and as the days change so do the differing dialogue options. If anything, even more could have been made of these interactions: more people or different characters that pop up over time, or some secret areas to discover that would encourage you to explore that extra bit longer and create a richer world. As it stands, they’re just a fun but slight distraction to the main story.
Without any voice acting, the dialogue appears in text boxes above the characters, using a basic font that takes a little getting used to at first. You’ll soon get past that and into conversing with the locals, suspects and your fellow officers. Once you get gabbing, you can select what to ask from a couple of options, along with deciding on certain occasions what to reveal about yourself or whether to share your thoughts about a situation, or just remain silent. It’s hard to know how much these choices really affect the gameplay; in one situation I was asked by Officer Blunt whether I liked fiction or non-fiction books, and so I played through both scenarios by going back to my save game. I got a slightly different response depending on what I said, but that appeared to be it. Still, it’s a nice extra feature that gives you the feeling that there is a bit more going on in a game that doesn’t offer much in the way of a challenge – even if that choice is purely cosmetic.
As Detective Stone looks further into the lives of the murder victims, you also get to play out flashbacks of the first time Chris and Diane met, and how it went so wrong. These moments are easily some of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful in the game. Playing as Chris, one effective scene sees you on a date with Diane in the very beginning of their relationship, taking a boat out to a distant island. As the two reflect on their own insecurities and loneliness, against the backdrop of a blueish purple sky, the experience opens up into less of a “whodunit” and more into the drama of two people and how they later fell apart. It’s a touching recollection, relatable to anyone who has ever felt like an outcast or a little bit isolated from the world, written with just the right amount of subtlety and maturity.
Such moments are made even more poignant by Micamic’s beautiful soundtrack of lilting piano chords or jazzy syncopated rhythms, depending on the situation and mood. Whilst there are only a handful of main themes looped throughout the game, I found at least one or two of them running through my head even when I wasn’t playing Rainswept, simple yet instantly memorable.
Unfortunately, key points are also undermined occasionally by a lack of finesse. In a clearly poignant scene between Chris and his wife, Diane suddenly becomes “Daine”, and in another instance Chris asks “do you have any how beautiful you look?” It’s obvious what is meant, but in such emotionally charged scenes all it takes are slight slip-ups to tarnish the moment. Similarly, that moving musical score suddenly cuts to silence when you go to look at your map, and sometimes if you linger too long drinking in the scenery, it will just stop altogether.
As you near the end of the investigation, you’ll also delve into the detective’s own haunting memories of a past relationship, which explain why he’s having so much trouble sleeping. Between this, dipping into Chris and Diane’s backstory, and solving the murder case at present, the narrative strands start to become a little overwhelming near the end as they vie for attention. Depending on whether you make it your top priority to give that guitarist your finest lyrics every day or just rush through the game, there’s probably about 6-8 hours of gameplay all in all. The final reveal of what really happened that night between the couple doesn’t have the climactic feel you might expect, because you’ve been too busy dealing with so many other elements in such a short space of time. Themes of rape, death of a loved one, and PTSD are all hurriedly tackled long before the game’s denouement, more than some games fit into twice or three times the length.
Rainswept is a game that right from the start makes it clear it isn’t afraid of addressing big issues, and should be celebrated for being able to carry it off for the most part. At times, however, this ambition gets the better of it. Not only do several of these elements feel rushed, but there isn’t much actual gameplay to help flesh them out. Another casualty is that basic elements such as script and sound editing lack polish, while engaging features like discovering more about the town and its residents get sidelined. Still, the visuals are stylish, the music wonderfully atmospheric, and the flashbacks scenes in particular are deeply touching, so if you do manage to weather some of the game’s more preposterous moments, there’s a breath of fresh air to be had in its more reflective moments.
Rainswept bites off more than it can chew with its ambitious story of love, murder and loneliness, but within the sometimes confusing narrative strands there’s an involving game with a beautiful soundtrack to discover.