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Rainswept Review — A Melancholy Mystery

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Rainswept

Dark secrets lie in the heart of small towns. Beneath a cheery exterior, tight-knit communities monitor their members’ movements, ready to jump on any behaviour that does not fit their ideals, no matter how insignificant or inane. Such a place is the setting for Rainswept, a murder mystery adventure game by solo developer Frostwood Interactive. Funded by a successful Indiegogo campaign, the final release features a few rough edges, but an otherwise compelling story.

In the small, damp town of Pineview, Detective Michael Stone is called in to investigate an apparent murder-suicide. The local police believe the case to be open-and-shut, with rumours of the couple squabbling and no signs of forced entry leaving little to challenge their assumptions. To Detective Stone, however, something does not feel right. Blood spatter appears in strange places, and the witness only heard one gunshot despite the presence of two victims. With only one week to investigate and his own past catching up with him, the pressure is on Stone to make every moment of the investigation count.

Rainswept plays like an old-school point-and-click adventure, with objects to examine, people to talk to, and items to collect. Detective Stone keeps a journal for the case, jotting down diagrams and information from the people he questions. Local police officer Amy Blunt accompanies Stone on his investigation, providing support and insight into the townspeople’s history. Story is the main focus, though the core gameplay loop consists of tracking down people of interest and finding out what they know. The relationship of the two victims, Chris and Diane, is told through flashbacks when finding relevant pieces of evidence.

For a title that presents itself as an adventure game, puzzles are surprisingly rare, with only a handful of occurrences throughout the game. To drop a photograph, a dog needs to be offered treats, which are provided by nearby shopkeepers. In a suspect’s house, a four-digit code has to be discerned to enter their basement, but with only one potential answer found in the house, the puzzle is solved all too easily. The detective work is all performed by Stone himself, rather than asking the player to draw conclusions from the evidence provided. Small choices can be made throughout the game, affecting Detective Stone’s relationship with the other characters, but by and large the player is a passive participant in the tale. While the story is strong enough to be an enjoyable ride, the lack of player agency is a missed opportunity. The weight of Telltale-style choices or a mechanic such as the detective minigames from popular investigative titles Ace Attorney or Danganronpa would take better advantage of Rainswept‘s medium.

A splash screen at the start of the game provides a trigger warning for suicide and trauma, and it is warranted; Rainswept deals with some dark themes. Detective Stone is pretty clearly dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: he experiences flashbacks, lost time, and becomes increasingly irritable and erratic as the case continues. The parallel storyline of Chris and Diane’s relationship also has unhealthy elements, with Diane alternating between walling herself away and lashing out at Chris to protect her feelings. Trauma is a really difficult concept to write, and Rainswept is a rare example of it done well. The characters are flawed but relatable, and the portrayal of their issues is largely realistic compared to the melodramatic Hollywood approach to mental illness one might be more familiar with. This strong character work holds the game together, while the desire to find out what happens next pulls the player through the five-hour run time.

Rainswept features beautiful, stylised graphics with flat panes of colour and few textures. Weather changes from day to day, rain and fog drenching the little autumnal town. The camera zooms in for small details and pans out for spectacular vistas, with the view from the church being breathtaking. Animations, on the other hand, are a little clunky; Detective Stone’s movement animation looks particularly awkward due to his trenchcoat not moving with his legs. Several different outfits can be changed into at the Detective’s hotel room, and removing the stiff trench-coat helps considerably.

Atmosphere is everything in a murder mystery, and Composer micAmic’s soundtrack sets a lovely haunting tone to the investigation. From Stone chasing a suspect to languishing in nostalgic memories, the soundtrack perfectly conveys the mood of each scene, ebbing and flowing as needed.

Since Rainswept features such an emotional story, the lack of facial features is an unusual design choice. At key plot moments, detailed eyes are added in, but the rest of the face remains distractingly blank. A complete style change in these moments with fully drawn characters, rather than adding realistic eyes to the minimalist design, might have been more effective.

Rainswept‘s large amount of dialogue is presented on black rectangles, with different colours representing each character’s voice. This design choice works well for most part, but Detective Stone’s red-on-black text can be difficult to read on occasion and could present problems for players with colour blindness. The script in general is well written, but, at times basic punctuation is missing, particularly in the opening scenes. Dialogue has appeared in other games without full stops for a sense of immediacy, but if this is a stylistic choice, it needs to be done consistently.

At the time of review, a few technical issues were encountered. A plot-important character could not be interacted with, making progression impossible. In another instance, loading up the game disabled mouse controls, leaving Detective Stone trapped in his hotel room. Thankfully, once informed, the developer was able to patch these issues swiftly and no progress was lost. Nonetheless, further testing before the review stage to catch these errors would have been appreciated.

Rainswept is more of an interactive story than an adventure game, but the story it tells is emotional and compelling. Those who enjoy a good narrative and can forgive some clunkiness will find a thoughtful tale that lingers on the mind long after the credits have rolled.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on PC.

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Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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