A journalist student with a sharp wit and a bad attitude goes home to her grandfather’s funeral, and on learning of the strange things that happened him a decade before, decides to uncover the truth, no matter where it takes her. Her name is Kathy Rain.
Developer: Clifftop Games
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release Date: May 2016
Played: Full Story
Kathy Rain opens with our protagonist in her dorm after a night of partying, barely awake and more than a bit intoxicated. Her super-Christian, hyperactive and slightly stalker-ish roommate Eileen (a character I absolutely adore) tells her she found out someone named Joseph Rain died and asks if it’s her grandfather. The news sobers her up and she leaves as soon as possible, meeting her estranged grandmother at the funeral and then at her home to catch up. While catching up, her grandmother says Joseph had been in a vegetative state since 1981—the game takes place in 1995—and had been acting strangely before it happened. Deciding this is the best way to reconnect with her grandfather and to give her grandmother the closure she deserves, Kathy begins her investigation into Joseph Rain’s “incident.” But she’s not ready for what she’d find.
I absolutely loved the plot of Kathy Rain, it’s the kind of story where you’re not entirely sure of what’s going on, if everything is real or just a collective hallucination. There are supernatural elements all around you but also enough ‘evidence’ to doubt what you’re seeing. So when things get surreal, you feel the same as Kathy does, lost and confused, but in a good way, in the fully immersed kind of way. The story and Kathy herself also reminded me of the Gabriel Knight series, with a character looking for answers in her family, using tape recorders to splice audio and with a trustworthy bespectacled sidekick.
The story also has the same overall style, taking place over several days, each with a set number of activities and objectives. As a massive fan of Gabriel Knight and this kind of story, Kathy Rain hit the right notes for me. There aren’t enough games like this, too many try to imitate the LucasArts style, but it takes a special kind of writer and designer to go for a Gabriel Knight-style mystery.
Characterisation is brilliant and Kathy is the kind of person I’d love to meet in person, a hardass with tons of wit and sarcasm but more often than not using them to protect herself from pain, an it’s the reason those moments when she’s confronted with the dark parts of her past are so effective. I shed a tear when she did. The supporting cast is just as good though I wish I could’ve learned more about the Crimson One and the others like him, they seem very intriguing characters. Kathy’s grandmother is the personification of the best memories we have of our grandparents, sweet and understanding but with a menacing temper if it flares up. I grew very attached to her over the course of the game and visiting her reminded me of Gabriel Knight’s visit to his own grandmother, though Grandma Rain plays a much bigger role in this story than Grandma Knight ever did.
The voice acting is perfect, and every character comes to life convincingly. It was the voice acting that made Eileen one of my favourite characters, the actress giving her character the much-needed energy to sell the Eileen’s hyperactive nature. The snark-filled conversations and touching moments Kathy and she share are wonderful because of not only the writing but also the strong voice acting. The Crimson One’s actor gives his strange character an edge of madness that makes him a joy to meet.
As a point & click adventure game, you’ll spend most of your time solving puzzles and talking to people. The interface is minimalist, with only your cursor and the inventory icon on the bottom left. If you click on an object, you get all the interaction options available, the most common being use and observe. A curious thing with items is that when you click on them, the options are observe and ‘combine’. If you use it with another item it combines them, but when you use them with a hotspot, the verb changes to ‘use’. I thought it was pretty clever.
Speaking of clever, the puzzles overall are very good. You have some that are fairly straightforward but every once in a while the game throws you a curveball and it can leave you stumped until you realise what the clue is. A puzzle near the end is the best example, the clue for it being “CODE IS NEAR.” You can’t imagine how much I struggled with that one. It was late at night and I had played for hours, so I decided to sleep on it and the next morning the answer was so clear I felt silly. If you don’t bring your A-game to the puzzle solving, this game will kick your butt!
But perhaps because they are so clever the reuse of the character Goober as a puzzle component seems so lazy and tired. You use him for the same things every time, and it doesn’t feel exciting on engaging in any way. But on the upside, Kathy is a rare breed of point & click adventure protagonists that feel bad for doing something bad to someone else and even mentions her intent of paying the person back.
The locations and characters in Kathy Rain look wonderful, and the environments have tons of tiny details that tell you more of the characters that live or work there, from the overflowing ashtrays at the lake house to the war memorial pictures in the Rain household. In these details, the game tells a story of its own, of times past, of regrets and bittersweet memories. It connected me to the characters even more and made my immersion much stronger.
But, and this is a minor nitpick—and as such doesn’t affect the game’s score—I wished they’d given us a button to quickly return to the map, particularly in those locations with more than one room. And speaking of the map, I loved the presentation, Kathy Rain just driving her motorcycle. It’s perfect.
Kathy Rain is a wonderful adventure game, hitting beats similar to those found in Gabriel Knight, one of my favourite series ever. I hope there are sequels. These characters and world deserve it. Hell, we deserve it as well, because as I said, there aren’t enough games like this out there.
5/5 – Hell Yes!