On paper, it would appear that my choice of game for this week was a match made in heaven. It’s a point-and-click adventure. I’m a point-and-click adventure enthusiast. It was 75% off on Steam. I’m a cheapskate. I bought it. Here’s Kathy Rain.
Developed by one-man Swedish studio Clifftop Games and published by Raw Fury in 2016, Kathy Rain is a classic style point-and-click adventure inspired heavily (by the developer’s own admission) by the cult TV series Twin Peaks. Already this provides a little insight as to some of the possible themes the game is going to adopt. Checking out the Steam page and trailer (pro-tip: the language used is pretty NSFW) we learn that the game is set in sleepy rural Conwell Springs in the mid-nineties, where a family tragedy has brought the titular Kathy back to her hometown. In an attempt to learn more about the circumstances surrounding her grandfather’s death Kathy is soon drawn into a dark conspiracy. What happened to her grandfather in the woods fifteen years earlier? What’s with the disproportionate number of people in the county succumbing to madness? What drove a young artist to take her own life? It would appear Kathy has a lot to figure out…
Sometimes when booting a new game and hearing the opening score for the first time, I close my eyes and think of the first words that come to mind. In Kathy Rain‘s case, it was just one word: ‘redemption’. Warm and uplifting synthesized organ notes with a simple drum progression tells the tale of a character who has resolved to do the right thing, despite a troubled past. It’s amazing what you can glean from a few seconds of music. Immediately upon hitting New Game the first cutscene commences. The developer has opted for the ‘classic’ point-and-click adventure aesthetic; a low-res feel (even by point-and-click standards) and slightly clunky pathfinding.
The dialogue mechanics are a huge strength. We get a close-up headshot of the character currently speaking, and the facial expressions vary depending the character’s mood and the tone of the conversation. This gives the player more of a sense of each person’s drives and motives, though to be honest the voice acting is so on-point as to render the headshots superfluous. The actors are able to convey a huge range of emotions from chirpy optimism to mocking contempt, which does nothing but strengthen the bond and attachment between the player and the characters. The writing is also razor-sharp; Kathy’s rapier-like sarcastic wit is not only superbly written but brilliantly delivered, and a real feather in the game’s cap.
The gameplay mechanics are similar to most others’ in the genre, but with a slight deviation. Kathy, as an aspiring journalist, carries with her a notepad in which she scribbles key names, facts and incidents in order to question the townsfolk. When trying to gain new information, you can go through the talking points one-by-one on your notepad, as well as show them various items in your inventory. Talking to people usually brings to light new information which you can then use to question other townsfolk. In this way there’s a lot of back-and-forth between locations in the game, but it emulates the slow unfolding and piecemeal nature of a real investigation.
After the first hour or so I feel like I’m beginning to get a good grasp of the types of puzzle that the game utilises. Whilst there are some beautifully weighted conundrums for the player to solve, the key to progressing the story further lies in working out how to befriend new characters so as to gain new information. I think this is brilliant for two reasons: firstly, it mimics the reality of investigative journalism incredibly well. Journalists need to know how to talk to people, how to get them to open up and spill their stories. Secondly, it forces Kathy to develop as a character. When we first meet her she’s billed as a tough, disenfranchised and troubled youth with a distinct Jessica Jones vibe, and people skills are perhaps not her forte. But she soon realizes that to make it as an investigator she has to learn how to gain people’s trust, which allows her to grow more as a person. I’m all about character development in games, so I can’t wait to see where the story takes her!
[WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead (beginning only)]
On hearing the news of her grandfather’s passing, Kathy reluctantly decides to head back to her hometown of Conwell Springs to attend the funeral. There’s a whole backstory surrounding the various members of her family, and Kathy holds varying degrees of resentment toward each of them. There’s her deadbeat father who abandoned her, her possessive and callous mother whom Kathy eventually had committed to a mental health institution, and the grandfather himself, whom Kathy saw as disinterested and unwilling to rescue her from her abusive mother. So Kathy has all this rattling in her head when she’s reunited with her grandmother, after an absence of fifteen years.
Talking with her grandmother Kathy learns about her grandfather’s incident in the woods shortly after Kathy’s mother took her away at the age of six; an incident that left him wheelchair-bound in an unresponsive, vegetative state. Kathy resolves to find out more about this incident and in so doing, opens a veritable floodgate of new leads, new unexplained incidents, and sinister characters.
The game is split up nicely across the space of four or five days. At the end of each day, Kathy returns to her dorm room where she sounds off about the day’s events to her roommate, Eileen. Each night, Kathy dreams. A familiar-looking room. Windows filled with cogs and gears. A bald figure dressed in red. Put it all together and it’s more than a little disturbing; it looks like something straight out of Fran Bow. The supernatural element is in full-flow; the overriding feeling is that all is not what it seems.
The story develops slowly, opting for small but frequent developments, but boy does the last hour pass quickly. The climax culminates in a fascinating and powerful journey of self-acceptance, as Kathy learns the truth at the heart of Conwell Springs as well as facing her own personal demons that tormented her past. Dealing with themes like loss and emotional strength, we discover how truly resilient and confident Kathy has become in the short time we’ve known her. On completing the game, and indeed throughout the game itself, I experienced a full spectrum of emotions. Joy at Kathy’s wit and fearlessness in the face of unscrupulous individuals, anger upon learning the identity of the ‘big bad’, despair at the events leading up to the climax, and shock during the climax itself.
The game is a journey in every sense. A journey of a young woman’s rite of passage and the human ability to overcome. In some ways I’d love to replay the game again straight away; the first half of the story is filled with seemingly unrelated, unimportant occurrences and references that are only half-remembered by the time the ending comes around. Like a good film, I’m anxious to go over it a second time with a fine tooth-comb because I’m certain I’ll find things that I missed.
I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about Kathy Rain. Everything, from the plot, the character development, the voice acting, and the level of puzzle complexity was sublime. My only gripe is that the game has left itself very open to a sequel but the developer is currently working on a new project! According to a steam community thread I found, the developer will release this new game, then depending on the sales of KR across all platforms they’ll evaluate whether or not they go forward with a sequel, so who knows. I know I’d love to return to Conwell Springs one day, and although sales haven’t been mind-blowing, the game has accrued a loyal fan-base who are also eyeing a possible return. Available on Steam and GOG for just under £11, it offers great value for money for the 8-10 hours return you can expect to get from it. Though if that still burns too big a hole in your pocket, you can get the game for under a fiver on Android and iOS. A very strong game with a powerful storyline, wonderful 3D characters, and a tough, gritty female protagonist with a stun gun. What more do you need?
Letter grade: A+
Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to check out my twitter to be kept abreast of new review alerts, and let me know your thoughts if you’ve played/plan to play this title. Until next time,