The hard-boiled, chain-smoking stubbled detective on the trail of a killer while dealing with his own divorce/alcoholism/haunting past is a trope that every film-buff, bookworm, and gamer would have found love with. Grim worlds of troubled stories, unfinished dreams, and dirty laundry have happily been aired in the public domain. Rainswept examines this world and takes us on a journey that is naturalistic and at the same time surreal. It takes us on a true murder mystery where you are left piecing together clues, all while trying to keep the main protagonist sane and alive at the same time. So get your detective boots on, drink something strong, and let us go investigate Rainswept.
Rainswept starts with the suicide of a man, by gunshot, in a suburban house as the rain pours down outside. The town where the event takes place is that of Pinewood – a town preparing for an important tourist festival in a couple of days. The man who took his life is Chris and by his dead body is that of his partner Diana who has been killed by a gunshot to the stomach. Detective Stone is brought in from the city to investigate the seemingly straightforward, pretty much open and shut case. But he has his doubts. He is villainized by the local sheriff department, all except a rookie officer Blunt who assists him in the investigation. From here the world around him falls into one of investigation, shady business deals, sabotage, secrets, lies, and a surprising turn of events.
The writing in Rainswept is extremely good. In fact, I’ve been astounded by the high quality it brings. The writer knows his genre well and isn’t afraid to reference other films or books along the way, but in the same breath this tells a tale of originality and warmth that will stay in my mind for a long time. I loved all the characters involved and I felt that each individual narrative provided a journey and satisfying conclusion that is three dimensional and full of depth. The game does a glorious thing where it puts you in the shoes of the dead couple, providing some lovely flashback sequences. And further to that, the nightmare sequences and the more surreal sections in the game are handled with a great directorial eye as well.
Gameplay-wise and Rainswept comes with a very simple mechanic: you walk around, pick up objects or examine stuff for clues and check out items that can be used towards your detective journey. The clues gathered will prompt a little casebook Detective Stone carries around with him and this determines who you should be talking to next during the investigation. Every morning you meet your colleague in the local coffee shop and have a list of those you need to interview for the case; it’s up to you which one you go to first. The conversations you have use an old dialogue tree system with several options to choose from, and different outcomes that play out determining how you behave. All this works superbly well and it’s easy to get a sense of a case slowing starting to make sense, with shocks and twists around every corner. The gameplay occasionally takes a diversion with some nightmare sequences where a basic bit of platforming is required, but in general it sticks to its point and click roots.
Visually Rainswept is edited together like a professional movie. Cuts, odd angles, close-ups on faces, and huge sweeping beautiful panoramic shots are all present. The 2D world of Pinewood is a stunning yet strangely foreboding place; a piece of American Pie with a dark underbelly. The hand-drawn art style is a masterstroke of design genius that captures every moment perfectly and beautifully. And as I write this, magical sequences ping out to me – the New Year’s firework display, the church on the cliff, a surprise romantic visit to an island when the stars come out and the algae in the water turns fluorescent in the moonlight. This isn’t a big-budget game but the design team have used every resource as their disposal, from the distinguished street design to the smallest detail in a painting on the wall, all the way up to a phenomenal conclusion.
And whilst there is no voice-over bringing the characters to life, what we do have is an amazing collection of music that comes together to ensure it always feels like the game was designed around them perfectly.
Rainswept on Xbox One is a game that I have enjoyed tremendously, from the very start right up to the very finish. It tells a great, mysterious detective story while keeping its heart, humour, and heat. The way the game changes focus from flashback to real-time to magic realism is soundly crafted. For the price, Rainswept is a bargain and one not to be missed. In fact, it’s a contender for indie game of the year alongside the brilliant Kentucky Route Zero.