Point and click adventure games – if you've ever both been interested in games and owned a computer at any point, it's good odds that you've experienced the frustration of one of these games in your time. That doesn't necessarily mean the genre's bad – Monkey Island and Chzo Mythos were stellar – it's just that these games have a heavy focus on (sometimes) nonsensical puzzle solving that can result in a hail of expletives. The latest of the anger-inducing lineage is Kathy Rain, a Clifftop Games title made in Adventure Game Studio that boasts a badass female protagonist and a strong focus on storytelling.
Games like these live or die on the strength of their plot – I'm happy to report that Kathy Rain has nine lives. Staggering in from a night out, her college roommate Eileen informs Kathy of some interesting news – a relative of Kathy's, Joseph, has passed away. Rain turns up to her grandfather's funeral, and soon begins to discover odd circumstances surrounding his death. What results is a feverishly addictive narrative being told that will leave you begging to find out more – it's split up into seven days, each of which can be done in an hour, so the game is ideal to be played in bitesize chunks while you attempt to unwind the mystery; and the mystery will occupy your mind even when you're not playing the game.
A key part of the point and click genre is the use of puzzles, and the success of these puzzles ultimately hinge on how much sense they make. Kathy Rain's puzzles are almost wholly sensible – not easy to work out, but if you're a rational thinker, you can come to a conclusion – not like in certain other games where one thinks “How the hell does that make any sense?”. Apart from one egregious example – how do tape cassettes work inside an image scanner?! – all the puzzles are satisfying. For example, there's a crabby old woman halfway through the game that you need to glean information from but she won't let a snoopy individual like yourself inside. How do you coax her out? If you survey the scene carefully, you might spot an odd glass object sitting on a banister on the veranda outside. Et voilà – she smokes. Offer her a cigarette and you've got her. By keeping its puzzles mostly sensible, Kathy Rain creates a challenge that doesn't interfere with the gameplay and storytelling but which also makes for a stern test for anyone interested in the genre.
The developers would like you to think that Kathy's the star of the story, but she's not. The game is remarkably well written and the characters – even the ones that function as little more than an information dispenser – are well-realised. The star of the show is the plot as a whole, due to how it engrosses us at every turn – what gets in the way is Kathy herself. Truth be told, she's meant to be seen as this cool female hero; in actuality she's just a boring try-hard. Kathy has dyed hair, wears boots and leather, hammers the point home about being an atheist, and rides a motorcycle, while dispensing nauseatingly “witty” one-liners – she's not a strong female character, she's just someone's sexual fantasy writ large. Worst still is how you can practically see and hear the writers of this game furiously aping actual strong and well-realised female characters that came before – think Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars – and all we get left with is a cheap and lazy facsimile of these characters, included only to give the game a seemingly neat twist -- in reality, Kathy Rain would be much the same if the protagonist was male. However, Rain's weak characterisation isn't enough to distract from the stellar storytelling, which, as noted, is the crown jewel of this game, and thankfully, the weaker parts of her presentation take a back seat as the plot unfolds.
Thankfully, however, the presentation that this game has to offer is completely top notch. Kathy Rain utilises heavily-pixelated graphics that would be common to games like Day of the Tentacle, so it manages to emulate the visual vibe of LucasArts games from the 90s – a huge plus. Kathy Rain also looks very warm in its colour palette – even the drab and dirty locations of the game come with enveloping warmth to them. This serves to make the game all the more inviting, and will help to draw the player deeper and deeper into the convoluted mystery. Kathy Rain is completely immersive; in my first sitting with the game, I sat at my computer absolutely transfixed, and was jarred and alarmed by things like shouting outside or my phone ringing.It’s a game so deep that you'll find yourself snapping back to reality with any external stimulus.
Beautiful, and with a plot as sharp as razor wire, Kathy Rain is a future classic. A fantastic story wrapped up in gorgeous presentation values – the only thing stopping this from being an absolute 10/10 is the divisive protagonist. If you like games that prioritise plot, then strap yourself in for this one.
Kathy Rain (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A fantastic story well told, superbly presented. When it comes to point and click adventures on Steam, Kathy reigns.