Monday, October 7, 2013

An unfair contest

In the past month or so I have played two very similar, on paper anyway, downloadable titles. Brothers, the adventure of two young siblings trying to save their father, and rain, the adventure of two young unrelated children trying to save each other. Both are on the artsy side, both are around the same length, neither contain any spoken words, and yet Brothers refuses to leave my mind and rain has me lamenting the lost $15 and time. Why?

Each game has a single gameplay mechanic that it uses as the starting point for all of the 'action' and puzzles. In Brothers the player controls each of the both simultaneously, one on each analog stick. It is clumsy at first but the game never requires anything to happen quickly and it becomes crucial at the end for an emotionally crushing moment. In rain the player only controls one one of the children but they are both invisible. The constant precipitation outlines them and it allows them to hide in plain side but walking under a roof but that is as interesting as it ever gets. Being invisible never really impacts the story, it just makes for a few cheap jumps when the also invisible monsters appear out of nowhere. In fact not seeing the characters actively sabotages any emotion that rain tries to build because it is impossible to identify with a splotchy outline. The boys in Brothers looked and acted like boys. They were people, not just a neat effect.

rain starts in *gasp* a rainy city. It becomes more abstract as it moves along but the color palette never changes. There is no journey, no destination, and everything along the way looks the same.

Honestly David Bowie would have been an improvement.

Brothers is an adventure that starts out small and familiar and ends at the literal ends of the earth. From the hometown to the surrounding mountains to troll slave pits to dodging whales on a tiny boat it never stops changing and never stops being interesting to just walk though and look at. The world has character. It is more than a vehicle for the one effect that the entire game is based on.

Who here has seen Blade Runner? Now put your hands down if you have only seen the theatrical release with the awful voice over, you have only had Blade Runner spoon fed to you, poorly. I did say that neither Brothers nor rain had any spoken dialogue but only Brothers sticks to it has no text, either. The story is told entirely through the visuals, by the actions and reactions of the characters, and it works because it forces the player to pay attention. rain breaks things up with poorly written, or perhaps poorly translated, text dropped right into the game world.

At 47 seconds - 'The girl's silhouette had already melted away...' Why is the game telling me this? I can tell because I can't see it anymore! I don't need anyone to tell me about what I can't see. Over and over again sections that had a good shot at pulling on a few heartstrings were ruined by the game yelling at me 'THIS IS SAD NOW. SEE HOW SAD IT IS!' You would figure that a game based around invisible protagonists would understand that sometimes less is more. Let the player figure it out on his or her own.

rain wasn't bad, at least not when compared to truly bad games like Dark or Ride to Hell, but it was certainly disappointing. If I think about it as an overgrown tech demo it makes sense. Brothers goes on my very short list of tear jerking experiences that will most likely subject myself to on a semi-regular basis. High praise from a great big jerk like me.

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