Adventure games are dead—the title of a forum post that pops up every few months since 1996 or so. Then devs reveal a promising title at E3, the hype is real, the tension rises, the game is released, and everybody posts adventure games are dead again. Sure, there are exceptions, such as Gilbert and Winnick’s Thimbleweed Park. But wait, even a year before that release, Kathy Rain popped up, Clifftop Games' debut no less. A forgotten (at least, by me) retro-inspired noir point & click adventure, set in 1995, that delivers on almost all fronts.
Let’s start with getting the negative(s) out of the way. It’s really short, even for an adventure game: you’ll be craving for more after a little more than five hours. Okay, is that it? Well yeah, I can’t fault the game on any other part, really. The atmosphere is great, the pixelated graphics are great, the protagonist is great, everything is fully voiced, …: everything you’ve come to expect from the genre is present and accounted for. I did play the Director’s Cut, which included a revamped soundtrack and some restored/extended puzzles.
Speaking of which: no Moon Logic or crazy fluff like in Gobliins 2 in Kathy Rain. Instead of hunting pixels, you’ll be needing your head, as most puzzles are logic-based. Kathy and her friend Eileen are quick to give hints though, especially in the beginning. She sometimes wonders what’s still missing, how to do x or y, providing a gentle way to get you back on track. I never really felt the need to brute-force COMBINE x WITH y here, although admittedly, with every new item, there was the urge to go back and revisit every character in the game to see what they had to say about it, hoping for a piece of information I might have otherwise missed.
What starts off as a rebellious attempt to differentiate herself ends as an inevitable path down to hell—or whatever you want to make of it. Kathy is a journalist major, nosy, bitchy, chain smoker, bike babe, and lover of the word fuck. She regularly gets herself into trouble because of that. The game revolves around her deceased grandfather and his strange “vegetative state” his wife called it. Kathy decides to investigate, finding herself getting dragged into the mysterious and mesmerizing trio-light thingies, which also happen to be present on the tainted windows of the church. Strange.
At one point, the story took quite a dark path, reminding me of Sanitarium, a psychedelic adventure game revolving around a psychiatric patient and his inner struggles. The first hour or two starts of normal though: get an item, ask questions, unlock new locations, combine stuff, solve things, retrace your steps, and so forth. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of locations in the game, but you’ll be revisiting them often. The game’s pacing is crafted beautifully though.
The game sucked me in. Completely. I wanted to continue, to unfold the story, but also to keep on staring at those beautiful pixels, the purposely chosen low resolution, or the ridiculous shifts in perspective that are just dead wrong, reminiscent of Guybrush Threepwood appearing from afar. If you’ve ever played one of the old SCUMM games and liked those, you’ll appreciate Kathy Rain even more. If not, it might come over as hampered, although the controls are intuitive enough, and you never need to do anything more besides the occasional click and drag. There are no complicated commands like in Simon the Sorcerer or Monkey 1: Kathy just does whatever you want her to do—automatically.
Her dead grandfather (and others, I won’t spoil it for you) come alive in the form of retrieved tapes, which is a neat way to add otherwise absent characters to the story line. It makes sense too, since Joseph, Kathy’s grandfather, was investigating something that presumably led to his death, which Kathy now is retracing. Sort of. The trusty tape recorder also comes in handy when “creating” fake telephone calls—another clever puzzle!
In the end, Kathy Rain is an adventure game dear to adventure lovers' hearts. It does not only deliver on nostalgia levels, but also on story, puzzles, and atmosphere, managing to stand on its own for those who do not wear rose-tinted glasses like I do. Sure, the scarce animations are a bit stiff, the music might not be very memorable compared to the Big Hitters, and the story ending will leave you flabbergasted, even with the “fixed ending” in the Director’s Cut (expect to say huh?? more than a few times). But I’ve enjoyed every single minute of this clicking my way through, and I bet so will you.
Verdict:/5 I really liked it!