Review: “Kathy Rain” (Computer Game)

Ever since I watched this ‘first impressions’ video by PushingUpRoses, “Kathy Rain” has been one of those games that ended up on my ‘I must play this someday. This is my kind of game!‘ list.

However, although my computer met the system requirements for it, the game seemed somewhat pricey at the time. But, eventually, it went on sale. So, I was able to pick up a DRM-free copy of the game for £2.39 on GOG during their Black Friday sale last year. And, yes, I write these articles very far in advance.

Plus, since Halloween is only a few weeks away, this seemed like the perfect time to review this game too.

So, let’s take a look at “Kathy Rain”. Needless to say, this review may include some SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

“Kathy Rain” is a horror/detective “point and click” game from 2016. The game begins in September 1995, when a journalism student called Kathy Rain returns from a wild party, only for her roommate Eileen to tell her that she read something in the paper about a man who had died. He had the same surname as Kathy. The man is none other than Kathy’s grandfather.

Interestingly, many of the characters here are people you meet during other parts of the game.

The next day, Kathy travels back to her old hometown for the funeral. But, after talking to her grandmother, Kathy learns that something happened to her grandfather in 1981 – which left him a hollow shell of his former self. Bewildered by this, Kathy decides to look for an explanation…..

Well, it would be a very boring game if she didn’t investigate.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is “WOW!” The best way to describe it is that it’s a little bit like a cross between “Twin Peaks” and “Silent Hill 3” – with some hints of “American McGee’s Alice”, “The Longest Journey”, “The Last Door” and Dave Gilbert’s “Blackwell” games too. In other words, it’s an interesting, intelligent, dark and mature character-driven game. It’s shocking, creepy, funny, depressing, intriguing and compelling.

Whilst I’d love to talk about the game’s story in depth, I’m wary of spoiling the plot too much. But, don’t be put off by the slow pacing (and lack of scares) in the earlier parts of the game. This game is something of a slow burn, with many of the game’s more dramatic, dark and/or disturbing moments happening later in the story. The game is a lot like the first two seasons of “Twin Peaks” in this respect, being an ordinary detective story that gradually turns into something much creepier and more bizarre.

And, like in “Twin Peaks”, there are bizarre dream sequences too.

In terms of horror, this game generally tends to prefer psychological horror, mysterious horror and/or story-based horror. Not only are there “Silent Hill 3″/”The Last Door”-style hints of H.P.Lovecraft here, but there are also a few wonderfully understated “shock” moments. These aren’t jump scares, but they are the sort of thing that makes you raise your eyebrows and quietly gasp. Again, I’d love to talk about some of these but, well, I don’t want to spoil them.

These are contrasted with about four chilling moments where Kathy is directly threatened by other characters and has to defend herself. All of these scenes are disturbing for different reasons, and this game is one of those rare games where violence itself is presented as a source of horror (rather than just as a type of gameplay).

Likewise, Kathy’s reaction to defending herself varies from scene to scene. In this one, she responds to this lecherous biker with righteous fury but in other scenes, she’s clearly mortified by having to harm other characters.

Despite some fantastical elements, the game also keeps much of it’s horror grounded in reality – even though it may sometimes be expressed metaphorically or through fantastical elements (like in “Silent Hill 3”). So, expect a lot of fairly dark subject matter throughout the game.

Thematically, this game is also fairly complex too. In addition to the theme of being haunted by the past, this game also includes a rather complex presentation of religion too (showing how it can be both a force for good and evil). It’s also a game about introspection too (with Kathy often being given the option to “think about” things as well as just looking at them).

The game’s characters are brilliant – with Kathy being one of the best game protagonists that I’ve seen for a while. In addition to being an ultra-sarcastic chain-smoking horror movie-watching biker (with so, so many brilliant lines of dialogue), she’s also a bit more of a complex character too.

Seriously, she has so many hilarious lines of dialogue.

A lot of the game revolves around Kathy trying to understand and reconcile herself with her past. In this regard, the game reminds me a lot of “American McGee’s Alice”, “Silent Hill 3” and “The Longest Journey”.

But, although Kathy’s journey through the game involves some hair-raising moments and some rather depressing subject matter, she never really comes across as a depressing character. However, she isn’t a typical “emotionless robot” game protagonist either (and will actually have realistic emotional reactions to the game’s events).

The game’s supporting characters are pretty interesting too, with many of them also being complex characters too. Eileen is a good example of this – at first she seems like she was just designed to be the opposite of Kathy (eg: religious, optimistic and cheerful) in order to add comedy to the game. But, although there are some absolutely hilarious dialogue exchanges between Kathy and Eileen, they are not only shown to be friends but Eileen is also a much more complex and open-minded character than she initially seems to be.

Seriously, she isn’t the “annoying character” that she initially appears to be.

The writing and voice-acting is on par with other intelligent Adventure Game Studio games like “Technobabylon“, “The Blackwell Epiphany” and “The Shivah“. Like in all of those games, the dialogue segments also feature wonderfully detailed character illustrations which help to add even more depth to the game’s lushly detailed pixel art world.

Seriously, I love this style of character illustrations 🙂

In terms of the game’s historical setting, it’s really interesting. Although I talked yesterday about how the game uses fake anachronisms (eg: things you wouldn’t think would exist in 1995, but actually could have), the game’s setting comes across and wonderfully and convincingly retro 🙂 There are dictaphones, floppy disks, CRT monitors, pop culture references and lots of other 1990s stuff 🙂

Such as the fact that CRT monitors are still seen as “high tech” LOL!

However, one jarring anachronism is the bizarre – and out of character- fact that Kathy seems to religiously follow 2000s-style restrictions about smoking. She can be standing in the middle of a bar with ashtrays on the tables and people lighting up a few feet away and yet she primly comments that she only smokes outdoors if you click on her cigs. This could just be the result of a lack of programming time (eg: one simple line of code instead of lots of realistic location-specific responses) but it comes across as a bit anachronistic and/or out of character.

Visually speaking, this game is really good. I absolutely love 1990s-style pixel art and this game doesn’t disappoint here. Whilst many of the game’s locations look fairly “ordinary” (which adds to the “Twin Peaks”-like atmosphere), there are some brilliantly creative areas found throughout the game. Plus, like in many great 1990s movies and TV shows, the lighting is often a little bit on the gloomier side of things.

Seriously, I really wish more of the game’s locations looked like this one. This is like a gothic version of “Silent Hill” 🙂

Plus, the game sometimes does the classic 1990s-style thing of placing items in the close foreground to “frame” the picture.

This game is detailed. In addition to the fact that you can look at pretty much everything, there are loads of other clever little details too. One of the best ones (which I only noticed whilst looking through the screenshots for this review) is that, in each segment that takes place in Kathy and Eileen’s halls of residence room, various things move slightly compared to when you were last there.

This isn’t very noticeable when you’re actually playing the game, but it gives the impression that people are actually living there. They could have easily just re-used the same background for all of these segments, but they didn’t. Now, that’s attention to detail!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s fairly ordinary “point and click” gameplay. Before I talk about the puzzles, I should probably point out that I’m terrible at these types of puzzles. In other words, I enjoy “point and click” games for the story, characters, humour, dialogue, atmosphere, locations etc… rather than the puzzles.

Even though the game gives you hints, this was probably the first of many times that I reached for a walkthrough….

But, even though I had to consult a walkthrough a fair number of times, many of the puzzles here seemed fairly logical. The game gives you clues and there didn’t seem to be any “moon logic” or pixel hunting here. So, if you’re an experienced adventure gamer who actually enjoys the puzzles, you’ll probably find this game to be “easy”.

The game also occasionally does inventive things with traditional “point and click” game mechanics too. For example, if you look at Eileen’s stuff when she is nearby, she’ll hear Kathy’s voice-over narration and comment about it. Likewise, the game occasionally does some inventive things with the classic “take everything that isn’t nailed down” approach that most adventure games take to in-game items….

Yes, this sort of thing is actually considered to be burglary. Who would have thought it?

In terms of length, this game is what you would expect from an indie “point and click” game. With moderate to heavy walkthrough use, it took me approximately six or seven hours to complete this game. However, if you don’t use a walkthrough, then the game may take longer than this.

Likewise, although the game contains a relatively limited number of different locations (about 10-15 places, albeit with multiple rooms/areas in many of them) – this helps to keep the narrative reasonably focused.

Not to mention, the fast travel map is absolutely badass too 🙂

In terms of music and sound design, this game is fairly good. Although there aren’t that many memorable musical moments, the music inside the biker bar and the eerie “Silent Hill”-like music that plays near the lakeside cabin are two stand-out moments.

All in all, “Kathy Rain” is a brilliant horror game. Not only is it wonderfully 1990s, but it also features interesting characters, brilliant dialogue and a compelling story. Yes, it isn’t a game for the easily shocked, nor is it a typical “jump scare”-based horror game. But, if you like “Twin Peaks” and/or “Silent Hill 3”, then you’ll love this game 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about get a five.

Another Three Thoughts About Making 1990s-Style Art

Well, whilst making the next digitally-edited painting in an upcoming series of paintings set in abandoned and/or semi-abandoned American shopping centres (after being inspired by seeing Youtube footage etc… of these places), one of my upcoming paintings ended up having even more of a 1990s-style look than I’d planned. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th August.

So, since it’s been a little while since I last wrote about making 1990s-style art, I thought that I’d give a few more tips about how to make this awesome style of art.

1) Timelessness and subtlety: One way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look is to focus more on relatively “timeless” things, and only add a few subtle 1990s-style elements to your art. The thing to remember about the 1990s is that, stylised nostalgia aside, it was a fairly “ordinary” decade in a lot of ways.

For example, the shopping centre in the painting I showed you earlier could have existed in the 1970s-2010s. The generic camera that the woman on the left is holding could be an old film camera from the 1960s, or it could be a modern digital camera. Likewise, most of the fashion designs in this painting could have come from any time between the 1970s and the present day.

The only distinctively “1990s” details in the painting are the fact that the woman on the left is wearing a sweater like a belt, and a few of the stylised shop hoardings in the background. Even then, floppy disks and audio cassettes also existed during the 1980s too.

So, yes, focusing mostly on relatively “timeless” details and only adding a few subtle 1990s-style details can be one way to give your art a more “realistic” 1990s-style look.

2) Getting in the mood: One of the things that can sometimes help with making 1990s-style art is to get in a nostalgic mood beforehand. Reminding yourself of why the 1990s are such a fascinating, optimistic, feel-good and just generally cool decade to get nostalgic about can give your ’90s-style art a bit of extra energy and atmosphere.

Of course, 90s nostalgia is a personal thing – so, what works for you will probably be different to what works for me. But, one of the reasons that the painting that I made ended up going in more of a ’90s style direction than I expected was because I had a very vivid moment of nostalgia after playing one of the old “The Incredible Machine” games and listening to the soundtrack from one of the other games in the series.

This then made me think of both the old and modern versions of “The Crystal Maze“, which then made me think of this episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and then the song “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, which just made me feel even more nostalgic.

In particular, it made me nostalgic for the opulent weirdness of the 1990s. How a lot of popular entertainment and/or educational things at the time used to focus on stylised tropical, futuristic, art deco, Aztec etc.. style locations, often with a slightly innocent sense of wonder. It also made me think about how strange gadgets were a much cooler thing during the 90s. I could go on, but this is one of those qualities that is difficult to put into words.

But, however you do it and whichever “version” of 1990s nostalgia you choose to experience, experiencing a vivid emotional moment of 1990s nostalgia before making some 1990s-style art can really improve your art.

3) Bold colours (and contrast): If there’s one thing to be said for the 1990s, it is that bold primary and secondary colours used to be more popular back then.

This might have been because of a cultural hangover from the 1980s or possibly due to 1960s nostalgia at the time, but using 1-3 complementary pairs of bold primary and secondary colours can be a way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look (for example, the painting near the beginning of the article uses orange/blue, red/green and purple/yellow pairs).

This is especially true when these bold colours are contrasted with gloomier areas of the picture. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a good rule to follow for 1990s-style lighting is to ensure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting is covered with black paint. This will give the colours in your painting a bolder look, in addition to being similar to the lighting in many films, TV shows etc.. from the 1990s too.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Tips For 1990s-Style Storytelling

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote about the 1990s. So, I thought that I’d take another look at 1990s-style storytelling today. This is partly because I read a novel set in the 1990s recently and partly because I’ve been thinking about this topic slightly more than usual.

Although I wrote some short stories set in mid-late 1990s Britain and made a “time travel” comic set in early-mid 1990s California last year (and wrote two short stories set in mid-1990s America earlier this year – which can be read here and here), the 1990s is a notoriously difficult decade to tell any kind of stories about. This is, in part, because it’s still a relatively recent decade – so, there’s marginally less popular history and nostalgia about it out there for writers and comic makers to draw on.

So, how can you tell stories set in the 1990s?

1) Early or late 90s?: Generally speaking, the “type” of 1990s setting you want to use depends a lot on which part of the decade your story is set in.

This also varies somewhat from country to country too, but I don’t have time to go into the subtleties of this too much here (and I’ll just be focusing on Britain and America – since I’m British [and grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s] and because I’ve watched a fair number of movies and TV shows from 1990s America).

But, for the early-mid 1990s (especially in America), try to make everything a little bit more “retro”. After all, the 1980s had finished a few years earlier and a lot of trends from that time were still lingering around during the early-mid 1990s.

However, since the decade was starting to come into it’s own, these trends were a bit more subtle, gloomy and understated than in the 80s. So, if you’re including an early-mid 1990s setting, go for a somewhat more “understated”/”gloomy” version of the 1980s.

For the mid-late 1990s (especially in Britain), make everything a bit more “modern”, but in an understated way. For example, compared to the late 1980s/early 1990s, mid-late 1990s fashions were even gloomier and more understated/generic – but also very recognisable as “modern” too.

The main difference between mid-late 1990s settings and the present day is probably the technology. So, just include a few VHS tapes, CD-ROMs, CRT televisions/computer monitors and maybe some very basic “small” mobile phones and your setting will instantly be more “late 90s”.

But, regardless of which part of the 90s your story or comic is set in, try to make your 1990s location designs fairly “ordinary”. After all, buildings don’t change that much over the years. However, if you want to include some more stylised 1990s-style interior design in your comic or novel, go for things like geometric patterns, gloomy lighting, more bookshelves etc… Kind of like in this stylised mid-late 1990s-style painting of mine from last year:

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

2) Tell an “ordinary” story: The 1990s is in that weird twilight zone between “retro” and “recent”. As such, it can sometimes be a good idea to make your story fairly “ordinary” (with relatively little “90s nostalgia”) if you’re trying to tell a more dramatic or serious story.

A good example of this can be found in a modern thriller novel (published in 2016, but set in 1996) that I read recently called “Night School” by Lee Child. If it wasn’t for a few references to the Millennium Bug and the fall of the Berlin Wall, then the story could almost be set in the present day. In fact, I got about halfway through the novel before I even noticed that none of the characters were using mobile phones. So, yes, just telling an “ordinary” story (with a few subtle differences) can be a good way to tell a story set in the 90s.

The thing to remember when telling a “serious” story set in the 1990s is that, to the characters, the setting is just ‘ordinary’. It’s just the ordinary, mundane, everyday world. And, aside from a few technological, social and political changes, it isn’t that different from the modern world. So, just try to tell an ordinary modern story with a few subtle changes to the technology, politics, trends etc…

3) Culture and politics: I’ve talked about this before but, in general (more so in Britain than America), the 1990s was also a little bit more of a laid-back and cheerful decade than the present day.

In America, this often manifested itself as a sense of optimism about the future. After all, the Cold War was over and 9/11 hadn’t happened yet – so, the future actually looked fairly bright. Seriously, even the cynical punk music and stand-up comedy of the time often sounds joyously innocent compared to the present day. So, try to reflect this in any stories, comics etc.. set in 1990s America.

In Britain, this often manifested itself in a much more hedonistic way. So, if you’re setting your story or comic in 1990s Britain, don’t do the typical “1990s American TV show” thing of making all of your main characters teetotal, celibate, non-smoking, salad-eating gym members! If you don’t believe me on this point, just watch a few classic ’90s sitcoms like “Absolutely Fabulous“, “Spaced“, “Men Behaving Badly” or “Bottom“.

Likewise, politics in the 1990s were a bit less polarised than modern politics. So, if you’re including politics in your 90s-style story or comic, then try to be a bit more subtle and nuanced about it.

Remember, you are writing about a world where things like Twitter thankfully didn’t exist. You are writing about a world where strong political opinions – of all kinds – were more likely to be laughed at than taken seriously. You are writing about a world where politicians, on both the left and the right, at least tried to appear more moderate. You are writing about a world where it was more ok to be “liberal about this, but conservative about that” etc… In short, you are writing about a very different age to our current one.

—————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂