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.

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Using Fake Anachronisms In Historical Art And Fiction – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by looking at part of a computer game for a while. As usual, there’s a reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A couple of days before I originally prepared this article, a game that I’d been meaning to buy for a while finally went on special offer. Although I’ll post a full review tomorrow, it’s a “point and click” horror game from 2016 called “Kathy Rain”. One of the things that interested me about this game is that not only does it look like it’s from the 1990s (and will also run on old mid-2000s computers 🙂 ), but it is also set in 1995 too.

This is a screenshot from “Kathy Rain” (2016). Yay! It’s a retro-style game, set in the 1990s 🙂

From what I’ve seen so far, the game takes a very clever approach to historical accuracy. There were a few things that I initially thought were anachronisms, yet some brief internet research seems to show that they could theoretically have happened or existed in 1995.

To give one example, the main character mentions that another character used the (modern-sounding) term “spoiler alert”. Yet, looking online, the term was apparently used in old newsgroups in the early days of the internet (and the character who used the phrase is shown to be something of a geek). So, it’s possible but unlikely that the term would have been used in everyday conversation in 1995.

Not only that, a dialogue segment is displayed if you look at what is implied to be a poster for the 1997 film “Titanic”. The poster’s seemingly anachronistic presence is explained in a really interesting way:

Again, looking on the internet, the film started production in 1995. Again, this is a “possible, but unlikely” fake anachronism.

These “possible but unlikely” fake anachronisms are really interesting since they signpost that the game is a stylised modern game, yet they still technically fit into the game’s historical setting. In other words, they are perfect for things that are meant to evoke nostalgia and/or a stylised version of the past.

Another interesting thing about these types of fake anachronisms is that they show that the main character is slightly “ahead of their time” in a way that could realistically happen. This can provoke thoughts about what “futuristic” things could be hiding in plain sight in our own time.

For example, a short story I wrote last year (from this collection) is an ironic historical comedy story, set in early 1997, which revolves around two games critics discussing a mysterious videogame cartridge that arrived in their office. This allowed me to include an ironic joke about a game called “Goldeneye 007” which wouldn’t be released for a few months, but had been mentioned in game magazines at the time. Again, those “in the know” would probably know about the game, but most people probably wouldn’t have heard of it.

In terms of art, these types of fake anachronisms can be a little bit more difficult to include unless you are making a historical comic set in a specific year (rather than a vague time period) or making art based on a recognisable historical event. Plus, since art is primarily a visual medium – it can be a little bit more difficult to explain the presence of fake anachronisms to your audience.

One of the best ways to do this sort of thing in art is to either go for a stylised “nostalgia” montage picture, or to blend a historical setting with a clearly fantastical one. For example, here’s a sci-fi style painting of mine that is set in a “futuristic” version of 2004. Most of the things referenced in it (except for the flying cars in the background) existed in 2004, but it’s unlikely that they would have been in the same place at the same time.

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, fake anachronisms are an absolutely wonderful thing. Not only can they intrigue your audience, but they can also be a way to give your historical fiction and/or art an instantly stylised and nostalgic type of atmosphere.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂