In my desperation to find a game that I can play an a post-Dark Souls III world, I started rummaging through my pile of shame. Any gamer who uses Steam knows exactly what I’m talking about–all the games you bought during Steam sales that you promised yourself you would play at one time or another. Games you normally wouldn’t look twice at or games you’ve always wanted but are too cheap to buy full price*.
I’ve tried a few, and none have really kept my interest until I stumbled on Kathy Rain, a point-and-click adventure game. It’s a game I wanted because I like mystery novels and have been trying to find a good detective game. They’re hard to find for many reasons that I’m not going to go into in this post, but this one looked promising. The tagline is even: A Detective is Born. The protagonist is the eponymous Kathy Rain, a journalism major in college. She’s mouthy, smokes like a fiend, and drives a motorcycle–a girl after my own heart.
It’s set in the ’90s and has the crunchy pixel graphics that I normally don’t like, but it suits the game. I don’t find it intrusive at all, and the closeups of the faces are surprisingly good. The basic story is that Kathy’s college roommate, Eileen, tells Kathy that her grandfather has died. She goes to the funeral, and then she finds out that something weird happened to her grandfather many years ago. She didn’t know about it because her mother took her away from her (paternal) grandparents when she was young, and she hasn’t been back.
I immediately like the protagonist, Kathy Rain, because she’s like me in a lot of ways. She’s mouthier than I am, but she voices the thoughts I have in my head. She also has a heart, but she has a hard time showing it. I’m excited to play a game with a strong female protagonist, especially one that involves a mystery. The game is broken up into days, and Day 1 involves the funeral and talking to Kathy’s grandma about the incident that made Joseph Rain, Kathy’s grandfather, basically catatonic. Once we’re done talking, Kathy explores the environment, and in true adventure fashion, she finds clues that open up other areas to visit.
I have to mention a few of my frustrations with classic adventure games. One, the massive amounts of backtracking. Like a certain setting in the game? You better because you’re going to have to see it a million times. At least there’s fast travel via Kathy’s bike, but it’s still annoying to have to go back to Grandma Rain’s house a zillion and one times. Plus, why is she always in the living room? Doesn’t she have anything to do with her life? It’s really odd to have every NPC be static after playing games like Dark Souls the original and the third,** but that’s more just a curiosity than an actual annoyance. I know adventure games are usually lower budgeted than action games, so I don’t expect as much movement-wise from them.
The absolute worst is when the game suddenly decides it wants you to do an action that is either dumb (replacing a broken light bulb with a light bulb from another room, actually had to do that here) or counterintuitive. In many games, you have to combine two disparate elements to make a third random item, which I haven’t had to do here yet, thankfully. Unfortunately, what I have had to do is…well, let me explain the situation in detail because it was so ridiculous.
I needed to get a nurse away from her desk so I could read the files on her computer. Valid. How would I do this? Well, a bum I had used earlier to distract a cop (long story) is sitting outside the clinic, so maybe I could have him distract her somehow? I go out to talk to him, and I find out he used to be an actor. He tells me about all his roles, and I think, hey, maybe I could have him do a performance and distract her somehow. I make him do that, and nothing. I make him do it four times (he described four different roles to me) and still nothing except an achievement. I try my stun gun on him as he’s sitting outside, and Kathy says, “Only for a good reason.” I try to give him cigarettes. He doesn’t smoke. I end up looking it up, and what I have to do is request he do a certain performance for the nurse (according to the walkthrough. It might have been OK to have him do a different one), then I jam him with the stun gun to make him simulate a seizure.
What? WHAT? How in the hell would you just think of that? Next, I have to come up with the username and password for the computer. The username is easy enough because there’s a plaque that declares her employee of the month and has her name, and I had to deal with usernames earlier as well, but the password? I look around the clinic and try a few things, but none of them work. I go to the walkthrough, and here’s how you find the password. You have to remember that you have a floppy disk (because it’s the ’90s, after all) from earlier that allows you to extract administrative passwords from a computer and use that.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to figure this shit out, but in the first case, you have to be extremely persistent and perceptive, and in the latter, you have to have a good memory. In addition, you have to think like the devs think, which isn’t easy to do.
I have some sympathy for the devs (Clifftop Games) because they want to have puzzles that are challenging, but to this user, the result is just random. I’m not blaming them specifically because I see it in adventure games all the time, but I’m pointing it out in this specific game. I don’t expect realism from adventure games, but I’d like logical thinking. Many of the puzzles seem to be as random and weird as possible, and it’s frustrating.
I try to stay away from walkthroughs or Let’s Plays for action games, but I have no compunction about using them for adventure games. Not on my first go, but if I’ve tried everything I can think of and can’t figure out what to do, I’ll eagerly Google the walkthrough and use it with no hesitation. I think it’s a failing of adventure games that it’s often necessary to use a walkthrough unless you want to spend hours trying to combine each item with every other item. I will say in this game, the combining of items is mostly logical.
I’m on Day 3, and I’m finding my interest waning. I still like Kathy and am willing to stick with her until the end, but there’s been an introduction of the paranormal that I find tedious. I like paranormal storylines in general, but I don’t think it fits here. I’m hoping it’s a red herring and that the mystery is more realistic, but I’m not too sanguine about it.
I’m more than halfway done and have played 3 hours. I probably only have another hour or two, and I’m committed to seeing it through to the end unless it takes a really bad turn. However, I’m also committed to using a walkthrough if need be. I’m pretty sure I know how the general mystery will end, and I’ll let you know if I’m right.
Conclusion: Kathy Rain is worth playing if you like a strong, snarky, mixed-up, and compassionate female protagonist and are willing to put up with the bullshit adventure games love to throw your way.
Addendum: After I finished this post, I finished the game. Sadly, my fears of the paranormal were not far off, and the game devolved into an altered state/environment that made me roll my eyes hard. I know the game was trying to get to the heart of philosophical questions, but the device was clumsy, and the execution poor.
In addition, the game suddenly became an action game for two seconds in which I had no idea what the fuck I was supposed to do. There’s my zombie dad coming at me! What should I do with the PEN I have in my inventory? Stab him with it? Ha! No. Try to escape through the door? Noooope. Um, use the jukebox to soothe him with music? Silly girl, of course not. Just keep walking across the floor until the floor breaks and he falls through! Great. Just great.
I feel like the whole game falls apart in the last act (the last day), and it’s enough to make me reverse my recommendation. I still really like Kathy and think she’s a great protagonist, but the silliness of the last day erases all the goodwill the game built up until that point. I was willing to overlook the silly puzzles and the heavy backtracking, but the ‘solution’ of the mystery was bollocks.
In addition, I only unlocked nine of twenty achievements, and it won’t tell me what I’ve missed. That means I’d have to play again probably with a walkthrough in order to stumble over the other achievements. No thank you. I’m not an achievement hunter, anyway, and this game certainly doesn’t make me want to play again. I restarted a new playthrough out of curiosity, but stopped soon after I started. The way the game ended leaves room for a sequel. I would play one if they make one, but I would hope the storyline was more coherent and less shitty than this one was.
The ending really sours me on the game, which is a shame. I was rooting for Kathy and her foul mouth. Now, I’m just going to put the game in my finished folder and move on. She deserved so much more than that.
*I rarely pay more than ten dollars for a game, twenty at the highest. There are a few exceptions such as Derbler III, but that’s because Blizzard never puts their games on sale.
**DS II is the exception in that once an NPC made it to Majula, they were there for good.