Not many people know this about me but on my resume I have a section dedicated to my work as a detective. After years of working with the Raccoon Police Department, my stint with Lieutenant Hank Anderson, and the hundreds of hours I’ve clocked watching marathons of Law & Order: SVU I’m basically qualified to be a Private Investigator. So when I heard about the apparent murder-suicide in Pineview I just had to take the case. But once I arrived to the scene of the crime I knew not everything was what it appeared to be.
Rainswept is a point-and-click adventure game developed by Armaan Sandhu, the one man team who makes up Frostwood Interactive. This murder mystery takes place in the small town of Pineview where the local police department are investigating the deaths of Chris and Diane; a couple relatively new to the area but mostly kept to themselves. The police believe they have an open and shut case until out of towner, Detective Michael Stone, enters the picture. He quickly debunks their theories and is adamant there is more than what meets the eye with this crime. Explore the town, talk to the locals, sift through the gossip surrounding Chris and Diane, and uncover the truth behind the tragic event that ended their lives.
Between the setting of a quaint rural town surrounded by mist covered hills, the gossip found around every corner, the big shot detective in a black suit and tie, unexplainable apparitions, and a cup of coffee to start each morning, it’s easy to feel like you’re in an episode of Twin Peaks. Inspired by the 90’s cult classic as well as South Korean murder mystery films, Armaan wanted to use Pineview as a seemingly simple backdrop for his diverse cast of characters to contrast against. When I interviewed him he expressed, “In Rainswept, I wanted the townsfolk to highlight the couple's story – everyone gossips and judges Chris and Diane without knowing the full picture. It's the difference between how things often look like on the outside versus how things really are.”
The story unfolds through present day events as well a series of flashbacks as Detective Stone interrogates a long list of suspects. During flashbacks players take control of Chris to discover how he met Diane, the highs and lows of their relationship, and the events that led to their horrific end. Meanwhile, in the present day setting Detective Stone deals with his own demons. Through a series of paranormal events that push his own sanity to the test, players have an opportunity to learn more Detective Stone’s tortured past.
Rainswept has everything you would expect from a classic murder mystery and deals with themes surrounding love, abuse, depression and unresolved trauma. Armaan notes that, “The story is about how trauma shapes these characters and potentially their lives. It's also about how trauma that's experienced can grow and expand through generations, and hopefully, about [how] someone could learn to live with it and possibly even escape the cycle.” There’s a lot of ground to cover in this game in just a short amount of gameplay time. And while every bit of it is interesting there seems to be just too much to delve into and digest. Players are tracking Chris and Diane’s story in order to solve the case while simultaneously tracking Detective Stone’s troubled past. And beyond the investigation, there are several residents of Pineview whose stories you’re also following. The plotline begins to feel thin in some areas without giving ample time to dig deeper into the stories and events that really matter.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple and that’s by design. Armaan was focused on creating an atmosphere and story focused game over a complicated gameplay system. So while it’s a point-and-click adventure it often feels closer to an interactive graphic novel. In fact, even though you’re putting the pieces together to solve the crime the game tracks all of it for you, making it impossible to lose. Players can click on items to interact with them or investigate items for clues. To interact with a character simply click on them to generate dialogue. From there players will have a number of options to respond with and are free to use as many or as little options available to them.
Outside of a couple instances where your decisions could narrowly impact the story there are no consequences to your choices. Not satisfied with the information you received? Simply try selecting a different set of options instead. This style allows players to explore all avenues of dialogue without missing a beat. That being said, part of me wished there was more strategy involved when it came to deciding how to interrogate suspects and how Detective Stone should respond in order to create a unique web of outcomes. It’s important to note however, that Rainswept is Armaan’s first game release, so to create a web of dialogue based on various decisions would have been a huge undertaking. Speaking with Armaan he disclosed that after finishing Rainswept he gained confidence in what he learned in creating his first release and has plans to evolve from a linear dialogue system to a web of dialogue in a future game.
While the story is complex the design of this 2D adventure is beautiful in its simplicity. Modest polygonal shapes with layers of gradients convey a field of pine trees while basic rectangles with a ruffled edge suggest a messy bed. The rain both sets the stage for the game’s solemn tone and compliments Detective Stone’s disposition as the pressure of the investigation mounts and he becomes increasingly more unhinged. I did find it curious though that for as much as it rains in Pineview there’s rarely an umbrella in sight. But details such as that can be forgiven when the score kicks in. Michael Michalski, also known as micAmic, adds another dimension to the game with his moving soundtrack that captures the melancholy mood. Melodramatic tracks create somber moments while the bigger orchestral builds carry the weight of the game’s heavier themes.
Rainswept drew me in from before the opening credits began to roll and captivated me until the very end. Despite some plot holes (including a false deadline to solve the case before the start of the local festival) and dialogue that at times felt unnatural for how people actually speak to one another, Rainswept was a short but sweet compelling mystery about two flawed lovers and a town full of secrets. Armaan says he hopes players feel “a sense of hope, gratitude and maybe appreciation of life and ‘beauty’ after playing this game. Some of my favorite experiences in games and movies have moved me, impacted my life and changed me as a person, and have in turn inspired me to create something that tries to do that as well. I hope this game can do something of that sort for someone out there!”
Rainswept is currently available on Steam and GOG.