Rain

The torpor of feeling invisible to the world can be unbearable, especially when you're a kid. Rain is the latest release from Tokyo Jungle developer PlayStation C.A.M.P., and it succeeds in creating a brief and absorbing adventure based upon that very sensation. Its combination of environmental puzzle work with effective survival horror trappings is rich, gratifying. Delicate, ever-so-sinister piano and accordion sound as one child searches for another in the dark of a French-inspired town. It's perpetually swallowed by a relentless downpour, but that's a good thing. Your character – a young boy – lacks a visible form. His figure can only be seen when the rain is tracing it like an apparition. The girl you're looking to join is similarly formless, on the run from the only other beings roaming the streets – voracious beasts that hulk over you.

Rain never quite reaches past its vague metaphor of a society that's forgotten children, but the way it mixes its atmosphere with tense exploration sets it above many of its contemporaries. You'll encounter your first assailants just a few screens into the game. They're often stretched out to eerie dimensions and can only be seen by their outlines in the rain, much like the boy and girl. Elongated, dog-like creatures are the most common foes, but a few other forms show up along the way, too. Most are none too happy to see you and seek to keep you eternally in the realm of rain. Once they spot you, they'll chase your shape and stamp you out.

Your most important task is to keep out of the rain when the creatures are looking in your direction, at which point you're nothing but a set of footprints on screen. Once they patrol away, a quick and controlled movement through the rain to the next piece of cover is typically the right move. The game refreshingly reinforces this and many of its other lessons through visual composition instead of tiresome tutorials. You'll see a set of awnings cutting the precipitation and immediately know its a hiding spot. A huge, non-aggressive creature with a raised belly naturally betrays its utility as a moving cover point. And when you inevitably get caught by a monster, scrambling back to dry land will lose your tail.

Some other touches are purely visual, used soundly during the set-piece chase sequences. Outrunning a horror under a set of coverings that make both of your shapes constantly form and disappear through the dry patches is a pressing highlight. Some tense stretches have you ferrying items around an area, their floating masses making you visible even when dry. Others require multi-step ruses to coax an enemy from one location to another. Rain doesn't reduce its melancholy imagery to a stand-in for gripping gameplay.

Best not to let yourself get too drawn in by it all, though. Let either of the kids run into a creature, and they'll be cut down with a single swipe. The screen's colors distort, and a message reads: “The children have been swallowed by the darkness...”

It's a simple piece of game design, but few opportunities to intertwine with its gloomy world are as affecting. Death is hardly an end in Rain, and reloading to your last checkpoint – typically mere steps behind where you were felled – is near-instantaneous. Being able to troubleshoot puzzles unfettered because of that is key to Rain making your input valued, and yet that morbid message from the game over screen is always a sobering push back into the game's somber mood.

It's an ideal balance for the tone-poem vibe Rain goes all-in on, and that harmony of design makes it memorable long past the afternoon it takes to complete. To anything more would defeat the purpose. If you have a PS3 and can roll with the kind of plaintive adventure Rain revels in, it's one of the year's most interesting peculiarities.