Last Friday, Frostwood Interactive released its first game, Rainswept. Inspired by the 1990s cult-favorite television show Twin Peaks, the point-and-click thriller centers on the murder-suicide of a young couple in the small coastal town of Pineview. A year ago, when I played the demo, I thought that it was a creepy, quirky mystery story with gorgeous art. The final game is exactly that, albeit awkward in parts, and weaves an impressive number of themes into the main thread of the story.
You play as troubled detective Michael Stone, who is sent to investigate the deaths of Chris and Diane. The townspeople think that this murder-suicide was inevitable, as the couple was known for having a troubled relationship. They argued constantly and were scarcely seen in public together.
Yet as Stone investigates the crime scene, he realizes that it doesn't entirely add up, and it's up to him to uncover what really happened. But Stone only has a week to solve the case before the annual festival happens, and on top of that, he's grappling with his own personal demons. But he's not alone in this intimidating endeavor. He's also got the help of rookie cop Amy Blunt.
In terms of gameplay, the point-and-click Rainswept doesn't offer a lot of intensive button mashing or interactive items. For the most part, your actions are limited to running, questioning suspects with predetermined dialogue choices, and solving small, simple puzzles. You can explore the town of Pineview and interact with a few other citizens, but at times, it feels a little pointless to have such a big map but not a lot of things to interact with.
The game's storyline isn't linear, and changes perspectives often. Sometimes you'll find yourself in the shoes of Michael. Other times you're reliving Chris' memories of Diane. This keeps players entertained as they're piecing together the clues to this mystery.
Rainswept tackles a number of themes within its story line. Predominantly, it focuses on themes such as healthy versus toxic love. Chris and Diane, the late couple whose deaths Stone is investigating, were a couple in a toxic relationship. Their romance started off sweet and dreamlike, with Chris talking about his dreams and beauty in the world, and Diane marveling at his ability to enjoy himself. But any dream can turn into a nightmare given enough time, and soon enough, problems emerged. Diane was raised by abusive, neglectful parents, and as a result, she angers easily. Chris often fears talking to her because he's worried that she'll blow up. Diane doesn't have a lot of money, and moved in with Chris to escape her parents. They get in massive fights, and while they do occasionally work towards a resolution, the underlying communication problems irrevocably plague their relationship. Diane fears Chris because he possesses a gun, the same gun that Chris later takes his own life with.
While the topic of romantic love takes center stage in Rainswept, familial love plays a strong role as well. I found the relationship between brothers Allan and Mark particularly wholesome and interesting. Straight-edged Mark runs the local cafe, whereas cool-guy Allan manages the bar next door. Although their personalities clash and they express frustration at each other, players will grow to appreciate the wonderful relationship the two really have.
Just as there are healthy familial relationships, there are also toxic ones. One of the townspeople, Johnny, was raised by his grandmother after his neglectful, troubled parents passed away, and his memories of them have left deep, painful scars. The usage of toxic and healthy love give rise to another theme, which is grief. Grief plays a central role in Rainswept. Players explore grief for the dead and over what we have experienced. Stone struggles with the recent death of his wife as the community grapples with the deaths of a young couple who had a lot to live for.
So, why do I bring up all of these themes? Not only are they central to the story, they also provide a level of emotional depth that I wasn't expecting from Rainswept. Originally, I thought it would play out like a quirky episode of a classic mystery show. But that's only scratching the surface of the game: lurking beneath its quirky exterior is a powerful story relating to trauma and heartbreak.
Interestingly, Rainswept also challenges players to think more about their own community. The game explicitly states that the townspeople of Pineview failed Chris and Diane. Everyone knew about the toxicity in their relationship, and some people were aware that Diane was afraid of Chris, but no one intervened. Now, in situations relating to domestic violence, I understand why someone might not intervene. You may fear putting someone in danger, such as the person you're trying to help or even yourself. But the townspeople never expressed fear for themselves or for the couple, disturbingly enough. While Chris and Diane may have talked about their problems with other residents, this seemed to fuel the community's need for entertaining, juicy gossip, rather than motivate them to help. Although I won't give away the killer in this review, what I can say is that as the couple's relationship progressively got worse, the wrong people stepped in to help out. I appreciate how Rainswept emphasizes the need for community, because being a bystander solves nothing.
I didn't know about all of these themes before I started the game. What attracted me to Rainswept was its unique lineless 2D artwork. Much of Rainswept is inspired by the scenery of the West Coast. My eyes followed the switchbacks in the fir-tree filled mountains, reminding me of the many road trips my family took to Oregon in my childhood. But what's most impressive about the art are the expansive backgrounds, including the overlook of a bustling city on New Year's Eve and the majestic cliff side the local church sits on - it truly takes your breath away.
For many of the cutscenes, developer Armaan Sandhu takes a cinematic approach, using a variety of angles, as well as close ups and detail shots. These creative liberties make the artwork even more interesting. Lighting also aids in setting the mood for certain scenes. During the daytime, the bright, warm sun overlooking the church generates an optimistic feeling. In contrast, on rainy days or in darkened rooms, I felt tense and on edge. Normally I don't pay attention to these subtle details in games, but it was hard to ignore them in Rainswept.
However, while the developer's work in the cutscenes was masterful, the work in the transitions was not so much. The abrupt transitions between scenes can be jarring. Occasionally I would move from one cutscene to the next, or from one area to another, and there would barely be a fade-out. You would be in one scene, there would be about five seconds of a black screen, and, suddenly, you would be elsewhere. I wish that Sandhu would have let the scenes breathe a little more, as that could have greatly assisted in building tension for the player.
At times, these transitions also hurt the progression of the story, making it feel rushed and underdeveloped. This was especially true towards the end of the game, when it felt like we were jumping from one scene to the next in a desperate race to the conclusion. When I finished the game, I was left with more questions than I was answers, as the detective work didn't seem as organic and obvious as it was made out to be. Rather than Stone carefully examining pieces of evidence, someone would say something, and this would give him a sudden jolt of inspiration, jumping him from one conclusion to the next. From my perspective, detectives are supposed to use a logical methodology to solve cases, but towards the end of the game, Stone's process seemed grounded in a turbulent game of chance.
Rainswept also boasts an eclectic soundtrack. Its composer was Micamic, best known for their work on the 2012 indie horror game The Cat Lady. The soundtrack incorporates hip hop, electronic, classical and jazz sounds. Some of the tracks help set a relaxing tone, or a mysterious, unsettling atmosphere in other scenes. What I found particularly great was that each area seemed to have its own theme. While exploring Pineview, you'll hear delicate piano intermittent with sounds of rain and wind. Snazzy jazz plays in the cafe. The opening song, titled "Welcome to Pineview," is majestic but tense, riddled with darker, intense piano notes. It helps to set the theme for the overall game.
Aside from its music, Rainswept also features an interesting cast of characters, whose relationships to each other build tension and intrigue. This surprised me because initially, the characters seemed stereotypical. Many of us know about the "Hurting Hero" trope. In media, we encounter protagonists who struggle to do the right thing because of whom they put in danger, or who are haunted by their past. Sometimes the dark pasts of these brooding protagonist come across as more of an element of sex appeal rather than a genuine, thoughtfully crafted backstory. When I realized that Stone's partner-in-crime was Blunt, I thought their relationship would develop predictably. Naive and optimistic Blunt would become enamored with the lonely Stone, convinced that she could fix him and absolve him of his demons. His problems would be magically fixed with the power of her love, cut to black, roll the credits.
But Rainswept isn't about "fixing" the ones you love, and I significantly underestimated Sandhu's writing abilities. Blunt and Stone could potentially be romantic, but they are most important to each other as friends. Through working together, Stone addresses his grief, and Blunt's career goals develop. I deeply appreciated that dynamic between the two of them. And while the game reaches its inevitable conclusion - a killer is found, the mystery is solved - some things are left open ended. Stone isn't magically over the death of his wife, but he's learning to confront his past, and all the feelings that come with it.
Although it's not without its faults, Rainswept was a powerful story to me. With its artwork, soundtrack, and intimate themes and characters, the game was able to grab my attention and hold it the whole way through. Fans of mysteries, thrillers, and, yes, Twin Peaks will probably really enjoy this game. Those of you who enjoy well-crafted narratives may also be interested. Overall, I think it's an impressive debut for Armaan Sandhu and his company, Frostwood Interactive.