Don’t forget your umbrella.
The first chapter of Rain of Reflections, the new adventure title from Swedish studio Lionbite Games, wears its influences on its sleeve. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when the developers build upon familiar systems and add a twist that makes it all their own. But Chapter 1, ‘Set Free,’ comes close to choking on its ambition by introducing too many elements at once. Still, solid worldbuilding and a keen eye for complicating what appeared to be a by-the-numbers plot left me eager for whatever comes next.
In Rain of Reflections’ introductory installment, you play as Wilona Hart, a scientist dedicated to solving the world’s infertility problem. At least, until she aligns with a resistance group called the ‘Infrareds’ and plots to smuggle the human experiments within the lab beyond the reach of the government. The story is neo-noir in a cyberpunk-inspired future — Wilona is a rogue agent whose mission brings her into conflict with OneForce (a global military with uniforms somewhere between Stormtroopers and Rocketeer cosplay) and other institutions of power.
Skulking and skullduggery are her best weapons as she travels through the broken remains of society. Well, that and hacking. Wilona can bypass nearly any computer system she encounters through a series of minigames that are interesting and provide a level of challenge that never felt unfair. They even found a way to build it into the plot during a particularly tense and climactic moment, which I appreciate.
Speaking of skulking, players will alternate between two primary modes of traveling through the game’s varied locations. When the heat is low, you can point and click around a room or building, speaking with inhabitants, reading documents and generally soaking up some worldbuilding. Once Wilona confronts a threat, the game shifts into a turn-based encounter. Normally, you will want to remain unseen. A homemade cloaking device certainly helps, but the tech only lasts for one turn — thus, it becomes a tactical tool saved for just the right moment.
These sections, so clearly lifted from X-Com style games, are some of the best bits Rain of Reflection offers. For one, you won’t have a gun until much later in the four-five hour runtime. That alone forces those familiar with tactical play to rely on stealthy maneuvering rather than setting up and executing maximum damage. Additionally, a motivation system layers extra consideration on top of every decision.
Leaving Wilona out of cover, out of ammo, or in a compromising position reduces her motivation. If that reaches zero, it’s game over. But the same is true for your enemies: demotivating foes into fleeing provides a nonlethal option that is tough but satisfying.
A game built around these two methods of interaction would have been enough to provide Rain of Reflections with a strong gameplay foundation. Unfortunately, the developers also introduced a couple of interactive puzzles, a la Monkey Island, that end up feeling out of place. They show up during prolonged exploration sections ostensibly to provide more for the player to do other than talk with folks or read descriptions. But it feels like adding spice to a perfectly balanced dish: instead of building complexity they interrupt an established loop and add confusion.
Another weak point in Rain of Reflections’ construction is Wilona herself. Though I understand the web of relationships between her and the other characters — Luc, whose affable nature hides a mercenary drive; and her parents, each with their own invested expectations in her — I could not explain why Wilona wants to rescue The Girl from her father’s experimental laboratory. She delivers passionate lines about doing the right thing and keeping her resolve in the face of adversity, but she is otherwise an empty vessel for plot motivation.
This is a shame, because almost every other character Wilona encounters has more clearly defined wants and needs. Perhaps this information is being withheld for plot reasons, but they do players a disservice by not better establishing them in the opening act.
The only other blemish is a section set in the broken, washed-out bottom of society. That’s both metaphorical and literal, as they live in the half-sunken remains of the city below. As Wilona delves deeper towards an illicit rendezvous, she meets with some of the inhabitants. It is, put lightly, a gallery of suffering to which she is just a tourist. The only character with meaningful dialogue is an ex-cop who now acts as a steward for those she actively belittles and mocks. It’s an unfortunate portrayal of this world’s most vulnerable population for the sake of pity.
All that said, Rain of Reflections manages to introduce a cast of interesting characters and plot that becomes so emotionally complicated in the final minutes that I want to continue playing just to find out how they unravel the knot. The adoption and adaptation of tactical gameplay shows real promise, and I hope the next two chapters continue to build on those instincts.
If you’re itching for a character-focused story set against the grime and rot of cyberpunk dystopia, Rain of Reflections checks all the boxes. It’s a bit of a rough introduction, but I’m hopeful Lionbite can sand down the edges for Chapter 2.
[Reviewed on PC]