January 11, 2011 | Andy Boxall
It’s difficult enough to create an atmosphere of hyperreality in film, where a situation appears at first glance to be normal, but as you explore the image and become engrossed by the story, things start to look and feel wrong. Watch almost anything by David Lynch, and you’ll see exactly what I’m trying to describe. Now, if it takes a master like Lynch to do this at the cinema, surely an iPhone app could never hope to recreate such an atmosphere?
Amazingly, Strange Rain comes close. While I hesitate to call it a game, I suppose it could be seen as a musical experience with a gaming element, in that there are achievements to be collected via Game Center and a story mode to be worked through; but to see Strange Rain as such a thing is to miss the point.
What happens is this: the screen displays a cloudy day with rain falling onto the screen. A tap sees the rain gravitate towards your finger and follow it around the screen while generating a musical note, which then becomes a tune when you tap rhythmically.
There are three modes, Wordless, Whispers and Story. Whispers adds occasional words to the falling rain drops seen in Wordless, while Story adds exactly that. Written by Erik Loyer, the man behind the app itself, it aims to answer the question of why someone is standing out in the rain. I’m pleased to say it doesn’t really explain it, offering instead a series of Chuck Palahniuk-esque musings that are well-crafted enough for your imagination to build a backstory of your own.
The falling rain effect is beautifully realized, and although the dark, foreboding clouds show no sign of clearing, Strange Rain doesn’t feel oppressive or gloomy. In fact, if you just leave the screen on and listen to the raindrops falling, it’s actually quite relaxing. The oddness comes not only from the appearance of the rain falling from inside your device upwards, but from the discordant tunes you can make while tapping the screen.
It’s also very effective to lay down and hold your iPad above you, revealing much more depth in the image than is obvious at first. Tilting your iPhone or iPad moves the sky around too, plus the image looks fantastic on both the iPad and the Retina Display-enhanced iPhone. It’s a universal app, so you’ll only need to buy it once if you own both devices.
So what is Strange Rain? It’s an imaginative, interactive art experience, but without the awful pretension a description like that could mean. Its odd, disconcerting music and hyperreal visuals are enhanced by the story, which is open enough to be seen as either downbeat or positive, depending on your own outlook. If all this sounds a bit dull, it’s really not.
We’re hoping Strange Rain doesn’t stay at version 1.0, and that the developer plans to add to it in the future. We’d certainly like to see it go in an even more odd direction, with more subtle weather changes and perhaps another tune or two to play. Most of all, we’re hoping for other stories, as the potential for building stories around someone laying out in a rainstorm is huge. A guest author or two, perhaps?
The dark, rainy world of Strange Rain isn’t going to be for everybody, but provided you’re blessed with a good imagination and are willing to lose yourself inside it for a few moments, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.