An extremely thorough grading of the best rain in video games
According to sound, intensity, and even wetness
In the giant jumbled word cloud of all my qualities and traits, I'm willing to bet that "pluviophile" would be one of the biggest words. I adore rain. Whenever it starts, I tend to drop whatever I'm doing - work, dishes, significant other - and I'll be out frolicking in the downpour before they've hit the floor.
Because I love rain so much, I hold games to an almost unfair standard when it comes to the simulation of precipitation. How in the world can a videogame come close to emulating that wonderful, transcendental feeling of being outside in the middle of a thunderstorm? The answer is, it can't. Games have to rely on other things, like textures, sounds, and clever little animations to really sell the idea of being out amongst the H₂s and the Os.
The time has come, fellow pluviophiles. It's time to grade the very best rain that PC gaming has to offer. Below you'll find our eight worthy contenders. Each has been chosen for their spectacular rendition of one of nature's greatest phenomena. Each one shall be marked according to my patented and cutting-edge WIPERS grading system for digital rain. So drop what you're doing. It's time to frolick. No umbrella required.
WIPERS: the premier precipitation grading system
Before we begin our grading - and by we, I of course mean I, because you don't get a say in this I'm afraid - let's introduce you to the renowned and venerable WIPERS grading system. Each game will be scored out of 10 in the following categories:
- Wetness: Rain is wet. Rain makes everything it touches wet. Have the devs made an effort to make it look like things are getting wetter in the rain, or does it look like every leaf and pebble has been sprayed with a hydrophobic coating?
- Intensity: Everyone has different opinions on the optimum intensity of rain. Personally, I like to feel like I could drown at any moment, so the higher the intensity, the better.
- Petrichor: Petrichor is one of my favourite words, which is why I've mercilessly shoehorned it into this acronym. It basically means the smell of rain against the ground, which obviously can't be emulated in a game. So in this context, by petrichor I mean: how well does the game capture the feeling of being out in the rain? This is definitely the most nebulous element to grade, but I have every confidence in myself.
- Etherealness: How much does the rain look like it's being affected by the wind? Is it impossibly uniform or are there changes in the strength and angle of the rain? Put simply: Does it look like a 2D effect, or does the rain feel like part of the world?
- Restfulness: This is a measure of the tranquility I feel when I'm playing this game and it starts to rain. You might argue that this comes very close to overlapping with the "Petrichor" element. But look: if I didn't have Restfulness as well, then the acronym would be WIPES, which just doesn't have the same ring to it.
- Sound: Finally, there's the sound of the rain. Possibly the most important element of all. We all know good rain and thunder sounds when we hear it. How realistic is the sound? How pleasing? How meditative?
As you're no doubt starting to realise, this is an extremely serious post that you're reading right now. It is by no means simply a flimsy pretext for me to play lots of different games that happen to have rain somewhere in them, and write a long, rambling post about it. Goodness, no. This is an important endeavour which might shape the landscape of literature on simulated rain for centuries to come.
Now let's get to the grading. Are you ready? Please try to look a little more excited. That's better. Our first game is...
The Cycle: Frontier
I've played quite a lot of The Cycle, mainly because of the rain. Why on earth don't more battle royales have rain? It's an absolute scandal. Regardless, The Cycle was my inspiration for writing this whole post, so it comes first. And it sets the bar fairly high. Take a look.
There's a nice little splash effect when each droplet hits the ground, but look closer and you'll see that the ground textures more or less stay the same. It's a shame: that metal staircase at the start of the video would've looked fantastic if it were just a little slicker and shinier.
Alright, now we're getting somewhere! The strength of the rain in The Cycle is pretty variable, but during thunderstorms it gets very intense indeed. Veritable sheets of water crash down upon you while you struggle to find some cover in the darkness to escape the lightning blasts. Lovely stuff.
I can't help but feel that the game's genre helps it out here. I mean, being out in the rain is an adventure. It's relaxing, but it's also exciting and stimulating. And the fact that there's this sense of threat in The Cycle because of the lightning and the presence of enemy players nearby makes it all the more enthralling.
The wind effects are great in The Cycle. Look at that tree at the end of the video. That's some good wind. The rain could definitely follow the wind a bit more, but on the whole there's a lot of very good change over time in the atmosphere, the strength, and the angle of the rain. It feels surprisingly lifelike.
The game's sense of threat may have helped with the Petrichor rank, but it also affects the feeling of restfulness. I love it when it rains in The Cycle, and at times it can be very relaxing, particularly when you're fairly sure you're far from other players and you can just do your own thing. On the whole, though, the game definitely uses rain as a way to up the tension, rather than to disperse it.
Another pretty strong score for The Cycle. That's the kind of rain that I could listen to as I'm drifting off to sleep. The far-off grumbles of thunder sound mighty and majestic, and the stabs of purple lightning sound suitably threatening.
A good show from our inaugural contender. Now it's time for a game that is known for its near-constant rainy nights.
Batman: Arkham Knight
Is Gotham truly Gotham if it doesn't look like it's just been sucked and spat out by a planet-sized toddler? The Arkham games always did have good rain, but Arkham Knight is their magnum opus when it comes to wet things. Have a look below, and then let's get grading.
When Batman splays out his cape to glide and all the rain is wicked off the fabric? That's the exact moment Arkham Knight maxes out the wetness meter. Slick, shiny textures is one thing that Arkham Knight does better than pretty much any other game out there.
Alas, Arkham Knight's rain is more of a gentle, ever-present piddle than the monsoon-like onslaught I tend to prefer. It sure does look good, but there's almost a disconnect between how wet everything looks, and how little rain is actually falling.
Third-person games have a slightly harder task than first-person games to emulate the feeling of being out in the rain. Arkham Knight does a lot of things right, but again I think it comes back to the low intensity. You need stronger rain to make me feel the droplets through my monitor.
Low intensity rain does make it far easier to make the rain look like it's being buffeted and directed by the wind. Look closely at the droplets and you'll see that they're all angled slightly differently. There's depth, there's irregularity, there's everything the game needs to sell to you that the rain is truly part of this world.
There's something quite comforting about the fact that the rain is pretty much always falling in Arkham Knight. It's a constant. It means whenever you've had a hard night of crusading, you can always grapple up to the top of the nearest skyscraper and look moodily down below as the rain catches between your bat-ears.
Why did they make the rain so goddamn quiet?! Are you serious, Rocksteady? I need to hear it in order to feel it. It sounds pretty decent when you're gliding through the air and the droplets are landing on your cape, but the moment you stop and listen, everything lowers to a whisper. Shameful.
Next up we've got one of the most beloved open-world RPGs of recent years. Is the rain as pleasant as the dulcet rasps of Mr Doug Cockle?
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
Fantasy games and rain are a match made in heaven as far as I'm concerned. The world of The Witcher 3 is beautifully realised, and the weather effects are no slouch either. Take a look below if you don't believe me.
Clearly the little splashes around Geralt's feet as he walks are just a straightforward effect, but hey, it helps to sell the wetness of the world. Villages and towns in The Witcher 3 are made of wood and brick, quite unlike the shiny metal of Gotham City. I think Wild Hunt does a good job of giving its softer textures a slightly damp look while it rains.
Considering I was out walking in the middle of an all-out thunderstorm in the above footage, I think CDPR could have upped the intensity a little bit. It's stronger than the tiny flecks of Arkham Knight, but nowhere near the angry might of The Cycle.
The Witcher 3 is one of the best for capturing the feeling of having a lonesome little walk in the rain. The only thing that takes away from the experience slightly is Geralt muttering "looks like rain" when you've already been standing in a thunderstorm for the past 30 seconds.
Let's face it, lads: this is a masterclass in how to make rain look real. The speed and size of the droplets are perfect, and the layering of the rain effects, some in the foreground, most in the background, really makes the rain feel like part of the environment.
It almost feels like cheating when you have the gorgeous, tranquil Witcher 3 soundtrack playing alongside the backdrop of rain and thunder. I think I'm drifting off already.
Speaking of sound, there's a pretty inoffensive soundscape of rain and wind accompanying the storms of The Witcher 3. It matches the visual side pretty well, but there needs to be a bit more treble in there. I want to hear the individual droplets hitting the thatched roofs that pass me by.
That's The Witcher 3 scored and sorted. Now for something completely different. A side-scrolling 2D platformer, to be more precise.
Playdead's Inside is a masterpiece of non-verbal storytelling. Every moment is a piece of art, and that includes the early segment which takes you from the river to the factory outskirts, during which you're caught in some of the best rain I've ever seen in a game, 2D or otherwise.
Look at the slickness of that kid's hair and tell me you can't feel how utterly sodden he must be. The misty air, the puddles forming on the roads, the way the reeds at the end of the video are jolted slightly by the raindrops... Masterful.
It's a fair old cloudburst, to be sure. It's not quite on the same level as The Cycle. It's more the sort of despondent shower you might get in a London street, versus the torrential downpour of a trek through the Amazon rainforest.
I mentioned that third-person games have it tough in the Petrichor category; well, for 2D games the task is even harder. Playdead did a miraculous job of selling the feeling of being out in the rain with Inside.
There's a lot of attention to detail going on here. The circular splashes of the raindrops against the river; the subtle kicking up of water as the boy tromps through a puddle... The rain is more or less coming straight down, but it doesn't look like there's much wind to speak of, so it actually feels very realistic to me.
Inside has a rather menacing, unsettling air to it throughout the child's journey, so it's not like you can relax entirely. But this is certainly the most serene segment of the game.
This is where Inside really knocks it out of the park. If you have good headphones, turn up the volume and really listen. It's fucking fantastic, isn't it? It's like the rain is coming down all around you. And the squelching footsteps of the kid change as he walks over different surface types. Incredible.
An outstanding showing from a 2D platformer. Now let's turn to one of the very best-looking AAA games ever made, and see how they handle the complex matter of condensation.
Neon and rain go together almost as well as fantasy settings and rain in my book. So whenever the streets of Night City drip with water as well as lewd and colourful adverts, it can only be a good thing. CDPR should congratulate themselves for being the only devs with two games in this list. Take a look at Cyberpunk 2077's rain below.
Yep, those streets and concrete tiles look suitably moist, don't they? Cyberpunk's gorgeous lighting does a lot of the heavy lifting here - and this wasn't even with ray tracing enabled.
They've definitely upped the intensity a bit from the rainfall of The Witcher 3. This looks like the kind of rain that will start dripping down from your eyelashes and the tip of your nose within a couple of minutes.
I think on the whole Cyberpunk 2077 does a good job with the feeling of being out in the rain, particularly once you start passing by NPCs who have unfurled their umbrellas. I'm a little irked by how sharply the rain cuts off the moment you go under any cover. The raindrops themselves are angled, but the dividing line between rain and no rain is just a straight vertical line. It looks a bit off.
I'll admit, the rain here does look a little bit too uniform most of the time. But the saving grace yet again are those umbrellas that the NPCs whip out, and the way the rain drips down from the sides of those brollies.
Completely relaxing while you're out and about in Night City is probably not particularly conducive to a long and happy life, but the rain in Cyberpunk 2077 really does give me "the feeling". The weight, the intensity, the sound, it all combines to cast a short-lived veil of serenity over a dangerous, cutthroat world.
A fairly good showing here. I'd like it if the rain sounded a little bit closer to you. I want those occasional beats of loud droplets right at your feet or on your shoulders. But otherwise it's a pretty pleasant, innocuous soundscape.
You might be feeling quite loose and tranquil after so many lovely rainy day scenes. Well, best buckle up, because this next game's depiction of rain is probably the most stressful thing you'll come across today.
Rain World is a singularly fascinating game. It's actually less about rain than you might think, and more about learning the behaviours of all the stunningly realised creatures that occupy this very unique and realistic ecosystem. But when the rain does fall, oh boy. Better find shelter.
I mean... it's by design, obviously. But the rainfall in Rain World feels so dangerous that it kind of tricks your mind into thinking these aren't droplets of water. These are daggers, tearing down from the sky and sinking themselves hilt-deep into the earth below. There's not much wetness to speak of here.
You're not going to find a game with more intense rainfall than this. It's genuinely unnerving when you're caught in a rainstorm and the torrent becomes so strong that the very borders of the terrain start to skew and malform. Hair-raisingly powerful.
How well does Rain World evoke the feeling of being out in the rain? Well, only on one or two occasions have I genuinely feared for my safety while out in real-life rain, so the feeling of Rain World's horrifying deluges don't really match up with reality. Not my reality, anyway.
Obviously the rain here actually is just a 2D texture, because this is a 2D game. I do have to give the devs props for the depth in that texture. They could easily have made it look very uniform and consistent, but instead you get odd overlapping sheets of harsh rainfall which create a decent effect.
Restfulness? Ha. Being caught in the rain in Rain World is one of the most menacing experiences I've ever felt in a game.
The sound of the rain in Rain World is very stylised, but I think it's great at achieving the desired effect. You've got the high-frequency smattering of the rain upon the terrain in the foreground, and then the gradually crescendoing rumble that eventually melds with the high-pitch sound to create more or less the sound of static - which is exactly what it looks like when the rain entirely engulfs your screen at the moment of death.
Whew. Never thought rain could be so ghastly. Well, let's lighten things back up again with our penultimate contender, another universally acclaimed open-world game from recent years.
Red Dead Redemption 2
Now I don't actually play RDR2, but I'd heard it had fantastic rain, so I couldn't not take a look. Though I was grumbling a bit when I realised I'd have to give up over 100gb of my SSD for this little venture. "This rain better be damn good," I thought to myself. Well, I think the below footage speaks for itself.
That ground looks so incredibly good, doesn't it? It genuinely looks as though your boot would sink halfway into the ground with all that mud around. Everything from the scattered puddles to the drips that fall from the tops of buildings just looks absolutely marvellous.
I'd put the rain here on par with the rain in Cyberpunk 2077. Stylistically they look pretty different, with RDR2's droplets being much longer and narrower, but both look like they'll leave you good and soggy after a few minutes out and about.
My god, I can almost taste the rain in this one. The rolling thunder in the distance, the grey clouds parting before the sun and causing the rain to evaporate into mist, the way Arthur flicks the rain off his hand every now and then... This is probably the closest a game has ever got to simulating the feeling of being out in the rain.
On the whole the game does a great job with making the rain feel like it's part of the world. The only thing that keeps it from scoring higher is: is it just me, or does the non-uniformity of the rain at times look a bit... uniform? Look on the right of the screen from the 20 second mark. Seems like every second or so, the rain increases in intensity just for a moment before dipping back down again. It's so consistent. It's a bit bizarre. Tell me you see that too, otherwise I'll start to think I'm crazy.
It should just rain all the time in RDR2. That would absolutely make me want to play through the whole story. It's incredibly meditative, just walking around taking in all the sights while the digital hypothermia slowly sets in.
Oh yeah, that's the stuff. A lovely mix of rain, wind, and thunder, occupying the entire frequency range with far-off rumbles and the pleasing high-pitched "tssshsshshhsshh" of rain against the grass.
We're almost there, pluviophiles. One more game to cover. Place your bets: in which category will this next game's rain excel, beating out all others?
theHunter: Call Of The Wild
I've barely played any theHunter: Call Of The World because, well, I don't like hunting. I like the tracking, I like the exploring. I don't like the killing of animals at the end. But hey, the game sure does have some damn good rain effects.
While our other contenders have gone for the thin needle-like droplets of rain, in theHunter: Call Of The Wild they're fatter and transluscent. It actually works well for making the rain look wet - which is good, because looking around it doesn't seem like any of the ground textures change at all.
Because of the rain's translucency, it's harder to convey the intensity of the rain. I want to see the screen getting filled up with rainfall, but particularly when you're looking up at the sky, the rain can seem nearly invisible.
theHunter comes close to taking the cake when it comes to the Petrichor category. Again, it's easier for first-person games to mimic the feeling of being out in the rain. It's also really important that the rain feels close to the player. Some of those droplets even land between the camera and the player's gun. It really feels like I'm being rained on. I'm actually starting to feel a bit chilly.
Again we come back to the translucency of the rain, because I think it does a sneakily good job of hiding the uniformity of the rainfall. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but notice that each plant and tree leaf remains rigid and still. Imagine how much better it'd look if you could see them rustling as the raindrops splatter onto them.
All those who answered "Restfulness" to my earlier question, congratulations. There's just something about the lack of any kind of threat, the beautiful natural scenery, and the birdsong in the background which elevates this rainfall to an entirely new level of tranquility.
I'm running out of ways to describe the sound of rain at this point, so I'll just say the audio in theHunter is nearly spot on. All it needs is a little wind, maybe a touch of thunder far off, and it'd be absolutely perfect.
Right, that's all eight contenders evaluated and graded. Now's probably around the right time to tally up the scores and present an overall winner. But I'm not doing that. The point wasn't to figure out which game had the best rain. The point is to say that even the very best rain in games isn't yet perfect. They all have lessons to learn from one another. Hopefully in the next few years there'll be a game that absolutely nails the feeling of being out in the rain. And then I'll be one step closer to never having to step foot outside again.