As a newly minted reviewer and an avid gamer myself, I see the importance in keeping your expectations in check. Being able to take a step back from the pre-rendered oh-so pretty trailers, and be a skeptic. But, then again this is RiME, an indie game hyped for years and from Tequila Works, developers of The Sexy Brutale. It’s a bit of a contentious game to review, so do read through as we cannonball in.
The player character is a young lad, a coloured boy no less, so yay for representation. Anyhow, shipwrecked on an island the little guy must work his way through the various puzzles. In doing so, he comes to understand the nature of the island, its inhabitants and the journey that lies before him.
Such is the pitfalls of talking about a mystery games, it’s pretty hard to talk about the game properly without ruining it. The twist was a pretty interesting case study. Read enough mysteries and you learn to look past the obvious suspects. All this is to say that the ending is so cliché; I actually overlooked it as too obvious.
While I’m talking about clichés, I might as well talk about the gameplay. It is mainly fairly worn-in puzzle types: platforming, switch-operated doors and the like. RiME doesn’t really push any boats out for the puzzle genre, but for the most part it is solid. Similarly, RiME opts for textless tutorial, which I’d argue works well in a very Journey-like manner. An opening area, naturally leads the player to the first task, a group of statues. A beam of light emanates from the other statues needed for the task, an area to try out controls and show off manners of interacting with environments. As much I wish it was not the case, this game is not all light beams and yelling at statues. Despite being a very simple game, it is not always apparent what needs to be done to progress. In some cases, a puzzle was almost solvable, and I’d give up on it. After exploring the solution presents itself: invariably that I didn’t have all the puzzle pieces to begin with. In other cases I meandered around an empty unclimbable room, only to find the way forward by looking it up in confused frustration.
Now I’ve been really critical of the game, but I’m going to give you a real twist here: I actually liked it. The gameplay sure isn’t fantastic when you really consider what’s here, but it’s generally solid and cohesive. It’s probably a bit too far to say that cliché gameplay gives a nostalgic feel, but worst case scenario it’s inoffensive. Consider it a piece of bread to which the story is spread onto.
See I do think the story is cliché, but I’m a fan of the telling. I should probably put it out there; Journey and The Last Guardian fans will probably be into RiME for this reason. It feels like a weird thing to talk about in a game review, but the best part of the game is probably the tone. It’s a oddly specific, perhaps intellectual element, but it really works here. Consider the opening, you are running around a strange island. You yell at glowing statues to release their statue power (or whatever you want to call it). You’re curious, you’re experimental, and you’re filled with wonder and interest in the world. In a later stage, a bird is constantly surveilling you, waiting for a moment to strike. You do not know the path ahead; you must plan ahead and change plans quickly to evade your antagonist. This is tense, anxious, and frenetic as you dash from cover to cover. Whilst shifting tones may derail some games, RiME sticks the landing. Happy moments give weight and meaning to later tragedies. Fear and frustration of evading enemies makes the despair and sense of meaningless all the more sobering.
I also loved the games little gestures. A death scene reflects an aspect of the character and his connection to a mysterious island inhabitant. Guardian helpers wordlessly help the player character, giving a feeling of unspoken companionship. It all adds to the games visual vocabulary, which further bolsters the games strong sense of mystery. Upon the games ending, the truths revealed, the game impresses the meaning of all these little moments. Opening the stage select screen, after the game end, reveals the themes of the various stages. As silly as it sounds, doing so, and learning the direct link between shifting tone of the narrative and the mystery itself was a stupidly elating moment.
Let’s be frank about RiME. By no means is it a perfect game, the mechanics and at time unintuitive level design are drawbacks. Your mileage may vary on those criticisms however. If you’re here for the gameplay, this may not be for you. As I see it, the faults in this game fall into the shadow of a tonally-engaging well-told story. It depends what you search for in a game, but it hits enough of my sweet spots to give a recommendation.
4 out of 5
+ Fantastic use of tone
+ Presentation adds to mystery
- Unoriginal Story reveal and mechanic