Imagine that you awoke washed up on an unfamiliar shore. Your memories lie fragmented, reawakened in flashes of loss and regret. A mysterious land sprawls out before you, dominated by an immense tower which reaches towards the sky. You don’t know why you are here, but the tower draws you near.
In such a situation, what would you feel? Fear at the loss of memory and the unfamiliarity of your surroundings? Wonder at the beauty which encompasses you? Excitement at discovering this world which expands before and above?
RiME attempts to weave all these emotions together in this 3D puzzle-platformer. You play a young boy who finds himself alone on an unknown island, with no knowledge of who he is or how he got here. A mysterious tower serves as the destination, and the journey reveals a tale of loss and regret intermixed with delicate moments of friendship and love. This game, while perhaps not having the tightest of controls nor the most challenging gameplay, nevertheless serves as an emotional canvas upon which the visuals, environment and soundscapes paint in a variety of vibrant yet at times subtle colors.
As you begin the game, there is no story to drive you forward. The game mechanic and world encourages exploration and doesn’t do a whole lot of hand-holding. While there is a sense of finding your way through this world, at the end of the day there is pretty much a fairly linear way forward that the bigness of the world doesn’t always occlude, but there still exists a sense of adventure and exploration.
Various clues to your past and identity are dispersed throughout the world, although all tantalizingly indeterminate enough to avoid giving anything away. Even as the narrative is wrapped up there are plenty of viable explanations and interpretations that can be imposed upon the story, which I think adds a bit of a personal touch to the game, as one’s own experiences and perceptions will likely color the ultimate meaning.
After all, what does it mean to lose a friend who is one’s only anchor to life in an otherwise barren world composed of shadows and whispers? Would the still life statues of a soul lost and frozen in eternity come to characterize one’s own self were is to lose what little it has left, so that only a visage remains?
What results is an emotionally evocative experience that may very well vary from person to person.
RiME is a 3D platform puzzle game with relatively few controls. You can run and jump and roll and climb, although there are very specific circumstances in which climbing (and its accompanying shimmy-ing and wall-leaps) can occur. At times I found this somewhat frustrating as I felt it limited the exploration of the world. If one is familiar with some of the platforming mechanics of early versions of the Tomb Raider series, RiME’s platforming is markedly similar.
There is some puzzling which involves various manipulations of the environment. Some are the tried and true find-x-number-of-keys-to-open-this-door, while others involve moving blocks to certain locations. You also have the ability to shout to interact with some objects.
Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward; there’s nothing terribly challenging here. A few take a few moments thought or require learning a new game mechanic, but all in all if you have any experience with puzzle/platformers you wouldn’t be terribly taxed by RiME.
There are very few enemies in this game, usually confined to set locations. There is a giant bird-like creature which can be a bit frustrating in an area, but once that area in conquered the bird will hassle you no more. Harry Potter fans may see a shoutout to the Dementors, as there are indistinct robed creatures that seem to suck out your soul if you get too close.
Overall, however, the gameplay focuses far more on the exploration and puzzle-solving than defeating or avoiding enemies.
The gameplay maintains a reasonably good pace throughout, balancing set objectives with exploration. As you progress you retain the same basic character mechanics, but different areas require different strategies or external mechanics. This helps to keep things varied and interesting.
The world feels big in comparison to your character, and the sense of scale (and especially of height) adds to this immensity, and a lot of times the focus pulls your eyes up, which helps to sell the bigness. The environments are often gorgeous to behold, and sometimes you just want to stop and get a better view to take in the scope of it all at once.
However, this can be a bit of a double-edged sword, in that the overall immensity of the world can make each area feel relatively empty and lifeless. As you first awake on the shore of the island you are greeted with the calls of gulls and the crashing of waves. There are pig-like animals that roam around, and overall the world feels vibrant with life.
However, as you journey into the tower, this world starts to lose its vibrancy. It’s still big and impressive, but the life begins to ebb away. You pass through cavernous halls with murals and the sense of an ancient and wise civilization that has somehow passed away, but right around you on the ground there is little but floor and walls. With little to interact with or even to climb on, the big spaces start to feel like mausoleums that time has forgotten, especially as you begin to see them crowded with the lost souls who either evaporate as you draw near or attempt to suck out your soul.
This actually does a great job of creating a sense of solitude (at the beginning) and then of loneliness and loss near the end (which weaves in perfectly with the story), but it also detracts from the interesting-ness of the world. There is so much of the unknown here, but it all feels just out of reach. There is so much that could fill the spaces in these incredibly beautiful scenes, but the emptiness causes you to just keep running ahead. This was an unfortunate miss, in my opinion.
You make a few friends along the way, and it is interesting just how much they can come to mean juxtaposed against the otherwise still and empty world which surrounds you. This helps to fill out some of the more emotionally compelling moments in the game, and you’d be surprised how attached you can get to the mechanical wonder I came to call Mr. Legs.
The visuals are gorgeous and vibrant, and there is lot to just look at here. Sometimes I found myself slightly retracing my steps just so I could run through an area with another view because of how pretty it was. Even in the spaces where there are lots of floors and walls there is still usually a sense of scale that draws your eye upwards, which helps to fill out the visual experience. The gentle flowing of water or the soft swing of tree branches helps to create a sense of immersion, with each area generally having its own charm and grandeur. Buying this game simply for the visual experience would be well worth it.
There is a lot of immersive audio work in RiME, which usually helps to fill out the sometimes cavernous areas with a sense of either life or at least of mystery. The soundtrack is superb, and perfectly choreographs the action and the wonder. It also serves to round out the emotional depth that this game is capable of, sometimes in the delight of a new discovery or the pain of loss and isolation. At times soaring as high as the world reaches up, and sometimes as delicate as the pathos on display, each track expands within its environment to fill it out; you will want to have the audio turned up for this game. The soundtrack is actually so good that I think it helps to cover over some of the environment and visual shortcomings in some of the areas.
And when you finish, you’ll likely want to stream it on Spotify.
Fans of Lindsey Stirling will enjoy Forgotten City, which she composed and performed.
RiME is probably better described as a game that is experienced rather than played. No new ground is really broken as far as gameplay is involved, but emotions that can be invoked by the story, visuals and sound create a captivating experience that can actually be cause for reflection about some pretty big questions upon completion. Kudos to Tequila Works for creating such a profoundly beautiful and meaningful game.