Once your average game development house find some success they tend to stay on the same track. Even in the indie scene, which is ripe with games that explore every niche possible in the gaming medium, you’ll see developers stick to a formula once they know they have an audience for it. However there are a few developers which, for better or for worse, branch out with every new release. Tequila Works, who previously brought us the survival horror game Deadlight, is very much in the latter category as their latest game RiME is nothing like anything they’ve released before. Whilst it might not be the most original idea (indeed I think we’ve had enough games in the “young child lost in ancient ruins” genre that it’s something of a stereotype) it is exceptionally well executed.
You wash ashore, the waves lapping at your feet and the sounds of a tropical island echoing in the distance. What lays before you is an island of ruins, the marks of a civilisation that has long since fallen dotting the landscape. In the distance stands a great tower, looming over the picturesque landscape below. Your memories of how you came to be here at hazy and there’s an ever present feeling that someone is watching you from a distance. This island and its mysterious tower hold the secrets to your past and, eventually, your future.
RiME’s cartoon-esque style comes from its cel-shading which typically goes hand in hand with low-poly work. RiME is most certainly not a low-poly piece however as after I cranked everything up to its maximum my system turned into a slideshow. As the screenshots will attest to though you can see that RiME is making good use of all the grunt you can throw at it with its large, expansive environments that are all lavished with details and modern effects. There were a couple sections where performance dropped through the floor although I’m not 100% sure if that was due to me alt-tabbing out or not. Also worth mentioning is the absolutely amazing soundtrack and foley work that coincides with RiME’s impressive visuals, something that is often overlooked in similar games.
RiME is a 3D platformer/puzzler, pitting you against a variety of challenges that you’ll need to beat to progress to the next section. It’s a linear game in terms of progression, meaning that there’s no backtracking through previous puzzles with new abilities in order to unlock something that was previously unavailable. Mechanically all the puzzles are straightforward and self-contained, rarely requiring you to go far away from the current area in order to solve them. However exploration is still very much encouraged as there are various things to collect scattered all over the place, the purposes of which aren’t made clear to you until the very end. Overall RiME is a very simplistic game, one that would have you focus more on the overall experience rather than any one aspect of the game itself.
As there are no real progression mechanics to speak of all of the puzzles in RiME build up in difficulty based on your understanding of the mechanics it presents to you. Initially the puzzles are simple, putting this block there or getting a NPC to do something for you, but over time you’ll be introduced to different mechanics which you’ll need to understand fully as the game goes on. RiME makes clever use of mechanics like perspective, day/night cycles and sound, all of which can be combined together in a variety of different ways. RiME shies away from making anything too complex or deliberately challenging although there are some sections (like the one where everything gets non-euclidean for a spell) which I can see some players getting stuck on.
For the most part the puzzles are intuitive although the game does have some issues when it comes to visual signalling. As an example not all surfaces are climbable and, whilst climbable ones are marked, there are some you can climb that aren’t marked (which are required to solve the puzzle). This becomes more apparent when you start exploring to find secrets and other hidden things as there’s numerous (unintentional, I believe) false flags scattered around. Now I’m not usually one to go object hunting in these kinds of games so I may be a bit more critical of these kinds of things than other reviewers may be but it was enough that I gave up on it after only an hour or so into my play through.
RiME tells its story visually with no dialogue to speak of. Whilst you get the general gist of what brought you to the island early on the nuances of the story are left until much later in the game. The ultimate reveal of RiME, whilst a powerful statement in its own right, probably required a bit more development of certain story aspects for it to have the impact it was aspiring to. Don’t get me wrong, RiME certainly had its heart wrenching moments for me, however I feel like the conclusion (which came together in the last 30 mins or so) needed a bit more time to develop to ensure that I was fully invested. Still the journey to that end was an enjoyable one.
RiME is a beautiful, well executed puzzle game from a game developer that continues to demonstrate their ability to innovate. The cel-shaded environments belie the incredible amount of detail throughout the game which, if you’re not careful, can bring even the most beastly of gaming PCs to its knees. Mechanically RiME is simple, putting the focus on the overall experience rather than challenging puzzles. The story, told visually without dialogue, is done well although its ultimate conclusion needed more development to have the impact it desired. If for nothing else RiME is worth playing just for how well everything is put together as the music, mechanics and visuals all work together beautifully.
RiME is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $29.99. Game was played on the PC with 4 hours of total play time and 26% of the achievements unlocked.
I think my angst around survival horror games stems from the many, many hours I lost to the genre back when I younger. There were many nights when my brother and I would sit down in front of the TV, fire up the PlayStation and proceed to play Resident Evil for hours on end. Those familiar with the game will know that much of the tension created in that game comes from the fixed camera angles and not-so-great controls leading to many reloads and undergarments in need of replacing. Long time readers will know that my recent forays into this genre haven’t been great with both of them failing to impress me. Deadlight looked like a fresh take on the survival horror genre and thus I was intrigued to see if the genre could redeem itself to me.
The year is 1986 and the world has been decimated by a virus that reanimates the dead into flesh craving zombies (or Shadows as they’re called in Deadlight). You play as Randall Wayne, one of the few survivors who’s been separated from his family and is searching to find them again. You’ve managed to team up with one of your friends, a police officer and a pair of sisters and were making your way to Safe Point, a rumoured safe zone set up by the military. The opening scenes show one of the sisters badly wounded by the Shadows and you are forced to do the right thing. The gun shot attracts a nearby hoard of shadows to you and in the commotion you get separated from the group. So begins your adventure to find them again and hopefully, your family.
Deadlight is quite visually impressive as when I first looked at some of the screenshots it looked like it had a kind of Trine feel to it with the 2.5D environments. If I’m honest they’re actually done a lot better than Trine as the environments are very detailed and even form part of the game play with things like Shadows lingering in the background shambling over to you. Also unlike most survival horror games which favour noire colouring or muted palettes Deadlight instead favours a more varied set of colours which helps greatly in not making it visually boring. Overall it’s done quite well, much better than what I expected when I first looking into playing Deadlight.
Deadlight is a platformer with the vast majority of the game play consisting of you getting from the left hand side of the screen to the right hand side. Of course it’s never quite that easy with many obstacles blocking your way requiring you to either take a specific path or wade your way through a trough of Shadows in order to make progress. Like many games of today Deadlight also makes heavy use of its physics engine to drive most of its puzzles with many of them requiring you to knock something down or move something in order to give yourself a leg up to the next ledge.
It’s usually at this point in the review of a platform where I’ll gripe about how the jump/grab mechanics are screwy in some particular way but for Deadlight I can’t really say that. Sure there were many moments when I pressed something and didn’t get the result I was expecting but there’s no one point where I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong in order to cause my untimely demise. For a platformer this is a pretty big achievement as pretty much all of them suffer from some kind of issue that makes the platforming sections tedious but in the case of Deadlight all the frustration was born simply out of me fat fingering the keys rather than some glitch in the code.
There’s also combat in the game taking the form of you either swinging an axe at your foes (which is limited by the blue stamina bar in the top left hand corner) or the tried and true zombie killer favourite of a couple different guns, all of which are lethal if aimed at the head. The axe is also quite capable of dispatching enemies however you either have to spend what feels like an eternity wailing on them or knock them down first and then finish them off on the ground. The guns are far more effective however, like any good survival horror, the ammunition is in pretty limited supply (unless you know where to look, of course).
If I’m honest the combat was one of my least favourite parts of Deadlight mostly because of how tedious and unnecessary it felt. The axe is the perfect example of this as it’s not particularly effective when you need it to be (I.E. surrounded by Shadows) and it’s much, much easier to just keep running and knock them down than to even bother attempting to take them out. The guns are pretty much a last resort apart from a couple sections where you’re forced to use them so again their inclusion feels like it was done “just because” rather than some burning need to have it as a core component of the game.
The story is quite compelling at times however I felt that it was let down heavily by the often lacklustre voice acting that backed it up. In the beginning I thought it was quite good however as the story went on it was clear that many of the lines were delivered flat without any emotion behind them. This becomes even more obvious towards the end when there’s some very emotionally charged scenes which lose pretty much all their impact thanks to this which kind of soured me on the story towards the end.
It’s a real shame because objectively the story is pretty good, combining the usual survival horror flair with a psychological thriller that leads you to question the main character’s motives. It’s not the most original plot to be sure but it’s definitely above what I was expecting which is always nice. I felt the ending was unsatisfying, probably due to the way it was presented, however I might have been swayed otherwise had I had a deeper emotional connection with the characters.
Deadlight was a nice surprise considering that I choose it based around the fact that it was short (I’m attempting to work on a couple longer game reviews and I’m constantly running out of time) and needed something for this week. The game plays well with no bugs and the platforming, something that usually brings games down a peg or two, was great. It’s let down by the pointless combat and lack of story delivery with emotion behind the voice acting which is a shame as it’s otherwise a great game. This is probably the first survival horror game that I could recommend playing which has renewed my faith in the survival horror genre.
Deadlight is available on Xbox360 and PC right now for 1200 points and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3.1 hours played and 68% of the achievements unlocked.