I almost don’t want to write about Rime. This is not because it’s a terrible game but rather the opposite, it’s an often stunning, unique experience that revolves around exploration and discovery, and everything I write will compromise that feeling. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, so if all you want is a recommendation, I give it wholeheartedly, it’s one of the most remarkable games I’ve played in years and a masterpiece of visual storytelling and pure gameplay.
Rime is essentially a puzzle platformer, you play as a nameless, genderless child of about 10 or 11, and you gradually work out the secrets of the mysterious Mediterranean island you’ve found yourself on. The puzzles revolve around sound and light, such as rolling a ball around a circle in order to manipulate the day/night cycle and create just the right light to unlock a hidden door. The platforming, meanwhile, has the child jumping from cliff to cliff and shimmying along ledges like a mini Nathan Drake.
What’s truly remarkable about Rime is what it doesn’t do, there’s no HUD of any kind and no words or speech in the entire game, the closest it gets to an instruction is occasionally telling you which button to press. This produces a beautiful, intuitive experience, the clean screen means you sometimes feel like you’re watching a beautifully animated movie rather than playing a game, and the non-directed approach means you essentially have to figure everything out for yourself and gives everything you accomplish much greater meaning. Rime is not full of complex puzzles like, for example, The Witness, figuring out what to do and then executing it is generally pretty simple, but it’s this figuring out that’s the point, even the most rudimentary gameplay tasks become infinitely more absorbing if you’ve made the conscious choice to do them. You retain the same skills throughout the game, you can push and pull various objects, you can shout to activate what are essentially magical switches, and you can jump, and it’s up to you to work out how to use these abilities to progress. Without dialogue or instruction, Rime generally relies on visual clues to point you in the right direction, nudging the camera towards a column of light or having the fox you quickly befriend tear off down a hill, the clear implication being for you to follow your new companion.
While there’s no combat, there are enemies of a sort, a large prehistoric-looking bird does its best to kidnap you and, later in the game, strange shadowy creatures latch onto you and drain your vitality. The key to dealing with both of these is avoidance, to avoid being taken by the bird, you sprint from shelter to shelter, while rolling can break the hold that the shadow creatures have on you. Eventually, you’re able to find a more lasting solution to both problems, utilising some of the island’s unique features to your advantage.
One of the most striking things about Rime are its visuals, they combine a distinct graphical style with a level of polish you wouldn’t expect from a small, relatively unknown Spanish studio. Initially, the world is drawn in thick brush strokes and pastel colours in order to convey the lush vegetation and shimmering sea of this natural paradise. It’s a beautiful approach and means Rime often feels like concept art come to life, a game created not with a mouse and keyboard but conjured into life with a pencil and paintbrush. Gradually though, the mechanical world starts to intrude on the alabaster cliffs and green valleys, and there’s a clear contrast, the more modern elements characterised by clean lines and, in the case of large metal balls that quickly become vital to the game’s puzzles, a dazzling reflective sheen. As you progress through the game, the palette broadens further, underwater sequences have a serene beauty as you swim through air bubbles and marvel at shoals of fish swimming by; while another visual highlight is navigating a series of columns and pillars made of black stone in the driving rain, the rain glinting as it bounces off the structures and perfectly conveying the oppressive atmosphere.
The other crucial element is the game’s animation, with a non-verbal protagonist, virtually the entire emotional connection to the player must be done through body language. This is done expertly, with even the child’s running style, for example, conveying the aimless excitement of youth. Moreover, it’s made clear that he/she doesn’t belong on the island, so much on it dwarfs the child and he/she has to constantly climb over rocks and pillars to move forward, the natural features of the island appearing first as a gymnastic playground and then as an imposing barrier. As you progress, you’ll also notice a distinct change in the child’s character, the enthusiasm and joy gradually fades to be replaced by grim determination and fear as you discover the secrets of the island.
It’s a reflection of the fact that what at first appears to be a simple, pleasant environmental puzzler gradually evolves into something far more involving. The game weaves its narrative through flashbacks and cutscenes, and it’s a masterpiece of visual storytelling, knowing exactly what to show and trusting that players will be smart enough to pick up on the symbolism and emotional cues that non-verbal narrative relies on. It also uses music expertly, a sweeping orchestral score soundtracking your adventure and doing much to convey the varying emotional states of the child. All this works in harmony to produce a clear narrative that delves into just how the child found itself on the island and, by the end, is surprisingly moving.
Rime is not perfect, the controls can be stiff occasionally, and I experienced a few visual glitches in my playthrough, but these minor blemishes do little to mar a powerfully unique experience. Its series of bold design choices (no HUD, no speech, and a non-directed approach) results in a game that has an almost unparalleled ability to draw you into its world. So many games shout at you like a drill sergeant – “go here, do this, protect her, kill him” – whereas Rime tempts you with a beckoning finger, inviting you to go explore, to soak up the world at your own pace, in the process returning you mentally to that childish state of wondering what’s around every corner and on top of every hill. You keep playing to see just what the game will throw at you next and, eventually, because you care, you become invested in the child’s tale.
Because of this approach, Rime feels remarkable, a minor masterpiece that’s a devastating statement of intent from developers Tequila Works and which challenges so many taken-for-granted assumptions. It’s a beautiful, beguiling, intuitive delight that packs a real emotional punch and, while it obviously won’t appeal to those whose passion for gaming is limited to twitch shooters and destructive sandboxes, for everyone else, it’s an essential title.
Developer: Tequila Works
Publishers: Grey Box, Six Foot
Release Date: 26 May 2017
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (release date tbc)