RIME Review – The Ancient Mariner
There is a desolate, melancholic beauty to RIME, Tequila’s long in the making puzzle platformer that finally launches for PS4, Xbox One, and PC, three years after its initial announcement. The game begins with a turbulent storm, ending with a lone boy ending stranded, shipwrecked, on a beautiful island all by himself. When he wakes up, he has no recollection of who or where he is- or none that is shared with you, the player. Instead, you are given a view of the island you are on, with no explanation, with the game relying on nothing but your curiosity arising from what it shows you, leading you on.
RIME is an entirely visual game- everything that it does, from storytelling to characterization to even its primary gameplay, relies entirely on what it shows the player. You glean about the story from the island you find yourself on, and observation of said island. Characterization is primarily through interaction of your character with other things around him, which hint at his personality. And gameplay relies on the player seeing things. You need to see where you see beacons of light. You need to see where you might not have gone already. You need to shift perspective to be able to open pathways on. You need to see if there is anything pulsating that catches your attention. You need to see where your adorably lovely fox companion is going. You need to see if there is something in the environment that hints at how you may be able to move ahead. And most of all, you need to see where a mysterious figure, garbed in red, never speaking in red, is- because whoever they are, they appear to be leading you to the conclusion of your quest.
It’s just as well that RIME looks as thoroughly gorgeous as it does, then. And it really is a beautiful game. Its gorgeous, striking art evokes flattering comparisons to games such as ICO, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Shadow of the Colossus, as does its almost bleak atmosphere- for you are the only person, apart from that mysterious other entity, on this island, the best that you can see, for the better part of the game. As colorful as RIME looks, and as happy as Enu, the boy you are controlling, is, happily humming and singing along, ecstatic at the company of the fox who is his lone companion on this island, there is no question that there is a melancholy that pervades the very texture and fibre of RIME.
“RIME is an entirely visual game- everything that it does, from storytelling to characterization to even its primary gameplay, relies entirely on what it shows the player.”
However, it is not an oppressive melancholy, and it cedes and gives way to your sense of curiosity, which is what Tequila is relying on with this game. You are shown just enough, and encouraged to figure things out for yourself- and deviously, for this is actually a rather linear game. It gives the illusion of openness and freedom, but you are always being led down one very obvious path. The game is just great at masking that, like the Zelda games of old.
The actual gameplay part is, as mentioned before, fairly basic, relying mostly on your visual acuity. You’ll be platforming, climbing walls, jumping, walking, running, and solving some very basic puzzles. Most of them don’t require much thought, but then again, this is not a puzzle game, and they are never the point. The point of RIME is the story that the game is telling you, very slowly. The puzzles are just a part of the language the game uses to tell you that story. That story, and the way the game uses its interactive elements to tell it, will definitely, however, leave an impact on you.
As gorgeous and wonderful as this game is, however, there are definitely some problems that hold RIME back. The biggest one that I encountered while playing on a standard PS4 was the framerate- there are severe drops, and maybe owing to a narrower FoV, they can induce motion sickness (much like The Witness, which was another game about the player waking up on an island without explanation, and having to figure their way through it).
There is also something to be said for the game’s simplicity- minimalism is a virtue, especially the way RIME uses it, but some times, that minimalism can hurt the game. RIME certainly suffers from its almost too basic puzzles, which fail to hold your attention a lot of times (and which can lead to the player losing interest in the game altogether, if wanderlust is not their thing).
“There is also something to be said for the game’s simplicity- minimalism is a virtue, especially the way RIME uses it.”
On the other hand, a masterful exercise in minimalism is the game’s soundtrack. Sparingly used, it is nevertheless impactful, and is wonderfully utilized for maximum effect in the game, much like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another game from earlier this year that held back from using too much of its soundtrack at any given time. The result is that when its stirring, soulful melodies do play, RIME feels that much more impactful.
It is a flawed game, and there is certainly much that could have used some improvement- notably, the gameplay loop could have been kept more engaging, and the technical issues could have been ironed out. But even with all of that said, RIME leaves such an impression, that it is hard to hold those failings against it too much. It manages to live up to the years of hype and expectation, and it delivers an unforgettable experience along the way.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
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