Whatever mankind touches, it destroys. Whole environments have been decimated and species made extinct by our short-sightedness and greed. The only time the balance is restored is when man no longer exists in that place. In Rays of the Light takes a philosophical look at mankind’s existence and the fine balance between life and death. It blends walking simulation/exploration with the puzzle genre. This mix takes you on a journey of self-discovery.
Developed by Sergey Noskov and published by Sometimes You, this bleak yet beautiful title is a rework of the 2012 game The Light by the same developer. This slow-paced journey allows you to absorb the touching and sad visuals while listening to an emotive audio. The presentation is wonderful and will successfully melt the iciest of hearts.
Soviet by design.
The story takes place in a rundown and long-abandoned school. Without the meddling of humans, nature has thrived. Where strong structures once stood; trees, bushes and vines now grow. It’s wonderfully eerie and creates a creepy ambience with little effort. The gameplay is linear, but the freedom to explore each section at will gave this an open-world feel. The game demands you explore every room and search through everything. You are desperately seeking clues to unearth the mystery of what happened in this desolate place.
As I took my time walking around reading the messages and looking at all the discarded possessions, it felt like a scene from a catastrophic event. The imagery felt familiar, as though it was based on a real disaster. It then struck me, it reminded me of the Ukrainian city of Prypyat. Based near the epicentre of the worst nuclear disaster in history, this once-thriving soviet masterpiece has long been deserted, left to nature’s grasp to bring beauty back to an otherwise barren landscape.
A touching game with simple mechanics.
The joys of a walking simulation game is the simplicity in its premise. There is no time pressure applied, and the world is yours to explore at your own pace. Even when a puzzle element is added, there are no complications to how it plays out. The extra layer complements the philosophical theme. It allows you time to absorb each message you read and contemplate each clue you find. The puzzles that you must overcome are mostly straightforward number problems, and won’t challenge gamers who have a logical mind.
What is difficult to comprehend is the lack of guidance applied to your progress. The story is ambiguous in its direction, and you will feel lost as you scramble about looking for clues and objects. It was great that it added to the mystery of the plot, but it was frustrating when you missed out on key information and puzzles were left unsolved.
To compound the issue further, no manual save facility has been implemented. This was annoying for several reasons. First, it separates the game into an episodic form, which takes away from its free-flowing open nature. I wanted the story to move from area to area without the distraction of finding an autosave location. Second, if you needed to revisit anything in a chapter, you had to start it from the beginning, losing all your progress in doing so. It isn’t game-breaking, but it was an oversight from the developers.
Dated but beautiful presentation.
This is a title that screams indie presentation. This isn’t a negative, it’s merely a fact that it doesn’t have high-end quality graphics. As a result, the imagery lacks a smooth finish and the textures are rough. I’d say it was closer to the original 2012 style than a 2020/21 indie game. It matters not, as it still works exceptionally well. The colour and tone are used superbly to create an eerie and unnerving atmosphere.
This was then complemented with the well designed and emotive audio. The music is special and in a moment can turn you from seeing the disaster and sadness that lies before you, into realising the beauty and serenity that nature brings. It’s brilliantly composed and without it, this game would have been lifeless and flat.
It’s all about the gameplay, not the controls.
With no time pressure, fighting or any controller intensive action, this is unsurprisingly easy to play. With few buttons to focus on, you will not struggle to pick this up. Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect! Sadly, it’s a bit of a clunky beast. The movement is lethargic and the button response is slow. It’s saving grace is that it doesn’t impact the gameplay, and you soon adjust to its meandering ways.
The way this is set up doesn’t lend itself to a high replay value. The puzzles don’t change, objects are in the same place, and the story is told in the same way every time. Though it has 2 endings which ensures you return to get full closure. A small achievement list is laced with easy to miss objectives, so completionists are likely to have to play it several times.
Not for everyone, but I loved it!
The slow-paced gameplay and freedom to analyse the story will not be everyone’s cup of tea. I lapped up the atmosphere and unnerving environment and enjoyed how the plot evolved the further it progressed. The puzzles were interesting, but lacked challenge and depth. The controls weren’t great, but you easily adjust to them and move on. I recommend this for the presentation alone, so buy it here! In Rays of the Light proves that beauty can exist in the darkest and most desolate of places.