Rime is one of those terribly non-descript games; plonking you in a highly contextualised world without much context. You’re a young boy who wakes in a semi-ethereal land and makes his way toward the visually dominating structure that intuitively shows you where to go (also called “weenies” in game design-talk). You’ll piece together the story of the mysterious island by interacting with unhelpful locals and questioning fallen buildings like an architectural critic. This is a game that’s happy to leave you wondering until the end with narrative blueballs.
Rime was originally conceived as an open-world, but was later culled to be more linear, which was probably for the best. Though you are stranded on a big beautiful island, I don’t think a sandbox would have improved what’s here. Open-world games, for all their scale, don’t usually achieve much with their freedom aside from providing more places to stand.
You can’t go anywhere you want in Rime; most of the time you’re climbing the giant tower anyway. But the game feels big because I can see far into the distance; because while I can’t go to every spot, I can go to a few of them, and isn’t that why we create open-worlds, to give a sense of scale?
The mission design has you running from point A to B anyway. Unless more space is of benefit, you may as well cut out the middleman as Tequila Works have. Nor is there any kind of map. Rime lives in a subtler realm of game design. The closest thing to hand-holding is your supervising fox, whose beckoning barks and cries do little to aid navigation. He’s so physically insignificant and eager to rush through every section you normally don’t know where he is anyway.
Rime does have some great examples of how to show players where to intuitively. Like Uncharted or Tomb Raider, climbable ledges are painted a certain colour. The game doesn’t tell you this, you just learn. Neither do you have to look at a well-lit area and wonder whether you should go there - you know you’re meant to, and the game does this alot. And don’t forget the weenies. Collectively these make for a visually discerning game, so the player barely recognises they’re being led.
The richly-coloured style of Rime’s world is reminiscent of Overwatch. This is certainly not the bloom and overexposure I associate with the Unreal Engine. It’s a quasi-cartoonish aesthetic befitting of a game where you play as a kid.
The puzzles are based on neat ideas; perspective illusions, light/dark, and even time. They’re a few notches too far on the easy side, though I did come from Talos Principle to this, so maybe I’m over-prepared. Your character also spends an inordinate amount of time yelling at things. Activating trinkets, orbs, or buttons means raising your voice at them. Maybe he thinks that’s the best way to solve problems.
The game’s design does become considerably less motivated once you reach the penultimate chapter. Not because things necessarily slow down – if anything they ramp up. Rime has a story it wants to tell, one that’s poignant as hell, but it doesn’t have much to do with the gameplay surrounding it. So the puzzle wheels stop turning while the narrative ones go faster. By the end you’ll see how the story is what Rime was really interested in, and while I’m not unimpressed with its skills in the puzzle genre, I am very aware of the disconnect between these elements. The interactive parts felt like a means to an end, because Rime had a specific idea to share.
The story is so stirring in part due to the music. You know that line of thinking which says “the composer has done their job right if you don’t notice the music?” That person must have been awfully uninspired – because what a load of bollocks. Rime is not a game I’ll start evangelising, but I will remember the music. Picture the best moments of a Disney soundtrack, because Rime is like that all the time.
Rime is for those who appreciate Team Ico, That Game Company, Abzu, Never Alone, or any peaceful-minded game where emotion plays centre stage. Granted, it doesn’t have the same finesse, as the mechanics have little to do with anything else. The developers clearly had a story on their hearts, but didn’t sync it to the rest of the game. Subsequently the gameplay often feels like a reluctant participant to a particularly touching tale.
Ben received a digital copy of Rime from the developer for review.