In the 1980s we were dominated by the threat of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the western allies. The fear of this possible end of the world scenario affected art, books, television, and games. In more recent times though that threat has been replaced by many more fears, anxieties and world problems. It is here where the developer of In Rays of the Light has captured an atmosphere, creating a game that encapsulates those fears and tensions in a very unique and astonishing way.
In Rays of the Light is a remake of the original PC game from 2012 – The Light – created by the same small team. You start the game by taking in a nice prologue of time passing, focusing on the minutiae of life. Then you wake up in the first person, in an abandoned building that has seen better days. The world outside is bright, slightly overgrown and decayed. It has a very The Last of Us feel to it. You step out of the room you are in and you see taped to a wall a flashlight. The words above it read “The Light”, and it is here where the adventure begins…
The thing about In Rays of the Light is that it doesn’t hold your hand. In fact, it doesn’t ask anything of you at all. It’s up to you to find out who you are, what time of day it is, where you are wandering and, indeed, what your purpose is. There are no pointers, and no checkpoints to help you guide your journey, but the world you explore isn’t that huge so concerns around those shouldn’t ever be felt. What is dotted around though are a number of clues – found through pictures, objects or drawings on blackboards – that allow you to start to piece together an idea of what might have happened in this lifeless world.
The world and its contents are fascinating, right from the initial throes, and In Rays of the Light delivers a brilliant use of storytelling where it reveals more of the threads the more you progress. The themes of antihumanism, fear, and our sense of purpose in the universe really struck a chord with me throughout.
The gameplay is played in the first person, and you know what that means – you can walk around, occasionally move a bit faster and pick objects up to fill a very small inventory. There is no combat to be had or anything that is ever dangerous, so you won’t need to worry about that. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a continued looming threat in the world – or at least the feeling of darkness, something watching you from the shadows.
There are small puzzles to take in, from the simple, which might require the opening of a locked door with a specific instrument that you’ll need to find. But as you’d expect there are also trickier ones; ones that involve you decoding number sequences from old photographs dotted around locations as you try to work out a code to a locked box. It’s not a hugely taxing game but you will find yourself lost a fair bit, especially as you go exploring and wandering around this tiny world. I personally have loved that sense of exploration and storytelling; one that is about your own discovery. I do however fully understand how others might struggle.
Visually and In Rays of the Light prides itself in creating a wonderfully realistic world; as previously mentioned it wouldn’t look out of place in a Naughty Dog game. The attention to detail is fantastic, and the environmental building is superb, however as the game becomes darker and stranger the art style really does begin to excel, with some breathtaking moments and stunning set pieces that will stay with me for a long time.
The soundtrack again is a masterful stroke, utilising mostly a piano score that underplays and enhances every moment of wonder and broken beauty as you travel through the game. It manages to create a close relationship between composer and creator, and that makes the work even brighter. The effects are good too, with the use of a voice-over that is both melodic and terrifying in the same breath.
In Rays of the Light won’t take you long to complete – just under 2 hours in fact – but if you’re anything like me you’ll love what it provides. For the cheap price, it’s well worth taking a punt on, especially if you want something different, or are just after an amazing story that doesn’t give you all the narrative beats on a plate. The visuals are capable of creating some atmospheric and realistic architecture, and the game as a whole provides unusual off-beat decisions that have allowed for personal highlights. The soundtrack is marvellous as well, and when you include the themes of the game, it’s easy to see how and why it has stuck with me long after I’ve stopped playing it. That is the hallmark of a great game.
In Rays of the Light on Xbox is a game that explorers and dreamers should give a chance, and I eagerly await what those behind it do next.