Described as an “atmospheric author’s parable about our place in this world,” In Rays of the Light is a remake of a 2012 title with the simpler name The Light. This version, released for the latest generation of consoles, is also a port of the PC version titled The Light Remake, seeming to be the exact same game as that one released on PC last year. With that said, In Rays of the Light is your typical walking simulator, and while that term has become somewhat condemning in recent years, it fits the bill here. It’s similar in style to games like Gone Home and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, with you controlling a silent protagonist who wanders a small space uncovering a secretive story.
Starting the game in an abandoned facility/university building (to be honest, I never was quite sure), you are quickly thrown into the mysterious tale, as you seem to be the only one wandering the ruined halls of a once-populated area. The walls have become covered in moss, the various departments of the building have slowly begun to crumble, and all that is left are a few notes along with some environmental puzzles that have managed to become obstacles for the player. It is all stuff that you would expect from the genre, yet that also makes for the entire core issue with In Rays of the Light—it’s a game from 2012, and it feels like it.
While games like What Remains of Edith Finch shake the idea of a walking sim to its core with an incredibly creative presentation style and a narrative that will leave you pondering for hours upon completion, it can be incredibly difficult to return to the style of game offered here. Gameplay ultimately boils down to you wandering those empty hallways searching for a way to move the game along, with your encounter with a combination lock being the first signal as to what your objective should be. The entire game to a point follows this format—solve the first task, wander a bit more, find a dead-end, find the solution, repeat. Again, this is all fine for the genre, as these types of games are never aiming for an intense, action-packed adventure, instead seeking to offer a more sombre gaming experience through the use of atmosphere as well as a plot that slowly unveils. Thankfully, atmosphere is something In Rays of the Light excels at.
With a set of headphones on and all the lights out, you will find yourself getting truly sucked into the world here. With some melancholic piano music playing at first to ease you in, eventually fading into silence, the only sounds that surround you are the eerie creaks and whines of a building that has been long forgotten. Couple this with the visually pleasing graphics and it is very easy to get into this world, a feeling that is only accentuated once the game begins to play out more and you enter some of the more scripted sequences it has to offer. It is hard to go into detail about what the game offers in terms of these events since, like a walking sim from the past, you can beat the game in just short of an hour—or even half that if you manage to not get as lost as myself. If you know what you are getting into here, then the length is a non-issue, as again games like Gone Home were similar in length. Yet unlike Gone Home, In Rays of the Light never managed to do enough with its narrative to keep me from having a frustrating time with it.
This frustration was immediately sparked by my accidental disabling of the hint system, which is less a series of hints and more a “this is what you need to do so you don’t wander aimlessly” system. I accidentally went for the option to turn off the subtitles, which can be done by clicking in the left stick—cut to twenty minutes later and I am finding keys and other items with zero clues to where they were. Lo and behold—with the subtitles back on—finding an item triggers the game to provide a crucial piece of information as to what you have picked up. This subtitle issue may be a nitpick, but this frustration just kept creeping up on me during the game as puzzles and the inability to pick up and keep notes you find became annoying. My short hour with the game felt closer to three hours—which in part was due to that dripping atmosphere, but was equally due to being sucked out completely as I had to consult a guide.
There is a lot to appreciate here: the atmosphere and general presentation are super well done and were just enough to ensure that I was never fully against my time with the game. Yet the story did not do anything for me, and if you’re not into the story with a walking sim it is for sure a recipe for a bad time. There is an audience for In Rays of the Light, with the two endings providing a small reason to go back (as well as looking for some notes to expand upon the narrative), fans of the genre will be right at home here—while others may find the experience swiftly forgotten upon the credits rolling.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes]