In rays of the Light Review (Switch)
Release Date: March 17, 2021
File Size: 1.3 GB
Publisher: Sometimes You
Developer: Sometimes You
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
You may be wondering one of two things (or both) at the outset of this review: 1) What is In rays of the Light? 2) Why am I reviewing it for SwitchRPG? True, In rays of the Light (henceforth abbreviated as IrotL) is not an RPG. It is, to cite the popular moniker of which I am admittedly not particularly fond, a ‘walking simulator.’
Basically, the emphasis of these games is placed more on atmosphere, exploration, and careful surveillance of clues that indicate how to advance the narrative, rather than on adrenaline-inducing combat or high-octane action (of which you won’t find in IrotL or most others in a similar vein).
To be frank, I don’t care much for the term ‘walking sim’. The name implies that the thrust of games such as this revolve around little more than walking from point to point, which to me seems a disservice to the true aims and feelings that developers of said titles are seeking to convey. Not to mention, it fundamentally overlooks other (more) prominent features that ‘walking sims’ often include (rich environments, piecemeal storytelling, puzzle-solving, etc.).
That aside, IrotL is a remake of 2012’s The Light from 7th Sector developer Sergey Noskov. If none of these names ring a bell, you’re not alone. I’m not familiar with the creator or his previous work and only discovered IrotL by happenstance as I was scrolling through the ‘Coming Soon’ section on the Nintendo Switch eShop. I saw that it was releasing in a couple of days’ time, on March 17th, and the trailer—as well as its $7.99 price-tag—immediately grabbed my attention. Thus, a day after its release (as of this writing), here I am, typing a review of a non-RPG, first-person adventure game for SwitchRPG… which brings me to the second question posed above: Why?
Look, it goes without saying that we at SwitchRPG really like RPGs—after all, they are our bread and butter. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t also enjoy playing other genres! And sometimes, we dive into those titles and are surprised by the discovery of subtle RPG elements. While that’s not the exactly the situation here (it usually isn’t), we still like to chronicle those adventures. In the present case, since this is a game that only released one day ago (longer by the time you’re reading this), and was short enough to complete rather swiftly, and is also — as far as I can tell — a fairly ‘under-the-radar’ indie launch with minimal press around it, I figured, why not? So, let’s discuss IrotL, namely: is it worth your time (and money)?
I cannot say too much without spoiling the experience of IrotL as it’s a game wherein story progression is inextricable from every new area uncovered. Hence, I’ll be as sparse and vague as possible while summing up my feelings about the overall narrative having completed it mere hours ago.
It starts with you standing inside the wreckage of a large university campus building, which appears to have been devastated by catastrophe or left desolate for decades (and I’m not the first to notice, also suspciously looks a lot like this place). If you have played any of the two spectacular Metro titles for the Nintendo Switch (or other platforms), you may tangentially feel a sense of familiarity as the post-apocalyptic landscape that surrounds you in IrotL is also set in Russia.
Coupled with its serene yet melancholic environments, the game’s ambient soundtrack—to which I’ll return—at various points additionally bears a faint resemblance to that first-person shooter series, particularly when you’re traversing dark tunnels with little more than a flickering flashlight at your disposal. Of course, that’s basically where the similarities end. There is no gunplay here, in fact, no combat of any kind. This isn’t the sort of game where you will be mowing down horrifically mutated monsters, Communists, and Nazis as you try to navigate your way around its destitute, crumbling world.
IrotL is, like other games in its genre, very slow paced, which helps to create a keen sense of loneliness amidst its forgotten world and is integral to the social and political commentary that the game attempts to communicate. To be sure, the game has a poignant message, quite explicitly stated in the scant dialogue you encounter, especially towards the end of the game.
However, the story it tells mostly comes in the form of missable written notes and memos that are scattered throughout the locations you visit. While I agree with the overall moral expressed here, as straightforward and simple as it is, I also felt that it didn’t really do anything for me. It doesn’t tread any new ground, and the ground that it does cover seemed somewhat frivolous in its delivery—as least, this was the case when the game really wanted to beat me over the head with its precepts. The less it actually said, and the more it allowed me to simply feel my way through its lonesome domain, the more affecting did I find its statement on humanity, our relationship to one another, the planet at large, and the terrifying technology under which we all live.
The gameplay in IrotL is as uncomplicated as games get. You find a handful of useful items, through which you can quickly toggle via the R button, a flashlight that you can turn on or off with X, a jump which was more or less useless (except to occasionally move over ledges that stood no more than a few centimeters high and shouldn’t have required any sort of leap), and two walking speeds: your normal, snail-paced gait and an ability to run when holding L that should have been closer to your regular movement speed.
Actually, walking is so painfully slow that I don’t really even see the purpose of it, except when you’re examining a room for items with which you may be able to interact; these were, in my opinion, too scarce. Your interaction with the environment is limited to a handful of key items, a few pictures on the walls, and a dozen or so random notes that others left behind for your reading pleasure.
Unfortunately, reading is far less pleasurable when you’re unable to actually see the lines of text on screen. One of my first and biggest gripes that I came across was that in knocking down the resolution substantially to make this game possible on the Switch, it apparently didn’t occur to the developers to enhance the visibility of the small lettering found on notepads and memos lying about—even a different font or more spacing would have helped—to ensure that players could effortlessly read them.
More than once I found myself squinting at my television (it is slightly better in handheld mode) to make out the contents of the writings I discovered. And there is no zoom feature (other than that which is built into the Switch hardware), which should really be a no-brainer by this point for games designed around the core function of sifting through messy rooms, investigating for any clues or hints that might stick out and need further examination.
Another issue I had, though minor, was that movement at times felt clunky, at other times sticky. I would get stuck on what seemed like an invisible wall, only to find that it was a small ledge or a staircase that would require me to jump (before allowing me to move freely up the rest of the staircase). In other instances, it would be a leaf or the leg of a knocked over chair that was obstructing my way forward. These amounted to relatively small annoyances, to be fair, but still contributed to an overall lack of polish that the game seems to exude.
And speaking of polish (or lack thereof), there was a moment when I emerged from underground to find that the sunlight had waned and the twinkling of evening stars had begun to make their presence known over the horizon. It created a beautiful, glimmering impression until I returned to the building in which the game commences. Suddenly, after walking through a dark corridor and approaching a doorway that returned to the outside world, it was daytime again. I’m inclined to think that this wasn’t intentional and more an issue of an unworked bug that reset the lighting effects as they had been previously in that area. Either way, it contributed to a growing sense that this was just lazy game design.
Apart from its narrative and atmosphere, the one major area of gameplay that IrotL has going for it are its puzzles. By and large, when you’re not wandering around, searching aimlessly for where to go next, you’ll be trying to solve a puzzle, often tied to an undiscovered clue or item.
I found myself getting stuck for extended periods of play (and here a manual save feature would have been nice; otherwise you’re obnoxiously forced to rely upon auto-saving checkpoints), and more than once when I did finally solve a puzzle, it was accidental. Hence, where there was little sense of reward there was great sense of relief. That’s not to say that the puzzles in IrotL are bad. They’re okay. But that’s it. No more, no less.
I don’t want to come across as if I am painting this game as entirely negative. Far from it. While the story and gameplay were pretty mediocre for me, the presentation is where IrotL shines splendidly. If you like what you see here, in the trailer, then you’ll likely be satisfied with the scenery of IrotL and the respectable amount of freedom you are given to explore.
I say ‘respectable amount’ because, while the regions inside and around the university building (in which the bulk of the game occurs) aren’t that large, they’re big enough–and thoughtfully constructed–that I found exploring them thoroughly enjoyable during the couple of hours that it took me to reach the end credits (subsequent playthroughs really shouldn’t take more than 20-30 minutes if you know where to go, what to do, and just want to breeze through it one more time).
Graphically, the game is rough around the edges. I mean, literally, you can see jagged pixels on every surface that make the game appear unremarkable. In handheld, it looks better, but still without a doubt inferior on the Nintendo Switch if you compare it to other platforms. Even so, it is a lovely game to experience from a purely aesthetics point-of-view because the environments—the juxtaposition of a pleasant sunny afternoon in an empty world where everything looks ransacked by time or war—are superbly crafted.
Here, the lighting is especially well-done. One moment you will find yourself sauntering down a creepy, dilapidated, pitch-black hallway, lit by nothing but the small hotspot of your flashlight, only to turn a corner and see beaming rays of sunlight rush over the uncouth, overgrown greenery outside, a decrepit car in the road, birds chirping along ever so blissfully.
This contrast, of the aged and ruinous artificial works of humankind, and the darkness and uncertainty that lies within them, against the bright, colorful, lively, natural world that surrounds it all, represents the highest point in my experience with IrotL. It truly creates a memorable setting that treads a fine line between a sense of restlessness, or of feeling unnerved, and a perception of familiarity and comfort.
One final point on where IrotL succeeds with grace: its soundtrack. The game varies from sad, minimalist, piano-laden melodies that compliment the somber mood of the game perfectly, to the more intense, spooky, and heart-thumping sound effects that you’d expect when exploring dark, swampy, concrete tunnels; I’m not saying there were other people down there with me, but I swear there were other people down there with me.
On the whole, I liked In rays of the Light. I’ll admit that I went into the game really wanting to like it, hoping that I had unwittingly stumbled upon a cheap indie gem. At the end, I didn’t really really like it, but… I liked it. It was enjoyable for what it was, namely, a game that only cost me $8 but which I probably wouldn’t recommend unless it goes on sale or if you’re a very specific kind of gamer.
What kind of gamer do I mean? I mean one who is precisely looking for a relaxing first-person adventure, ahem, ‘walking simulator,’ and who has already played Gone Home or What Remains of Edith Finch (both are better representations of the genre, especially Edith Finch, which is by far my favorite of the three). Seriously, if you haven’t played What Remains of Edith Finch–that is one of the closest games that I can come up with in terms of a similar gameplay experience, though it’s still pretty different overall–then that is easily a title which I would recommend playing first. Otherwise, sure, I can put my stamp of approval on checking out In rays of the Light.
Or, if you’re the type of gamer who simply wants a game that can be beaten in a single afternoon, with plenty of time to spare, and who doesn’t mind some moderately challenging puzzles thrown your way, then In rays of the Light might just be up your alley. And, as I said, if you’re the kind of gamer who watched the trailer and thought, like I did, ‘$8? I like the way it looks. Sure, why not?’, then you’ll likely find IrotL worth the little time and money that it demands from you–with the caveat that you shouldn’t expect anything mind-blowing and can accept some of its shortcomings, such as the ones that I’ve suggested here.
In truth, I don’t think that this is a game I will ever play again, but for the one short playthrough that I experienced of In rays of the Light, I guess I’m glad that I did. Yeah. I liked it. No more, no less.