There’s an ever-ongoing argument in the gaming community about whether or not video games should be considered art. At first glance, multi-billion dollar franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Halo make many people say that there’s no way that games should be considered art. This is due in part to the stigma of sex, violence, and shooting that surrounds more than a few of these titles.
However, the past few years have seen a rise in games that tell amazing stories and prove that games should indeed be accepted as pieces of art. Notable titles like Journey, Inside, and Shadow of the Colossus are frequently cited when making an argument for why games should be considered art. Now, a new game sits amongst those which easily proves why video games should be considered an art form: RiME.
RiME is a new adventure-puzzle game developed by Tequila Works and co-published by Grey Box and Six Foot. The game was first revealed to the world at Gamescom in 2013 where it was originally to be published by Sony as a PS4 exclusive. Since that time, Tequila Works reacquired the rights to RiME from Sony and eventually found new publishers that have taken the game multi-platform. While it was hard to be patient, the four year wait was worth it as RiME is hands down one of 2017’s best games.
RiME begins on a beach where your character, an unnamed young boy wearing a red cloak, lies in the sand. After awakening and slowly rising to your feet, you gain your balance set off to discover just where it is that you are. It’s within these opening moments of RiME that you find yourself on an expansive island. No one is with you and no explanation is given to how your character got here. All you know is that in the distance looms a large tower with a keyhole shaped opening near its top. It seems like a good bet to head for that tower.
One of the main components of RiME is that your character is alone. Early in the game you’ll meet a fox companion who will direct you throughout the game’s story, showing you which path you should take. You’ll also meet a handful of other native creatures to the island as well as some frightening enemies later on. Despite this, the journey you take in RiME is one mostly found in solitude.
After meeting your new companion, you begin to explore the island to learn more about where you are and just how you can advance to that tower in the distance. Exploration is RiME feels less like a chore and is instead full of wonder. The island that you find yourself on is bright, beautiful, and contains a handful of collectibles that make exploring exciting rather than boring. I often found myself looking to split off from what I knew was the game’s main path because something in the distance had caught my eye. Exploring is one of the core elements of RiME and even after finishing the game, I find myself wanting to return to the island and turn over a few more stones to find what I missed.
While exploring is a ton of fun, RiME is a puzzle game at its core. To advance forward through the island’s many areas, you’ll have to solve a variety of puzzles. Sometimes these puzzles may be as simple as pushing a block or finding a key. Other times, you may need to align specific pillars with items in the environment to open new doors.
The best puzzles in the game are often coupled with the aforementioned exploration elements. It’s in these moments that RiME truly shines. I found the puzzles to be challenging enough to keep me guessing, but never felt stuck at any point in the game — which was nice. As someone who is pretty bad at puzzle games, RiME seemed to have the perfect level of difficulty.
Going hand-in-hand with these puzzles are a variety of platforming and other various traversal mechanics. Unfortunately, the movement in the game doesn’t feel perfect. I wouldn’t say that movement in RiME feels bad per se, but I would say that it’s a tad stiff. My best comparison would be a game like Ico or last year’s The Last Guardian. Moving around the world of RiME whether it be running, jumping, or swimming feels fine, but it could’ve felt more fluid.
Fundamentally, RiME is a game about small, memorable moments. These impactful moments are littered throughout the game. Whether it be birthing a new robot friend, being chased by a vicious pterodactyl-like creature, or making your way up a massive spiral staircase, RiME is full of standout moments that carry with them an emotional weight that you’ll want to experience again.
As you progress through RiME’s island and the many structures that inhabit it, you begin to unravel just how and why you ended up here. The story of RiME is purposely kept ambiguous so that you can discover along with the young boy what answers lie at the end of your destination. From the early stages of the game, you feel a sense of dread and fright as you begin to notice that a red-cloaked character continues to watch over you as you explore the island. You don’t know who this character or creature is, but as the player, I was determined to find out.
Honestly, it’s really hard to talk about the story of RiME in much detail without ruining anything. Similar to games like Journey and Inside, RiME is just one of those games that you need to experience for yourself. The less you know about RiME going into it, the better it will be once you play.
That said, RiME tells what is perhaps the best story in gaming this year. The slow, methodical pace of its narrative really draws you in and makes you feel invested in your young character. Subtle childlike moments of wonder early on in the game add more weight later as RiME begins to grow darker and more dreary. I’m not an overly emotional person, but RiME stirred a lot within me and left a mark on my heart. This is a story about sacrifice, love, loss, and forgiveness. The ending of the RiME and some more of the emotional moments that I experienced throughout will stick with me for a quite a long time.
I think that both the story of RiME and the experience that you have while playing is amplified by the game’s silence. Not a word of dialogue — other than some unintelligible yells — is spoken within the game and no piece of text is seen outside the game’s pause menu. I think it’s this silence that adds even more to the emotional moments of RiME. Dialogue is great, but there’s something about silence that allows you to really focus in an understand just how characters are feeling and the weight that they are carrying with them.
RiME is very much like a children’s story book where even if you can’t read the words on the page, the bright pictures convey meaning to you. You understand the emotions and feelings of the character on the page even if you don’t know how they would verbalize those emotions. RiME is visual storytelling at its finest.
Of course, just because there is no dialogue in RiME doesn’t mean that sound plays no factor. The musical score of the game is honestly one of the best that I have heard in years. There have been a lot of amazing soundtracks so far this year, but David Garcia’s work on RiME might be the best of them all.
Not only is it fantastic from a musical standpoint, but the score feeds directly into those small character moments that you experience while playing. Without this specific score, I’m positive that the story wouldn’t have the same emotional impact that it does. Music plays throughout the background during the entirety of RiME’s story and is the one steady driving force within the game. Garcia deserves endless praise for his work on RiME — and maybe even a Grammy nomination.
Despite my endless praise for RiME’s music, storytelling, and puzzles, I of course have to find fault with it somewhere. Unfortunately, that lies with the game’s performance. I played RiME on normal PS4 (not PlayStation 4 Pro) and found the frame rate chugging fairly often. Specifically, when the camera would pull back to show the world’s sense of scale, I found it to really drop significantly. Frame rate stuttering is never fun, but if it’s one of the only problems that I’m going to have with RiME, then I can live with it.
In a year that has been filled with some of best games this generation, RiME finds a way to stand out thanks to its unique world and impactful story. While it might not contain the most original gameplay of all time, its beautiful vistas and fantastic soundtrack will keep you coming back for more just to see if there’s a corner of the island that you haven’t discovered yet.
So, this leads us back to our long-debated question: are games art? Well, after playing RiME, I certainly believe so. RiME is a perfect example of just how impactful and important video games can be when looking to branch out and tell meaningful stories in new, unconventional ways. RiME joins an elite list in my mind of video games that everyone should experience in their lifetime. There’s no question to me that video games are indeed art and RiME is a masterpiece of the medium.