In Rays of The Light is, in the most simple form, a walking simulator. Hell, there’s even an achievement for walking 5km around the small area that you’re given to explore. But it’s more than just a walk in a pretty game. It’s creepy, unnerving, but definitely worth the few hours it takes to see the end.
The game starts with a short animation showing a cola can on the ground and people in the background. The scene is a time-lapse and as time moves on, nature reclaims the world around this lonely cola can. It kind of reminded me of The Last of Us.
That’s the set up before you’re given control of your character. It’s not clear why the people have vanished, at least not for a while. You need to explore the dilapidated building and its surrounding area where you’ll find notes that give a peek into the world shortly before humans were wiped off of its face.
You begin in a room with a television displaying that horrible static fuzz. There are no instructions. I moved around the room and got myself familiar with the controls, then I ventured out into the dark hallway to find a torch taped to a wall. Yay! Light! I walked back into the starting room to test my torch and… the TV was now off. Creepy.
This would be the beginning of my three-hour solo adventure where my heart almost fell out of my arse a fair few times.
In Rays of Light doesn’t use jump scares to elicit a reaction. Instead, it’s far more subtle, at least to begin with, and it all begins with sound. The music is beautiful and in stark contrast to the dark and eerie building that houses most of the game’s run time. The piano tones are cheerful, sombre, and haunting all at the same time, and when the music suddenly stops, dread creeps in. The first time this happened, I got “goosey pees” – the name my partner and I give for goose pimples (it makes it less scary… shut up.)
I found that the music was a shield of sorts, blocking out creepy noises. Once the music dropped, I was hyper-aware of every masterfully produced sound – and believe me, the use of sound here is masterful. The sound of the torch clicking on in the darkness is amplified. I heard the sound of glass crunching underneath my feet as I walked, so I stopped to double-check. Yep, there was glass, but then there were more footsteps that didn’t belong to me. Creepy. In fact, I’m getting “goosey pees” just writing this.
Opening lockers produces a shrill creak that I eventually got used to, but then I’d be walking along by the light of my torch and I’d hear that familiar sound from elsewhere in the building. Those “goosey pees” are back.
It’s horror, but not as you know. The reliance on sound rather than sight is a brilliant move and it kept me wide-eyed at all times, constantly expecting the classic horror trope of a dark figure in the distance to emerge, or perhaps a little girl to run across a hallway. That never happened, but the expectation was there and it kept my heart at an uneasy rate.
It’s not all brown pants and weak bladders. You have to figure out what’s going on, what’s happened, and how to progress. This is where the puzzles come into play. For the most part, you can stumble your way through the game by exploring every nook and cranny and interacting with anything and everything. I did have to take a couple of notes for one of the puzzles, mind you, but the rest were fairly logical and not too hard.
The game doesn’t give any hints, not that they’re really needed. So long as you’ve got half a brain, you’ll be able to figure out what to do and where to go next. I mean, I did it while peeking through my fingers, so you’ll be just fine.
Progression means more scares though, and while the beginning of the game relies on audio cues to get your blood pumping, the latter stages of the game ramp it up another level. Again, there are no jump scares, but the game does eventually turn to visuals to get a reaction.
Moving into the underground bunker, shadows of those who sat along the bunker walls flicker in the dim lights. Moving further on, the shadows seem to flicker more violently, and as the emergency broadcast overhead plays out with the deafening alarm, for the briefest of moments – and I do mean the briefest of moments – they become solid entities, shuddering and shaking. This is where I almost put the controller down and called it a day. It was terrifying. I looked over at my partner and I could see she was even more terrified than me. I could feel the end was near, though, so I cracked on I got my ending. And… it’s kind of what I expected. I won’t ruin it for you but the signs are clear and you’ll probably have figured it out long before your last walk in the rays of the game’s light.
In the rays of the Light is my kind of horror. It doesn’t rely on cheap tricks or gimmicks to make you feel something. The use of sound is brilliant and even when the game does throw some visual scares your way, they’re unique and against the grain. No little girls running around (though I’m sure I heard a young girl’s voice?) and no disappearing figures.
It’s a parable, too, for the world we live in. I’m not going to go too deep into this because it’s kind of spoilery, but I appreciated the reflection on our miserable world, because it is miserable, and if we don’t sort out the dickheads in charge, we’ll all be taking that last walk sooner than we should.
In Rays of The Light PS5 Review
In Rays of The Light is a masterclass in building tension and horror, all without slipping into the familiar tropes.
Review disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS5. Reviewed using: PS5.