Russian-based developer Sergey Noskov is likely not a household name, but he is well known in indie circles for his provocative and near apocalyptic games. 7th Sector is perhaps his most well known title, but his latest release is a remake of a game from 2012 - The Light - that Noskov has tackled next. This latest incarnation, titled In Rays of the Light, continues to play to Noskov’s strengths as a developer, for better or for worse.
Simple in Every Way
Noskov begins In Rays of the Light cloaked in near darkness, a static television being the only sound and sight before you. Players then are given the choice to take a flashlight and explore the haunting complex, or go it alone without the flashlight to guide you. Noskov keeps the game at a simple pace; you pretty much have a walking and running speed that are really sticky, even when cranking up your camera sensitivity to the highest settings. You can jump, but it's pretty useless, and you can grab and interact with a limited amount of items when you look at them and click.
Mechanically, there really is little to say here. In Rays of the Light is an auteur experience, so the game is mostly walking about in a sequenced order of events to navigate towards one of two endings that Noskov wanted to tell. There are no enemies to fight, just a few puzzles to solve that are pretty simplistic logic puzzles based on interactions or hints around the world. The world itself is pretty basic as well; you have a decaying school building, with two adjacent buildings to navigate, along with a verdant courtyard.
The lack of locations is of course a bit deceptive, but the entire scope of In Rays of the Light is intimate and claustrophobic, especially when it comes to some of its more standout sequences. In total, it is a relatively short experience; it is a game that once you solve it, it can be beaten in less than twenty minutes. The rewards for playing it, of course, are to soak in the atmosphere and message behind Noskov’s vision.
A State of Decay
If there is one thing to praise In Rays of the Light for is how it visually understands the mood it is portraying. You have a large, empty school building slowly succumbing to nature as weeds and ivy begin to reclaim the property. The building is pure white, contrasting gorgeously with the verdant green tendrils that wrap around its cracked walls, almost as if it is being suffocated by nature itself. The lush greens and sounds of birds and insects contrast with the dark, decaying corridors and claustrophobic hallways. Everything inside the building, once gorgeous and pristine, is now in a state of destruction.
This fits with the themes Noskov attempts to convey, the self-destruction of mankind. Noskov notes that In Rays of the Light is a parable about life and death, and our place in the world. The parable aspects showcase in the contrasting visuals as described above, but also come into play by exploring the very nature of why this world exists; what, in essence, caused this state of decay?
Unfortunately, Noskov doesn’t keep the answer vague at all, putting the blame squarely on the greed and overreliance on technology of mankind. All of this leading to nuclear destruction, strongly implied by the scattering of notes written by people throughout the complex. How hundreds attempted to escape the blast by locking themselves deep into the basement of the building, only to slowly starve and die off in the darkness. We even see the shadows of the deceased as we explore here, their specters a grim reminder of a previous apocalypse, whether they are real or not.
The sound design also compliments a lot of the visual cues in Rays of the Light. The soundtrack, composed by Dmitry Nikolaev, is a mix of melodic calm and haunting terror. The standout sequence is a navigation of the basement of the school, your only light sources flickering to the beat of your own heart as sirens blast through the intercoms. You must run through the belly of this human-made beast, all the while hearing the chilling echoes and a rising crescendo of chanting ramping up the tension.
The hardest thing to ever judge in a game like In Rays of the Light is its overall message. Part of the problem is how muddled it can become when you mix great messaging with blunted points. The tunnel sequence described above is a perfect example of what In Rays of the Light does right; mixing both sound design, music, visuals and the simple exploratory mechanics to provide a tangible, unforgettable experience.
It is much more effective than the more overt symbolism or even direct criticism found scribbled on the dilapidated walls, or at one point, being literally told to us through the narration of films and other productions. Even with the games relatively short length, the amount of times Noskov hammers down the reason for this parable's existence overexposes the message. Is it mankind's lust for power that will destroy us? The threat of nuclear war? Or are we already slowly dying?
All three of these questions would be great if they were ambiguous, but Noskov makes it pretty clear that all three are the answer at the same time. This is complicated further by the isolation the player feels while in the complex; the horror of being alone in an apocalypse where death is inevitable, but life is still worth living. The final ending sequence is perhaps the most revealing of this theme of life and death, one I won’t spoil here but lets say is incredibly overt in its symbolism.
When it is all said and done though, In Rays of the Light is a really good, if brief, atmospheric adventure that will provide players at least some moments of introspection. Noskov made a game that captures the mood and of his previous titles quite easily in the visuals and sound design, and offers an experience with some pretty solid standout moments. While it may stumble with its narrative at times, In Rays of the Light is still a small title worth checking out.
TechRaptor reviewed In Rays of the Light on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Thought Provoking Themes...
- Excellent Mood and Atmosphere...
- Fantastic Sound Design
- ...With Overtly Blunt Messaging
- ...Some Awkward Controls.