Rituals is a minimalist adventure game with an interesting polygonal style and a lot of subtleties. Unfortunately, the game tries too hard to have a deeper meaning, resulting in a disjointed mess of a mystery.
With vintage style games making a comeback, gamers have become more open to low-res experiences. Titles like Shelter 2 and Grow Home have traded in retro pixels for old school polygons, an increasingly popular style in the indie game community. Rituals is an adventure game that takes advantage of this with rich environments and a not so rich narrative.
Rituals seems to put an emphasis on minimalism, from the length of the game to the style of the graphics. The polygonal style works in this case due to the smart color schemes that reflect the mood of each environment. There is a nice juxtaposition between the sterile indoors and the richness of nature, and the often unnaturally saturated color palettes of certain settings tend to help delineate between reality and hallucination. There are even a few moments where the simple quality of the graphics adds to the unsettling nature of the game.
The music, or lack thereof, also adds to the creepy atmosphere, considering that there is practically no soundtrack. The prevailing silence is a clever reminder of the protagonist’s isolation. In fact, the sparse use of sound effects led to some of the most disquieting moments of the game, such as indecipherable whispers or gunshots.
The game’s mechanics are almost as uncomplicated as the soundtrack. Instead of being able to move freely with the mouse and keyboard, the player can click on arrows that display the possible directions for movement. While this means that Rituals is not a game in which the player can explore, this constraint is actually a relief since the game’s focus is on puzzles. It eliminates pointless wandering and streamlines the puzzle solving process, allowing players to focus on clues without worrying about missing any.
The puzzles themselves are where the game’s simplicity really pays off. While they are intuitive and relatively easy, the puzzles tie in the visual and audible subtleties of the game, oftentimes incorporating symbolism that hints at what’s to come. The solutions can feel like rituals, some functioning as meditative rites and others as acts of survival. While they are not very challenging, the puzzles act more as a vehicle for the player to progress from place to place, learning more about the history of the abandoned surroundings.
Unfortunately, Rituals falls apart in terms of concept. The overarching theme is man’s relationship with nature, but the game can’t seem to decide on an antagonist. While this duality could be considered thought provoking, it was executed in a way that simply vilified both sides. Instead of presenting the player with two whole, complicated identities, the game paints man as a destroyer and earth as a goddess of wrath. The cryptic nature of Rituals and the negative qualities of both parties made it difficult to pick someone to root for.
Even the conflict between the two malevolent forces feels contrived. Instead of focusing on any of the multiple environmental issues humanity faces today or dialing it back to a more personal level, Rituals created some strange contention between a group of scientists that seem more akin to a cult and the goddess Gaia. This may have been fine if the game was meant to go in the direction of fantasy, but as it stands, it is meant to be a serious reflection on real life issues.
So much of Rituals doesn’t seem to make sense. In its attempt to have a deeper meaning, the game instead created a disjointed mystery that at times felt pretentious and hollow. While the symbolism of each of the levels has potential, it just hasn’t been utilized as well as it could have been. It’s frustrating to see a game with such a wonderful framework for success fail so utterly in narrative and message.
While the game does manage to have a few unsettling moments, Rituals is, for the most part, bland. The message of Man vs. Nature was far too vague to have an impact, and the bits of exposition strewn throughout the game carried far less weight than many of the other more successful aspects of Rituals. Players looking for a deep message will be disappointed, but those who simply want a short, well-made adventure game will likely be satisfied.
Rituals will be available for PC, Mac, and Linux on May 27th. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.