Let’s mix up little drink, shall we? Grab one part Myst, mix in one part Half-Life, add a dash of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and stir with a one-man development team. Voila, we now have Rituals. Drink up.
Rituals is a short-form first-person adventure game created by Tymon Zgainski, a developer from Edinburgh, Scotland. Before going into the review and saying nice and not so nice things about Tymon’s creation, I want to preface that I am in awe and a proponent of single-developer creations, and believe that no matter the quality of the product, there is always something special about a game created by a single person from beginning to end. I have done this and recognize how difficult it can be. So regardless of how critical this review is, know that I applaud Tymon for doing something so few can.
Just like Stanley, Rituals begins in front of a desktop computer. The whole game takes place primarily in an empty office building, a setting the player will return to throughout the game. Intermittently, Rituals will transport you to other realms. The amount of puzzles typical of the genre, however, are minimal, and sometimes the game seems to subsist more in the walking simulator genre more than a standard adventure game such as Myst.
Audio and visuals are good, with moments of excellence. There is no proper music in Rituals, but ambient atmospheric droning increases as the player delves further into the facility. The graphics use minimal textures and triangles to represent the 3D world in a low polygon count that I’m sure has an artistic name or descriptor, though I have no idea what it’s called. Though some may not appreciate the circa-1994 aesthetic, it works and adequately conveys the world around the player, making the short time spent in Rituals enjoyable to look at.
And… we come to controls. When creating an adventure game, though the world and player immersion is paramount to the overall experience, if said player cannot easily traverse the game, regardless of how great the lore is or how beautiful the mauve sky passes overhead, the experience will be diminished. Rituals suffers from this. At any point in the game, small transparent arrows are clicked to move the player to another physical location in-game. A short walking animation follows each movement. It is tedium. This small time adds up over the course of the adventure, and by the end one wonders why the creator chose this hybrid movement style instead of either a) full free-form movement, or b) instantaneous teleportation à la Myst HyperCard style.
I love adventure games, first-person or otherwise, and understand drawing comparisons between Rituals and one of the godfathers of the modern first-person adventure is unfair. But Myst is nearly 25 years old, and with the development tools now available, surely movement can be done better.
When done well, messages and deep thematic elements in games do nothing but increase the artistic viability of the medium. A game that deals with existentialism, or perhaps Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, or maybe just general ethical choices are all excellent examples of ways to use complex themes to transcend the genre and join more traditional art in philosophical dialogue. Rituals has a message, but it falls flat. I won’t say what this message is, because that would defeat the entire purpose of playing an hour-long game, but perhaps it will resound with a very specific crowd.
That being said, Rituals is a valiant effort for a small development team. Its graphical style and atmosphere definitely give it a unique feel. However, its clunky controls and even clunkier handling of its themes, along with its short — very short — run-time make it difficult to recommend at an admission price of $4.99. If received through a bundle or on sale, there are worse ways to spend an hour or so of one’s time than in the metaphysical realms of Rituals.