Revealed at PAX three months ago, The Spectrum Retreat is a first-person puzzler where not everything is as it seems. From the brain of Dan Smith and published by Ripstone, the game has already been likened to puzzlers such as the Portal series, and fairly so. It's a good mix of puzzles and story, but it comes from the back of a long line of similar games and doesn't do too much to stand out.
Not your average stay at a hotel
The game begins with your character waking up in a hotel room with no explanation of what you're doing there. After a wake-up call at your door by one of the androids that run the hotel, you are free to explore at your own pace. The locations that you can explore initially are limited and the game nudges you, rather than forces you, in a particular direction in order to progress the story along.
For the first part of the game, things move along at a fairly slow and mundane pace. Your character goes down to eat breakfast and the delivery might have you wondering for a while where exactly the puzzling aspect of the game comes in. Things take a more dramatic turn once you get a call from Cooper, a woman who tells you that you're actually being held in the hotel against your will. You play out the same routine every day in order for the hotel to keep running, which must start with your going down for breakfast every morning, and Cooper tells you of a way that you'll be able to break free from this cycle and escape the hotel. In order to break the cycle you must complete a series of "authentication tests" which allow you to climb higher through the floors of the hotel. Your ultimate aim is to hit the roof, which will allow you to escape.
Five hotel levels don't take very long to explore, but it's a good experience nonetheless
The puzzles in these tests, whilst technically unique, will feel reminiscent of puzzles from other games from the genre. Your character has a contraption which allows them to absorb colours from cubes. The cubes are coupled with coloured gates, so to get through a red gate you must have absorbed the colour from a red cube somewhere. While this begins quite simply, things get more complicated once more colours, teleportation, and rotating rooms are introduced. The difficulty curve for these puzzles is fairly steady, and it's doubtful you'll get stuck on any for too long so long as you frequent the genre.
One downside to these puzzles is the fact that there is no undo button or way of going back, so unfortunately if you do something wrong in a specific way in the middle of the test, then you might be required to restart the whole thing in order to progress. While not a problem in the shorter tests, with the longer ones this can get particularly annoying, especially the final test which has a number of different sections, and one wrong move can lead to you having to do the same thing over and over again.
These aren't the only puzzles you have to deal with though, as even outside the typical puzzle rooms there will be more problems to solve. Each floor has a door you must unlock with a code hidden somewhere in the hotel. The further through the game you get, the more places you can explore, although it's a shame that there isn't actually a whole lot to interact with through the hotel. Some of the things you can interact with will offer you a bit more about your character's backstory though, which is a strange story and worth following. You learn about all this at the same time your character gets his memory back, so being at the same pace as your character the whole way through makes the game's experience feel more involved. There's an interesting ending topped off with a decision to be made that impacts the future of your character, but sadly you never see the impact of this decision which is a shame.
Complete the puzzles in order to earn your freedom
Overall, the game is well designed and the hotel is appropriately creepy. Grand rooms like the library and the pool area look purposefully dated, and these environments are the perfect contrast to the futuristic puzzle rooms filled with the bright block colours from the cubes. Unfortunately, the game has some issues with lagging at times, and this does break this tense uneasy atmosphere.
The game has only 15 achievements in total to earn. Many will come will natural story progression, such as completing each floor of puzzles and typing in the keycode for each of the floor's unique doors. You will need two full playthroughs of the game in order to unlock the Check out any time you like achievement, but a lot of the extra time needed for the first playthrough can be skipped as the codes remain the same. It's an easy list to complete and should only take you a few hours, even for two playthroughs.
SummaryWhilst The Spectrum Retreat is an enjoyable, well-paced puzzler, it never quite hits the heights of other similarly styled puzzle games. You learn the backstory at the same pace as your character, which means you face the twists and turns together, but it feels like the story could have been expanded on more. The puzzles themselves are never too difficult, but challenging enough to hold your attention. Overall, it's a short but sweet puzzle game that whose greatest fault is coming after several similar but better games.
- Intriguing story that sees you learning at same pace as character
- Appropriate difficulty curve for puzzles
- Puzzle sections are offset with more exploratory areas
- No undo button means you can get trapped in puzzles
- Story feels like it could have been explored more
- Some lag in sections breaks the atmosphere
EthicsThe reviewer spent a number of hours solving puzzles, absorbing colours and trying to figure out what exactly going on, earning 14 of the game's 15 achievements along the way. A download code for the game was provided for the purpose of this review.
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