From Dan Smith and Ripstone Studios, comes The Spectrum Retreat. A first person puzzle game, it’s a mesh of a puzzle game and a first person exploration game. Dan Smith is a YGD BAFTA award winner for game design. He joined with Ripstone to bring his newest game to the masses. Did he succeed? Read on and find out.
You wake to a ringing, turns out it’s someone at your door, you’re in a hotel room. Their system is faulty, so you get a personal wake up call. You’re reservation in the dining room is ready, so head on down to the lobby, and have some breakfast. As you walk down the hallway, you notice there isn’t much different than any other hotel. While you might take the elevator, turns out it’s being worked on. The technician suggests you have some breakfast, and it’ll be working once you’re done.
So you head on down the dining room, and notice the place is deserted. Are you the only guest? There’s just the staff and a huge place with a revolving door that leads you right back inside. Why can’t you leave? This is where you start a little more exploring and meet a few more staff members and begin looking for collectables. You reach the restaurant, and the hostess informs you your private table is ready. You head over and your food is sitting on the table for you.
So now, let’s skip ahead, the staff is a bit… weird. All those white, blank faced robots with speakers for mouths are all there is. You seem to be the only person in the place. Every “male” character has the same voice. Every female, likewise. It’s as you finish your food and head back out that you hear a voice speaking to you. This is where the conspiracy/story angle begins. There seems to be more to this retreat than meets the eye.
The voice advises you that you have to get to the roof to escape. The problem with that plan, is that you have to take the elevator. Oh wait, repairs have been finished. So head on up to the second floor, and let’s try to get out of here. So, as you get to the next floor, you need to find a door that is different from the others. Here is where the hunting starts, you have to start the search for items, clues, etc throughout the hotel. Once you get in, you have to use your phone to get through the puzzles. This, however, is no ordinary phone. You can use it to change colors on different blocks in order to proceed through colored gates/force fields. The first set of puzzles are fairly easy, showing you how the puzzles are solved in order to proceed to the next floor.
After you complete a floor, you have to head back to your room to sleep and re-energize. Each floor has progressively more puzzles to negotiate with even higher difficulty to progress. You have to change/suck the color out of different blocks using your phone to progress. Complete puzzles, go to sleep, lather rinse, repeat.
A few good things to say about the game. When I think indie game, I wouldn’t think of one that looks this polished. It looks just like a AAA game, and controls (what little you actually have to control) are tight. The hallways all look the same; but that’s pretty standard for almost any hotel, so here, it fits. The robot staff give the place a creepy vibe, especially when you think you’re mostly ignored, and during one semi stealthy area, you run into a robot who asks why you’re in the this particular area? The robot staff help break up the monotony in what is otherwise a fairly straightforward puzzle/exploration game. Having to “sleep” between floors also helps give you an easy stopping point. Saves are automatic, so no need to worry about losing progress.
During the puzzle levels, you come across corners that seem to have some significance to remembering your past, and why you’re here. The voice alludes to you needing to remember, but you have to do it in your own time. Each “memory area” leads to color and perspective changes, so you know they have at least minor importance (SPOILER ALERT: It seems pretty minor).
Not so great: the game seems to be using the first person exploration to hide a fairly standard puzzle game. Without the first person gameplay, it would most likely qualify as a mobile game at best. That’s not really too bad of a sign though. They took what would be a weak game, and added an unexpected twist. The lack of variation in voices, I can understand this in order to sell the whole robot angle, but it’s still off putting. The Voice on your phone guiding you through the hotel in order escape. Why do you need to escape? What do you need to escape? There’s no sense of danger, the odd occasional surprise, but nothing that feels deadly.
In closing, this is a game that straddles 2 genres, puzzle and first person horror, sci fi exploration. It’s a serviceable game; but replayability is questionable. The puzzles are unique, but not varied. You can boil it down to sucking color out of one block, and blowing it into another in order to proceed through hallways that are not as detailed as the hotel hallways. This is definitely, not your average game in either genre. There’s no combat, a la SOMA, or Outlast, but it has way more involved and thought provoking puzzles. The story is engaging, yet feels a little tacked on. All told, this is a game that has some really good points that could potentially lead to greatness. As it stands, it can warrant a playthrough for puzzle fans. If your preferences tend to be more action packed, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Spectrum Retreat is available for PS4, XBOX one, PC, and Switch. (This review was done on a free pre-release copy. That did not affect the review at all.)