When Portal dropped way back when even Valve had no idea it would be such a big hit. Most of the time if you’re in first-person in a game you’re wielding a gun, but Portal introduced us to the idea that you could be in first-person and do stuff that didn’t involve violence, like solve puzzles and explore deep philosophical quandaries. After Portal, a handful of other titles came up with similar premises. Now, it’s not fair to start my review of Spectrum Retreat by bringing this up, but I do feel that it has a lot of the same design philosophy. Let’s see if it manages to apply these ideas well
So, like a number of first-person puzzle games, Spectrum Retreat opens with you waking up in a strange place without much idea of why you’re there. In this case, the aesthetic is more formal and classical; it’s a hotel with a very posh look and feels rather than the usual laboratory setting. Of course, there are more …sci-fi settings later on but at the very least it mixes things up. But, change can be a dangerous thing, and Spectrum Retreat does the whole ‘voice guiding you about and providing exposition’ dealie. It gets credit for having amazing voice acting, and more importantly, the person speaking to you has more emotion and seems like an actual person rather than a robotic or omniscient presence. I mean honestly, we’ve seen enough of that.
In any event, the first bit of the game is in this fancy Shining-esque hotel space. This part is more akin to a walking sim, as you explore the hotel but there’s not much gameplay. The real star is the hotel’s elaborate design, which is strongly based on art deco (I had to Google it, I don’t know architecture much). This is where I felt the game had the most uniqueness, but it’s also where the pacing felt underwhelming. Your main objective is to find keys and get around locked doors. This part really isn’t that challenging, especially given the fact that the narrator is constantly helping you out. On the whole, it feels like this part of the game just kinda…pads things out. Eventually, you get to the second half of the game, which is where the game gets more puzzle-y. It also gets a lot more Portal-y. No more fancy art deco, now it’s back to the puzzles in a lab.
The thing is, Spectrum retreat deals with the world of AI and what it means for us as humans, so that’s what it explores throughout the game. While the hotel bit and puzzle bits seem distinct, it actually felt like one cohesive whole to me. The game’s unsettling tranquility in the beginning is clearly suspect, but I like that it isn’t the usual ‘a crazy robot killed everyone’ approach. The story definitely works well with the gameplay in this instance, and I think the overall structure makes a lot of sense because you are essentially ‘going deeper’.
Your voice buddy informs you that the device you’re carrying allows you to mess about with colors. Basically, there are colored doors and you need to ‘absorb’ the color of the door to cross. You can only absorb one color at a time, so it gets a little tricky as the formula gets more complex. Having said that, it’s not that intricate a puzzle mechanic. This is a good thing and a bad thing. On one level it’s very straightforward and derives its complexity more from adding layers. On another, it can get a little repetitive. The thing is, the puzzle gimmick doesn’t feel overly original. It’s color-coding mixed with aspects like teleportation and gravity manipulation. It really takes a while to pick up, but I’d say it still manages to offer some nice headscratchers.
In the end, The Spectrum Retreat feels a little short and maybe even a little…abrupt, I guess. But it still takes some classic puzzler ideas and builds on them in an interesting way. It’s not the most challenging puzzle game, but it’s definitely ideal for someone looking for something light and a little intense.
The Spectrum Retreat was reviewed using a PC digital download code provided by Ripstone Games. The game was tested on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published (click here for more information about our review policy).
• Rich art deco environments
• Terrific voice acting
• Balanced writing that reveals the plot in doses
• Good difficulty curve
• Puzzles don’t really get too creative
• Movement is a bit sluggish