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From the thoughts of Dan Smith, the winner of the Younger Recreation Designer award on the 2016 BAFTAs comes The Spectrum Retreat – a first-person puzzle recreation set inside a simulated lodge the place you’re pressured to consistently relive the identical day. However is it a day price dwelling?
The Spectrum Retreat opens with our protagonist waking up in a pristine, art-deco styled lodge staffed completely by creepy, however exceptionally well-mannered robots. As you discover the lodge, you obtain cryptic messages in your telephone which recommend all isn’t because it appears. Your mysterious contact rapidly reveals themselves as Cooper, an worker of the corporate operating your simulated existence inside the Penrose Lodge. She explains that you just’re being held right here towards your will, however she is prepared to assist your escape. Sadly, it’s not as straightforward as strolling out the entrance door.
Over the course of the sport you’ll uncover clues about your previous, discovering who you might be and why you’ve been locked away within the confines of the world’s creepiest five-star lodge. These revelations come primarily within the type of scattered recollections all through each the lodge and the puzzle rooms. These can vary from textual content logs and outdated letters by means of to full-blown hallucinatory flashbacks which relive key moments of your previous. The Spectrum Retreat performs on some harrowing themes because it weaves its story, using misdirection and enjoying off your expectations to maintain you guessing on the fact. To say extra would drift into spoiler territory, however suffice to say I used to be gripped from begin to end.
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To flee the confines of The Penrose Lodge, you should cross a sequence of authentication challenges to achieve entry to the higher flooring, with an eventual purpose of reaching the roof. These authentication challenges make up the meat of The Spectrum Retreat’s puzzle gameplay. Inside these problem rooms, you possibly can soak up colors from blocks, permitting you to cross by means of limitations of that color. It’s a easy idea, however over the course of its five-hour runtime, The Spectrum Retreat wrings loads of mileage out of the thought.
The puzzles begin off easy sufficient – there’s an orange barrier in your path and a giant orange block subsequent to it to seize the color from, however issues escalate from there. Obstacles are joined by flooring panels, which you’ll fall by means of if you happen to’re holding their corresponding color. Sophisticated sequence of doorways require you to arrange the colored blocks in the best order to cross by means of, whereas at different instances the problem is just getting one color previous a sequence of different colored doorways to the place you want it in.
Every flooring of the lodge brings a brand new twist on the system, akin to blocks which immediately return to their beginning color, that means you’ll lose any color you swap onto them. Later ranges additionally introduce a teleport transfer which propels you immediately to a wall-mounted goal, offering you’re holding the best color for it to work.
While you’re not locked inside certainly one of these puzzle chambers, your time can be spent exploring the Penrose Lodge. These sections present a welcome respite from the color swapping shenanigans, following breadcrumbs to steer you to the passcode for the subsequent flooring of the lodge. The shift between the lodge and the puzzle sections serves to interrupt up the pacing of The Spectrum Retreat, by no means leaving you in a single part lengthy sufficient to tire of the idea, however this does lead on to The Spectrum Retreat’s main failing – its lack of ability to merge these two sides collectively right into a single expertise.
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Taking part in by means of The Spectrum Retreat, there was an virtually audible clunk because it modified gears, transferring between exploring the lodge and fixing the puzzle rooms. The Spectrum Retreat looks like two halves of two completely different video games spliced collectively; half revolutionary puzzle recreation and half narrative exploration recreation. Sadly, neither of those halves gel collectively and the puzzle gameplay finally ends up appearing largely as gatekeeper for the story, slightly than getting used to inform it.
This situation is compounded by the truth that Cooper, your solely companion and the supply of 90% of the dialogue you’ll hear, is totally absent through the puzzle sections. She makes her excuses as you enter the primary room, explaining that she will be able to’t talk with you there. Whereas this ensures there are not any distractions for the participant through the puzzle sections, it serves solely to disconnect you from the story. Comparable video games like Portal and The Turing Check averted this pitfall, with GLaDOS and T.O.M. sustaining communication with the participant all through their respective video games.
It’s a disgrace as a result of when she is round, Cooper’s efficiency is incredible. Amelia Tyler, Cooper’s voice actress, manages to hold the emotional weight of story even whereas solely being tangentially associated to it. She is aware of extra about you than she’s letting on, however her reactions to you uncovering your previous are stunning – you possibly can really feel the heartbreak and empathy in her each line. All through all of it she initiatives a nervous willpower to succeed, to do the best factor regardless of the chance to herself.
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On quite a few events Cooper drops a startled expletive earlier than disappearing out of your ear, solely so that you can overhear snippets of her dialog as she endeavours to maintain up appearances at her job. It’s a refreshingly human feeling to know that the largest risk to your escape try is likely to be Chad from accounting bursting into the room asking to borrow a stapler.
In actual fact, refreshingly human is likely to be one of the simplest ways to sum up The Spectrum Retreat’s story, which appears to grasp higher than most video games that science fiction isn’t nearly robots and teleporters – it’s about telling significant, human tales.
A closing minor criticism although, hearkening again to the looping day premise. The Groundhog Day shtick solely works if you happen to spend a while within the infinite loop earlier than breaking out of it. We’re given the impression that we’ve been reliving the identical day for god is aware of how lengthy, however our first expertise on this world is of the chain being damaged. We expertise a number of loops all through the sport, however none as they had been meant to be skilled. A day or two of monotony earlier than Cooper contacts you’ll have helped set the tone earlier than the charade began to break down.
Regardless of The Spectrum Retreat’s minor points and its lack of ability to merge its two halves collectively, it’s unattainable to not suggest given the standard of every of these halves. A novel and revolutionary puzzle mechanic is launched and brought seemingly to its limits, whereas a crushingly human story of loss performs out alongside it.