The Spectrum Retreat (PC) - ReviewPaul Broussard , posted on 16 August 2018 / 1,470 Views
3D atmospheric mystery solving is somewhat of an underserved niche in modern gaming, and 3D puzzle solving even more so. Dan Smith Studios has attempted to fill those two voids simultaneously with The Spectrum Retreat; one part mystery themed visual novel, one part Portal-esque physics puzzle title. An odd combination to be sure, but is it one that ultimately holds up?
The Spectrum Retreat makes some very good initial impressions; the player wakes up in a mysterious hotel staffed by unmoving robotic servers. An equally mysterious voice on the protagonist’s phone tells them to follow a routine every day they’re there while remaining inconspicuous or they could be stuck in the hotel for good, and with that the game is off and running. There’s almost an element of horror in the game’s atmosphere during these mystery segments, mostly reinforced by the surprisingly unsettling soundtrack and the robot hosts. Despite having a fairly extensive background with horror games, I found myself becoming increasingly jumpy after a server just showed up behind me out of seemingly nowhere and caught me sneaking into an off-limits area.
The problem is, however, that horror is something that preys on the player’s feelings, and it’s only so long before The Spectrum Retreat runs out of tricks. The game doesn’t exactly make much of an effort to disguise the fact that the hotel the player is in is some sort of simulation, and as the days go by, it struggles to find new ways to make it seem creepy and unsettling. I was taken a bit aback the first time glitches in the floor appeared and tables started defying the laws of gravity, but by the third day of it I found myself just shrugging my shoulders and moving right along. It also doesn’t help that the game’s constant reminders to “act normal” are just a story element and don’t have any actual impact on the moment to moment gameplay; you can bounce gleefully down a hallway and the servers will regard you no more strangely than if you had just walked to the intended destination. After a while, it becomes obvious that the most the game can threaten you with during these parts is an occasional jumpscare, and it becomes more of a chore than anything.
The main method by which the player is given to escape the hotel is sneaking into some back rooms and solving a number of puzzles, which initially start off simple but gradually introduce more and more elements as time goes by. Each day introduces its own set of puzzles, and they all revolve around the theme of color. The player can absorb different “colors” from blocks, but is only allowed to pass through certain barriers or cross specific gaps when they have the corresponding color. It’s surprisingly deep and intuitive, and I found myself utterly hooked by the end of the second series of challenges.
And yet, like the game’s atmosphere and narrative, the gameplay is ultimately let down by its longevity. The Spectrum Retreat has about five times the number of puzzles as Portal, and there’s only so long that navigating mazes with different colors can hold up on its own. More and more mechanics get thrown into the mix as time goes on; teleportation and gravity switching being the two most prominent ones, but it doesn’t do enough to keep things from feeling very drawn out in the late game. When the final set of puzzles showed up, I found myself just wishing that I could skip over them and go straight to the ending; never a good sign for a game.
This leads into the gameplay’s biggest annoyance; the ease at which puzzles can be failed. Like Portal, the puzzles in The Spectrum Retreat are filled with various pits that force you to restart a challenge if you fall into them. Unlike Portal, however, Spectrum Retreat’s puzzles are also filled with a myriad of ways that you can simply get stuck that are far less obvious, many of which are nearly impossible to anticipate. There were at least several dozen occasions during which I was forced to restart a puzzle because I lacked the necessary clairvoyance to light up a block with the correct color that would allow me to escape from the area I was exploring. This wouldn’t be such an issue if it happened once or twice, but it occurs on seemingly every single puzzle after the first set of challenges, and it’s a huge time sink. And then, as if it wasn’t annoying enough previously, it returns bigger and badder on the last day, and will force you to restart the entire series of challenges if you get stuck or fall down a pit at any point.
Despite these issues, I would be remiss in not recommending The Spectrum Retreat if you’re a fan of Portal-esque puzzle solving. It may not retain the same level of quality throughout, but the highs are as good as any puzzle game in the past five or so years, and the story, while it eventually sputters, carries many interesting ideas of its own. For anyone else, you can probably afford to give this a pass; there are too many niggles and the story doesn’t carry enough weight to satisfy those who aren’t big puzzle fans.
This review is based on a copy of The Spectrum Retreat for the PC
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