The Spectrum Retreat is a captivating narrative-driven puzzler developed by Dan Smith Studios. This challenging, first-person game is set in the near future, your job is to manipulate your way to the truth.
It opens with you being woken up by a courtesy call at your door. Once you answer it you’ll be greeted by a slenderman-ish robot servant reminding you that it’s time to get up for the day. Upon investigating the Penrose Hotel you’ll find that you’re the only person actually living within it and the rest is filled with various mechanical helpers who only have a sentence or two of programmed dialogue and who you never actually see move. The whole thing is weird as can be, but it only gets weirder from there.
After a while you’ll have someone ring you on the phone who claims to be from “the outside” and says she knows that you’re in danger and being held against your will. The only way to uncover the truth and escape is to gain access to the other levels of the hotel. In order to do so, you must solve a series of puzzles that will unlock the other floors. This might seem like a bizarre request, but then again you’re walking around in an empty hotel with a bunch of strange stationary robots, so maybe playing along isn’t the craziest option.
BAFTA Young Game Designer winner, Dan Smith and publisher Ripstone Games have released the narrative puzzler The Spectrum Retreat on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch (The game is available now).
Dan Smith picked up the Young Game Designer gong in 2016 for his prototype of The Spectrum Retreat and has continued to develop the game over the last couple of years.
“The last few years have been a great experience”, said Dan Smith, Designer of The Spectrum Retreat. “When I first began development, I couldn’t have anticipated that five years later we’d be releasing a game like this and that I would pick up a BAFTA along the way. The Spectrum Retreat is built on the mechanics I developed a few years ago, but they’re now integrated with a mature, absorbing story and setting. It’s been great to push the game further in every aspect and to craft an engaging world that can deliver the puzzles and story together.”
The puzzles are at the heart of the game, and they are generally quite pleasant. At first, you only need to swap colors to overcome different barriers. You only start with orange and white, so nothing too complex, but in the end you will also have green and blue. While this may not sound like much, adding puzzles to new mechanics adds some tricky late game play. The only real problem with these riddles is the severity of the punishment if you break out; In the event that you fail one of the longer puzzles having to restart the entire puzzle is immensely annoying. It by no means ruins the game, but it feels like the punishment does not fit the crime.
Each puzzle has its own flow, although the puzzles all have the same base, they feel separate enough to keep them interesting. At no point do the supplements feel overwhelming, nor do they come across as too far apart, it’s an impressive balancing act well mastered here. Once again, there are a lot of little stories going through the carpet of every puzzle, with snippets of history that you can research to help you slowly build to the truth of what has happened.
The way the rooms are made remind me of Portal, in the sense that you have to go room to room to do them and the difficulty rises progressively but not drastically, the visuals do a great job at reminiscing it and i found it enjoyable to be reminded of it. There will be no spoilers here, but there was a special moment that made one of the puzzles much harder by making the whole thing almost embarrassing.
Visually, The Spectrum Retreat is a bit inconsistent. The parts where you’re exploring the hotel are a lot more polished than the puzzles. If you get too close to certain objects, they lose their readability and look overly simplistic. From afar, most of the hotel looks pretty clean and classy. The puzzles are bold and simplistic and look like something you might have seen in Portal. Luckily, they’re well done so you can forgive the primitive look of them. The Spectrum Retreat also utilizes a lot of purposeful glitches which I haven’t seen used well in a game. It really adds to the unsettling nature of the mystery surrounding the Penrose Hotel and your personal story trying to break through.
There’s not a whole lot of sound to boast, but that adds to the isolated feeling of being trapped in a hotel by yourself. The small amounts of voice acting from the hotel staff and the woman trying to help you are executed well. The background music during the puzzle sections is intense and urgent, but without being overbearing. Overall, I feel that Dan Smith Studios made the right decision when it came to deciding what to do, where less is more.
Clocking in at a little less than three hours, there isn’t much to see here once you’ve completed the game. With only a total of nine collectibles, most players will find these within the initial playthrough, as most are included in linear areas that are required to be explored and emit a blue glow, requiring little effort to locate.
The combination of running simulator and puzzle integration is very well done, while the drip of the story is steady enough to keep the focus and guide you through the little niggles that arise during a game. The whole thing is connected with great voice work and music. Overall, Spectrum Retreat holds on and refuses to let go, while its clever combination of pure riddling and storytelling provides a pleasurable and unique experience.
The Spectrum Retreat launches on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on Friday, 13 July 2018, 00:00:00.
OVERALL: 7.9/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Jack Moody.
(Disclaimer: CONQUEST received a review copy of The Spectrum Retreat, however this does not in any way affect the scoring of a game or our thoughts on the game itself. We believe in total honesty and being transparent with you.)