There are a few puzzle games out there that put you in the perspective on the protagonist, such as Chromagun, The Turing Test, Pneuma and of course, everybody's favourite, Portal. Now, we have The Spectrum Retreat from 20 year old developer Dan Smith. A first game for anyone is a nerve wracking time, I'm sure we can all agree. Even established developers get it wrong sometimes, and here we are with a young lad about to release his first ever video game unto the masses. Big question here is; will it prove a hit?
First off, I want to mention the games listed above, and the influential aspects from each. Even if he's not aware of them, they can all find similarities in their own way with The Spectrum Retreat, no matter how small they may be. But that's nothing to scoff at. After all, every game out there has been influenced by another in some way. Much like The Beatles have had a huge impact on the music industry over the years.
Now, The Spectrum Retreat isn't just a case of moving from one puzzle to the next and onto the end game. It's so much more than that, what with each chamber housing several test rooms as part of an authentication program to slowly bring you around to the reality your are currently trapped in. Away from the puzzles, The Spectrum Retreat offers a gradually unwinding story full of mystery, intrigue and a sad and moving tale of loss and despair, told through letters and documents scattered throughout the game as part of fragmented memories that are breaking into the world you reside in. That world,m is a luxurious hotel where every day you follow a routine, and that is what you do, until one day you find yourself contacted by a mysterious woman who wants to free you from your bindings. I don't want to touch too much on the story, as it would provide ample spoilers and that won't do.
The puzzles on offer are well thought out and designed, but offer very little resistance throughout, rather allowing you the time to engage and immerse yourself in the narrative. That's not to say that they're easy and you will cruise through it, but there are some levels that stumped me as I hunted down the solution. It still remains a fun experience, and with the inclusion in later puzzles of 3 colours and gravity switching to make the puzzles a little more devious than the last. I just felt that the puzzle sin general were a bit on the easy side, and I'm not that great at solving puzzles in games. But don't let that put you off, it is most certainly worth buying and playing through as the story behind it is definitely worth your time.
Visually, the clean and fresh look of the hotel and the puzzle chambers are very satisfying to the eye, and I never encountered any issues with any glitches, frame rate drops or the like. The clever use of colours may be an issue for those who are colour blind, but I'm aware of a solution for this, although I never needed it myself.
The game is voice acted, although your charcter is silent. Other voices are from the rather creepy robot staff members, and I did encounter one jump scare when I didn't expect to see one. Not that it's a horror game in any way, but damn did I jump. Aside from the voice acting, there is a backing track that suits the mood perfectly, as I'm sure you will agree.
Gameplay is easy to get to grips with, and you will soon be switching colours with ease and manipulating gravity to solve the puzzles ahead. The gravity can only be switched via floor panels however, and does come late in the game. But combined with the colour aspects, make for an interesting and unique experience.
I did come across a couple of bugs when playing, where I was unable to choose any colours, or the controls stopped working altogether, which forced me to restart the game, which is a shame as the game is otherwise flawless. A patch could hopefully come our way to rectify the issues present.
Aside from the aforementioned bugs, The Spectrum Retreat is a fantastic, albeit relatively easy puzzle game which has notable influences that you cannot miss. That being said, it is most certainly worth your time and money. Achievement hunters can rejoice too, as the list is not only short, but also very easy with only 1 solitary item to collect and the rest is all story related. Two separate endings make up the other achievement worth noting. A fine debut game.
Overall Score: 9/10
Developer: Dan Smith Studios
Release Date: 13th July 2018
File Size: 6.67GB
Xbox One copy provided for review purpose
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam & Nintendo Switch