In 2016, Dan Smith won the BAFTA Young Game Designers Award for the prototype of his game, The Spectrum Retreat, at just 18 years old. Now, with the backing of Ripstone Games, he is releasing the game for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC this month.
And what a first release it is.
The Spectrum Retreat is a genuine spiritual follow-up to 2007’s groundbreaking Portal. Like that epic puzzler, Retreat is far more complex and involved than it first appears. The framework is exactly the same: it is a set of puzzles connected by an obtuse but intriguing narrative. You awake in a hotel room not knowing who you are or how you got there. The futuristic hotel is an upscale Art Deco establishment furnished with polished chrome and marble.
There are no human employees. In their place are desperately polite, creepy faceless androids who will attend to your every want and need. Although there is the occasional ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, there aren’t any other human occupants.
As Homer Simpson would say: The Spectrum Retreat. Population: You.
As you try to piece things together you are contacted by and connected to a disembodied voice. The caller offers to help you escape the hotel, calling it a simulation. As she speaks to you, you can hear her clicking and clacking away on a computer keyboard.
The Voice advises you to go about your business every day because if you don’t you will alert the androids to your mistrust of them. You get up. Go to the restaurant. Eat breakfast. Once done, the Voice leads you to a special security padded door on each level of the hotel. Beyond the door are puzzles that must be solved before you can exit and repeat the entire process the next day on a different level.
As you crack the physical riddles, more of your backstory is revealed. The hotel itself becomes more and more unstable as the environment glitches out.
Like Portal, the brainteasers require a tool to complete. No, there is no cool Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device. Instead, you are just able to collect colours from cubes using the left trigger, and transfer them to other cubes or pads, again, using the left trigger. In unlocking these colour codes you are able to open force fields, glide from one point to another, drop down levels, etc. As you adventure through the hotel the puzzles get more difficult and more intricate, requiring you to juggle many tasks at the same time in order to escape.
The background story, revealed through interactions in the hotel itself or the puzzle simulations, is not really anything groundbreaking or novel. It does its job well though tying elements of the game together while adding some emotion which is lacking in the puzzle solving.
Although heavily inspired by Portal it blazes its own trail, has its own voice and perspective. Dan Smith has put his own stamp on the genre. It is clear he has a bright future. I am sure we will be hearing more from him in the years to come. Just include a Run button next time to eliminate all that walking, buddy, and we are good as gold.
- THE GOOD
- Challenging but fair riddles.
- That ominous hotel.
- A decent plot.
- Love the other-worldly soundtrack.
- THE BAD
- You. Cannot. Run.
- You gotta love puzzles.
As a first release you couldn’t ask for anything better. The Spectrum Retreat is a home run for puzzle fans. Remember the name, Dan Smith.