The famous lyrics from Hotel California ‘You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave’ weighed heavily on my mind as I began The Spectrum Retreat.
You wake up, there’s a knock on the door then you’re invited down to breakfast to start your day. Sure, it’s the most important meal of the day but that old slogan takes on a very different slant in The Spectrum Retreat.
This daily pattern is the catalyst for a sequence of events which set a program in motion. A program that is keeping you from the outside world. The big question is, why?
Actually, yeah, why?
You’ll have to play the game to find that out. What I can say is that you will have a little bit of help from a woman on the other end of a communication device named Cooper.
Cooper’s intentions for helping you are initially unclear but as you explore the hotel, learn more about the architecture and your reason for being there, a picture is painted.
See, the Spectrum Retreat is a game of two halves. Half the time you’ll be exploring the hotel, following the story, learning more about the environment, as well as who you and Cooper are. The path through the story is linear, but you can move between floors of the hotel using an elevator and other rooms will gradually open up as you progress. Your overall goal is to reach the roof.
At some point, you will visit all the major facilities of the hotel, such as the library and the pool side, but the reason for doing so ultimately leads into the other half of the game which is puzzle solving.
Each floor contains a series of Authentication Challenges which must be completed. This is to stabilize The Penninsula which is gradually falling apart at the seams as you investigate its mysteries. If The Penninsula completely falls apart, well, let’s just say you’re in trouble.
Fortunately, your communication device gets a Colour Swap Module installed. This enables you to absorb a colour (Red, Green, and Blue) which can then be spat back out onto a blank white surface. Holding a particular colour block will also enable you to pass through same coloured doors or pathways.
There’s no time limits on these puzzles, and they can be restarted at any point, but the difficulty definitely increases as you move between each floor. In some cases additional mechanics will also be introduced, like gravity control and teleportation, but the core experience remains the same throughout.
With the ability to jump as well, you’ll quickly become a pro at these sections with barely any handholding from the game itself.
Despite its no-fail policy, The Spectrum Retreat definitely knows how to maintain tension. The soundtrack makes things immediately unsettling and as you start to learn more about the story, you realise there’s more to the character you’re playing than meets the eye.
The game is littered with optional documents and literature which can give you some neat context if you take the time to read through.
And in between all of that, there’s even room for a few jump scares!
Should I Check In?
Absolutely. The puzzles are mostly well thought out, and the narrative really gets under your skin and makes you think.
For comparison’s sake, I’d argue that Q.U.B.E.2 remains the superior puzzle game this year. Purely because I preferred its creativity and believe it has a better pacing and focus, but The Spectrum Retreat offers a more lasting, compelling narrative full of fascinating twists and turns.
Part of the problem is that The Spectrum Retreat can be a victim of puzzle repetition. At times, you’ll feel like you’ve already completed the same routine multiple times over throughout the course of the game as a noticeable pattern definitely emerges.
This is usually supplemented with something slightly different to freshen up the experience just a little bit, but there’s only so many times you will want to switch colours to move between gates before you want to take a break.
It’s worth pointing out that The Spectrum Retreat has two different endings and you’re given the decision based on everything you’ve learned and discovered in the game, which is a great moment for the player.
However, after one comprehensive playthrough, you probably won’t feel too compelled to revisit. A New Game + could have really spiced things up a bit here as the concept definitely lends itself to that.
There were also a few minor bugs which crept in during my playthrough. Nothing major, though one happened on the last puzzle of the game. Without giving anything away, this puzzle is substantially bigger than all the rest and I was right at the end, but somehow I got stuck sliding on a staircase so was forced to restart the whole thing. A minor irritation, but one all the same.
Additionally, I had some UI hiccups during restarts with words typing over other words and some graphical breakup if I got a little too close to some walls. Frame rate wise, however, the game is solid and stable throughout.
On the whole, The Spectrum Retreat is a refreshing independent game with some big ideas and ambition. It creates a truly compelling environment with excellent acting and narrative progression.
Technical hitches and puzzle repetition aside, this is one of the best independent releases this year and the start of an exciting young career for Dan Smith.
+ Wonderful puzzle solving
+ Gripping and unsettling story
+ Multiple endings
– Environmental tears and erratic glitching
– Some frustrating precision-based sequences
– Occasional puzzle repetition
Spectrum Retreat Review
7.5 out of 10
Tested on Playstation 4
Code provided by the publisher