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The Spectrum Retreat Review

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On 09/13/2018 at 09:00 AM by Nick DiMola

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Recommended purchase for anyone who enjoys a clever puzzle game, especially those in the mold of Portal.

Since Portal hit the scene around a decade ago, it’s inspired a variety of other games that have chosen to use the first person perspective for puzzle solving and storytelling, rather than the typical shooting. The Spectrum Retreat is one such game and it does well in both telling an interesting story and providing some great puzzles. However, these two elements rarely coalesce and more often feel like oil and water, separated naturally by the construct of the experience. Though it’s too bad the two don’t come together, what’s presented is still compelling thanks to ever evolving puzzle constructs and the gradual realization of what's going on in The Spectrum Retreat.

...A light knocking awakens you. As you slowly open your eyes and make your way to the door, you’re greeted by the maître d'. He’s snappily dressed in a freshly pressed tuxedo, and well spoken, which is only enhanced by his formal British accent. His arms folded behind his back, he’s a vision of formality. But, something about him is different. He has no face, and where his mouth should be is instead a speaker that lights as he talks. He’s a robot of some sort. And it’s not just him. The entire staff of the Penrose Hotel are robots.

The hotel appears to be empty, or at least, nobody else is around. None of the doors to any of the rooms are open, the hotel restaurant and lobby are vacant, and oddly, you can’t exit through the front door. What appears to be a vision of luxury, quickly starts to feel like a prison. It’s not long before you start to realize that you may in fact be a captive of this place. But why? And why like this? It’s not long before you start finding clues in the environment to begin piecing together what's going on.

While sitting down to eat, you’re interrupted via some sort of communication device by a woman, Cooper. She confirms what you fear, you are being held in the Penrose Hotel against your will, but she’s going to help get you out. But this is not a prison for your body, rather, like the Matrix, it’s a prison for your mind. A Morpheus to your Neo, Cooper can help you escape with her hacking expertise. However, you need to complete a set of authentication challenges that lie ahead in order to free yourself.

Right from the outset, the cadence of The Spectrum Retreat is established. You get some time to walk around the hotel and discover a couple clues on a very narrow track. You’ll learn more about who you are and why you’re there and what exactly powers the Penrose Hotel. Once you’ve learned all you can on the given floor of the hotel you’re on, you tackle the floor's associated authentication challenges, which switch out the story-based gameplay for first person puzzle-solving.

These sections, though sterile feeling, are the real meat of the experience, despite being largely divorced from the interesting story bits in the hotel. Within these authentication challenges you’ll learn that you can use your communication device to swap colors with specific objects in the environment. You’ll always start with white for each challenge, and specifically on the first floor, you’ll only deal with a single other color to solve the puzzles.

Once the training wheels come off you’ll start having the ability to swap multiple colors, including Red, Green, and Blue (don't worry those of you with color blindness, there are menu options to accommodate you), as well as the starting White. Just as you gain mastery of working with multiple colors, another capability is added, allowing you to effectively grapple to specific points as long as the color you hold matches the grapple point’s color. Finally, a gravity mechanic is introduced and through standing on panels you can shift the gravity to point up, down, left, or right, depending on the current gravitational orientation of the room and the location of the panel. All of this comes together in the final act on Floor 5, where you’ll need to solve one giant multi-segment puzzle using all of the techniques.

The middle three floors (2, 3, 4) offer around 10 challenges each, with the first floor providing about half of that. The ramp in difficulty from beginning to end is very gradual and you’ll feel perfectly comfortable incorporating the new capabilities into your repertoire as you progress. Outside of the fifth floor, I can’t say I was ever too stumped. Based on stats from the end of the game, I reset five times throughout the game, and I think at least three of those are due to Floor 5 on its own. While the puzzles aren’t overwhelmingly difficult, they are very clever and they require you to really investigate the space and your options before you start making moves.

Arguably Floor 2 dragged the most because it only added more colors to work with. In hindsight, I wish Floor 1 were expanded to include a few of the challenges from Floor 2, and everything be moved forward a floor, to allow for a few more puzzles at the end that really leverage the full skill set you command starting at Floor 4. Unfortunately, most of that floor is dedicated to just acquainting you with the gravity change mechanic. As mentioned earlier, there are a few slight attempts to merge the story as featured in the hotel into these challenge rooms, but the instances are fairly limited and there’s probably a lot more that could’ve been done with the concept to bring the two closer together.

The only real complaint I can leverage outside of the aforementioned, is the lack of ability to undo a move. I had one puzzle in particular where I made a move that figuratively boxed me in a corner after I had essentially solved the entire challenge. Had I not missed a minor detail, and avoided a drop down from where I was, I could’ve amended that mistake and not had to replay the entire challenge to change one move at the very end. This held especially true in Floor 5 where it’s one enormous challenge room and a mistake anywhere along the way meant a full redo, which as you can imagine, is frustrating.

Outside of these couple of gripes, The Spectrum Retreat was an incredibly compelling, compact (roughly five hour) adventure that captively held my attention from beginning to end. If you enjoy first person puzzle-solving in the mold of Portal, you too are sure to enjoy The Spectrum Retreat, even if the authentication challenges make you miss GLaDOS more than ever.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/13/2018 at 04:29 PM

Floor Five sounds like it sucks.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

09/13/2018 at 05:09 PM

Caught in a landslide

With no escape from reality

Super Step Contributing Writer

09/13/2018 at 05:17 PM

I really want to keep Casey's thing going, but I'm not sure if it's "anyway the wind blows doesn't really matter to me" or something else that comes next. I feel like there's one line before that one, and Googling would make this inauthentic. 

Anyway, DAMN NICK. How many games did you play for review the last time you sat down to take a crap? Sixteen? That Switch portability sure seems to come in handy! Tongue Out

Nick DiMola Director

09/13/2018 at 10:04 PM

Open your eyes Wink

Hahaha, yeah man, the Switch portability has been damn handy. That and somewhere along the way I decided it was time to start reviewing games again. If I'm not too tired tonight, I'll crank out another for tomorrow lol. I wish the Switch had an abbreviation as perfect as DS (aka During Shits).

Super Step Contributing Writer

09/13/2018 at 10:38 PM

Well now I'm just mad you're burying that NWP Yakuza special I was on. Tongue Out lol

Looking forward to the review. As much gaming as I've been doing lately, I feel like I could just start writing and have a book of reviews by the end. I might just start. 

Casey Curran Staff Writer

09/14/2018 at 01:44 AM

Look up to the sky and seeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!

Matt Snee Staff Writer

09/14/2018 at 03:41 PM

Nick takes epic shits.  Tongue Out

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