Indie developer Dan Smith Studios introduces us to The Spectrum Retreat which offers a challenging, first-person puzzle game set in the near future. You awake alone at the art-deco themed Penrose hotel which is filled with robots. After finding your feet you are introduced to the character Cooper via a mobile device who sounds like a technician attempting to aid you in escape. It seems that each day that passes is a loop and the only way to escape the loop is to follow Cooper’s instruction and complete a number of daily tasks in the form of puzzles. Sounds interesting, and it is, but is this narrative driven puzzle game adventure worthy of your time and money.
In a nutshell, the game presents itself in two halves. The first being waking up in the realities of the hotel itself. You start out in your room, everything checks out (except when you mark the daily calendar). You can wander the hotel initially following a distinct path such as going downstairs for breakfast despite their being no other visible guests and the robots coming across rather creepy all things considered. A number of the areas of interest lie behind locked doors, but as you progress through the story the hotel opens up its secrets. The other half of the game rests within puzzle solving in specific zones which can be seen as a physical visual representation of hacking. You beat one puzzle, unlock the door and enter the next until the floor is complete. Puzzles come in the form of colour coded objectives, which start out with you being able to grab one colour at a time and project it onto receiving surfaces. As you would expect, as the game progresses and the narrative draws you in the puzzles become more complex where starting out in a simple room becomes more diverse across multiple layers. There is no time limit, or elements of failure so in a way it’s quite a relaxing process of working things out. But, that said some folks might begin to struggle further into the game given the complexity of the levels. And, it has to be mentioned that the game does feel much more rewarding experiencing it first hand and solving the challenges without resorting to online assistance. Perhaps that’s a given for any puzzle game.
Perhaps what is most interesting about The Spectrum Retreat is the way the story unfolds and progresses as you build up your relation with the Cooper character. It’s certainly a driving force and with an excellent script and authentic delivery from Amelia Tyler really pulls you in and doesn’t let go. The two tiered approach to the gameplay really pays off here and makes for a far more interesting experience overall. Dan Smith could have simply made a puzzle game and left it at that, but cleverly has interwoven a thought-provoking narrative and visual diversity to keep players hooked.
Visually, the art-deco themed visuals works really well here fused with the more contemporary sci-fi looks from the robots and puzzle areas. Whilst the hotel does often look quite angular and conformed at times, it has enough subtle differences in areas which seemingly look the same which gives it a mysterious and sometimes haunting flavour. Using top end hardware, the game does look fantastic at 4K although there are few options to tinker with which is a shame. The turning motion using a controller isn’t as smooth as it could be with evidence of some micro-stutter which needs to be addressed. That said, it’s not game requiring plentiful details especially when solving the puzzles, so lowering the resolution isn’t going to pose too much of a problem for most PC gamers on lesser hardware.
As mentioned, the audio is top quality in that it’s sparse and simplistic but also well used to guide the player through the story and when objectives are hard to find. Cooper serves as an interesting way to direct the player without the need for pointers or on-screen indicators which is quite refreshing.
In terms of length, (although subjective depending on how long it takes to complete the puzzles) there is around 4-5 hours of gameplay here with two endings, so replaying a second time is very much an option. For the asking price (£9.99) it’s certainly worth it due to the high quality production values.
The Spectrum Retreat is ultimately a fun and highly engaging experience for puzzle/adventure fans. Melding the two genres together with ease and making for a welcome and compelling hybrid game. Obviously, if puzzles aren’t your thing then you might not gel so well with this game, but for those who enjoy a deeper narrative which exercises the grey matter then you will find this game ticks all the right boxes.