Title: The Spectrum Retreat
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: Dan Smith Studios
Official Site: The Spectrum Retreat
Release Date: July 13, 2018
Where to Buy: PSN, XBL, Nintendo E-Shop, Steam
The Spectrum Retreat is a first-person puzzle game; it is created by Dan Smith, and it is the first game from the 2016 Young Games Designer BAFTA award winner. Based on a simple puzzle mechanic, the game blends head-scratching puzzles with an even more mind-boggling story.
The game’s location, the Penrose Hotel, is a hotel maintained by androids – this serves as the backdrop for the main narrative. Players have to work their way up the floors, unlocking the subsequent level. This is where the main gameplay mechanic comes into play: the puzzles. These act as authentication protocols for the next floor. Complete the puzzles to access the next floor and progress the story.
The puzzles start off simple; using a color system, swap one color for the next. Further up the levels, teleportation is added and even gravity switches. The mechanics progress nicely and each puzzle is fairly straightforward once you get the gist of the objective.
This is where my first wrinkle appeared: some of the puzzles aren’t always clear on where to go, leading to me being stuck on a number of occasions. The Spectrum Retreat uses the color switching mechanic, however certain blocks will always be changed to that particular color. Unfortunately, on numerous occasions, this led to me losing a color I needed further into the challenge, which meant I had to reload that puzzle. While not game-breaking, this did cause a few choice words between me and my “helpful wife”.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the puzzle side of the game. However, it did cause some frustration that could have been avoided with a little more insight on where to go. Obviously, people’s opinions on this aspect are going to be divisive, and this did not ruin my enjoyment of the game. It just slowed my progress a little bit.
The Spectrum Retreat‘s narrative was, for me, the star of the show, from the opening scene to the closing credits. The game hooked me into its atmosphere, with an excellent soundtrack and superb voice acting, most notably Cooper (Amelia Tyler). Her ability to portray emotion and anxiety as the surroundings changed really immersed me in the storyline.
The hotel provides a sense of mystery right from the get-go, slowly opening up rooms and unveiling its secrets. I found myself clinging to every bit of detail: the changing pictures, the different android locations, and the phrases they mutter as you walk past them. The environment feels alive, yet bleak, bits of reality bleed through and create a feeling of tension throughout the games 5-hour runtime.
Visually, the game looks great; the hotel looks grand and inviting, yet the atmosphere is eerie, sometimes borderline terrifying. As The Spectrum Retreat‘s narrative progresses, so too does the sense of wonder. I found myself dreading what comes next, but forced to proceed with my own curiosity. Scattered throughout the environment are logs and files you can read – these add to the mystery, ensuring you’re kept guessing.
Unfortunately, the corridors and passageways of the hotel can get a little disorientating. Finding the elevator or objective often felt like a game in itself. This helps accomplish the feeling of claustrophobia – feeling trapped in the hotel – however, combined with some of the early game’s backtracking, felt a little tiring. Thankfully the game’s later stages remove some of the need to backtrack.
The Spectrum Retreat, while primarily not a horror game, delivered some of the most atmospheric suspense I have experienced in a long time. While the story is fantastic, it is a slow burn; if you’re into the slower paced narratives, this provides a thrilling ride. Throw in a twist and one or two jump scares; intentional or not, and this creates a fantastically tense experience.
The game’s runtime is a little short, at only 5 hours, however, for me, it felt like an ideal length. I’m all for long games, but, I feel the puzzle mechanics were used just enough to keep things fresh. Padding out the game with more puzzles would have affected the games narrative pacing, and, ultimately, done the game a disservice.
Verdict: Dan Smith has created something special with The Spectrum Retreat. A game that does not need complex mechanics to be engaging; although some of the puzzles become fairly elaborate late game, the core mechanics are simple enough to find your way through. Smith has crafted an excellent story, oozing with tension and suspense; keeping the player guessing and propelling them through to the satisfying conclusion. Frustrations aside, The Spectrum Retreat teaches us that video games don’t need huge open worlds, or over the top action – it goes back to basics and provides a truly enjoyable experience.
- Engaging Mystery
- Fantastic Narrative
- Sounds Great
- Puzzles aren't overdone
- Satisfying Conclusion
- Simple, effective visuals
- Puzzles can be frustrating
- Disorientating corridors
Shaun is an avid PC Gamer, Nintendo Switch owner and proud Father. Self-proclaimed “Player of Everything – Master of Nothing.” When not playing Video Games; Shaun can be found cheering on the Tennessee Titans or spending quality time with his family.