I have played a lot of puzzle games on the PS4, so for one to stand out from the pack, it needs to do more than just offer head-scratchers. In fact, the best puzzle games I’ve played are the ones that manage to weave a tale that is just as thought-provoking as the puzzle it contains.
In The Spectrum Retreat, you play as a character saying in the Penrose hotel. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that everything is not what it seems. As you dig deeper into the mystery of it all, an army of puzzles awaits. Should you book a stay at the Penrose, or will these puzzles put you to sleep? Let’s find out.
Not So Black and White
The Spectrum Retreat immediately grabbed my attention with its glossy aesthetic and mysterious narrative. While the puzzles are the true star of the show, the game does an excellent job of providing believable context and motivation. These two elements, in my opinion, are crucial for driving a puzzle game forward.
Let’s be honest, you’ve probably played other puzzle games that lacked any kind of story, and at a certain point, the euphoria of finishing a puzzle started to wear off. You stop and ask yourself “what’s the point of it all?” The Spectrum Retreat won’t let go of your attention long enough to ask that question, which is one of its strongest characteristics.
Early on in the game’s story, you’re contacted by a mysterious character who wants to help you remember why you are staying in the Penrose, and ultimately, help you escape as well. Hidden behind the glossy veneer of The Penrose Hotel and it’s robotic staff, are digital failsafes that keep guests like yourself from progressing into the higher floors.
I don’t want to spoil anything about the narrative, but I will say that it’s a very relatable tale, especially for myself and my family. There are themes of loss, of coping with tragedy, and plenty of commentary on the current state of our healthcare system. It’s a very topical story that I imagine will resonate with a lot of players.
With the help of your mysterious benefactor, you will uncover the hidden entrances to these security measures. This is, of course, where the puzzles emerge. Simple puzzles will take you from the hotel to the puzzle proper, but the game really starts to test your gray matter when you step beyond the walls of the hotel.
Each floor is protected by a set of puzzles you’ll complete in succession before returning to the hotel to progress to the next floor. It’s a nice loop that is peppered with narrative, but the majority of the story developments happen between bouts of puzzle solving.
The game’s primary puzzles give you the ability to absorb and distribute different colors around the environment. Additional mechanics that alter the way you traverse the world are introduced later on, but the primary mechanic involves pulling and placing color into specific areas and objects.
Most commonly, you’ll find yourself faced with a barrier that’s either white, orange, green, or blue. To pass through the barrier, you need to possess the proper color. The colors themselves are primarily found in cubes. Simply look at the cube from any distance, and use the triggers to absorb or place a color into it.
You won’t need to worry about mixing colors either. If a cube is blue and you have green, the two will switch places, should you interact with it. This mechanic forms the basis for the puzzles, which are exceedingly creative and exceptionally well designed.
Later mechanics, like the ability to teleport to colored pads, and pads that change the orientation of the environment add even more challenge to the proceedings. The difficulty curve is pretty steady in The Spectrum Retreat, but there were some puzzles towards the end that really have me stumped.
The majority of my time with The Spectrum Retreat was very positive. There were situations throughout the game where I would find myself in a situation that required a restart, and it is possible to fall into bottomless pits in levels, which also causes a reset.
The ability to effectively break a puzzle isn’t a glitch, but it’s very easy to do on some of the later puzzles where specific cubes will absorb a color and effectively “delete” it. Say you need blue, but you shoot it into an orange cube that generates that color endlessly. Your blue is now gone, and there’s no way to get it back.
These moments were frustrating for me, but they were also my fault. With some of the later puzzles pushing longer lengths, I would have liked a checkpoint system in place to avoid starting over every time.
There’s a healthy number of puzzles and mechanics in The Spectrum Retreat, but the game also tends to lean on one particular type of puzzle that pops up almost every level. It typically involves a corridor lined with windows that connect to cubes.
The corridor itself is segmented into several barriers of differing colors, thus requiring your to color the cubes accordingly so you can pass through each barrier. It’s clever for sure, but it’s used a lot throughout the game. Some more variety in this regard would have been welcome, especially given how unique some of the levels can be.
Immersive and Dedicated Presentation
The Spectrum Retreat doesn’t have a huge amount of detail in the environments or graphics, but there’s a dedication to the narrative that I really appreciated. The hotel itself is almost hauntingly pristine, while the puzzles take place in neon-colored environments that occasionally offer glimpses into the larger story behind everything.
Voice acting across the board is excellent, with special consideration for the narrator, who really sells her reactions to every development. Ultimately, if you’re feeling fatigued with many of the puzzle offerings on PS4 lately, The Spectrum Retreat really drives home that irresistible combination of an intriguing narrative and intelligently designed puzzles that make for a great puzzle game.
It may not be a five-star hotel, but I still highly recommend you book yourself a stay at the Penrose. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A copy of The Spectrum Retreat was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 8/24/18