Spectrum Retreat PS4 Review
A tad on the short side
Some technical visual shortcomings
A Hasty Retreat
In recent years, first-person puzzle games have quickly become the go-to for indie developers. With games like Pneuma: Breath of Life, The Witness and the Portal series showcasing tight and inventive puzzle design with a first-person perspective, in addition to selling like hotcakes, it’s no wonder that so many developers are throwing their hat into the ring. For Dan Smith Studios and publisher Ripstone games, that hat is Spectrum Retreat, a first-person puzzler with a mysterious twist.
The game opens on you, the player, waking up in a hotel room without a clue as to who you are, why you’re there, and why someone is knocking on the door. You are expected for breakfast, informed of this fact by a faceless mannequin dressed as a concierge. Unsettling, certainly, but you could go for a bite to eat right about now.
As you make your way down through the hotel and into the dining area, the story starts to reveal itself a bit more and the unsettling feeling is ratcheted up a notch or two when you are contacted by a mysterious woman from the outside, who claims that you are being held captive in this place. She can help you escape, she says, just follow her instructions and you’ll make it out of this alive.
The game is essentially split up into two parts, one part narrative-driven exploration of the Penrose Hotel, such as that described above, and the other part a series of puzzles which combine logic, color, and movement. The exploration was perhaps a bit on the tedious side, compounded by the technical issues I experienced (more on that later) but the puzzle mechanics were mostly enjoyable.
While they started out pretty simple, they got more complex as they progressed, and the logic that was required was rarely frustrating, and often satisfying. Puzzles could range from placing simple colored cubes and teleporting across the room, to phasing between color-coded walls and changing gravity, and each is cleverly designed and implemented.
I found the sound design to be pretty engaging. My favorite element was the small bursts of static that would randomly appear while exploring the hotel, usually accompanied by visual distortion and other quirks. It never failed to make me jump, and though some might see it as a cheap way to add tension, I found that it contributed to the overall uncanny feeling of the hotel and the faceless staff therein.
The sound and visual design combine to create an eerie feeling as you walk through the carpeted hallways, and I was constantly feeling like I was being watched. The in-game exposition from the mysterious caller helps reinforce this, and though I wasn’t quite impressed with the way the predictable story unfolded, the effort is there.
The graphics themselves were not bad. While I didn’t get to try the game in the sparkling 4K resolution that the PS4 Pro, Xbox One X and PC versions have, I still found that the textures were easy on the eyes, and the lighting helped to really sell the tense environments. I did encounter quite a bit of screen tearing through my playthrough, which became a distraction, and the 30 FPS frame rate left a lot to be desired. Normally this wouldn’t be too big of a sticking point, but combined with the screen tearing it left some of the exploration feeling a little sluggish.
Despite the technical issues, I found Spectrum Retreat to be an enjoyable experience overall. The engaging balance of puzzles and creepy exploration left me feeling satisfied, and while the game was a little short, there was plenty of enjoyment to be had in the tight hallways of the Penrose Hotel. The story won’t win any awards, and neither will the graphics, but the puzzle mechanics alone are worth the price of admission. Spectrum Retreat can be picked up on PS4, Xbox One, and PC for $12.99, and Nintendo Switch later this year. Whichever platform you play on, enjoy your stay.