The Spectrum Retreat (Xbox One Review)
Puzzle games are fantastic motivators in the virtual world and it’s well documented that they can benefit you in real life too. Solving a complex puzzle is both challenging and rewarding, but what about simple puzzles? Well, we’re about to find out with The Spectrum Retreat.
As an everyman taking a break from the real world in a VR suite, The Spectrum Retreat poses what appears to be a largely inoffensive story, yet there’s a seedy undercurrent flowing beneath its tepid waters. Although it might seem like a relaxing venture at first, it’s not long before we delve in the deeper and darker depths of loss and morality – or at least try to. Somehow, we never really get there when it comes to the narrative due to its delivery mechanism. While environmental story telling is a key part of what makes games so special, The Spectrum Retreat takes the lazy approach and arbitrarily places inconsequential objects that provide key information about its world, resulting in some confusing leaps in narrative should you miss them. While I still managed to piece together the picture at the end, I never really had a good sense of story and relied solely on the final scene to lay it all out. Compared to the likes of Portal, in which the story and environmental story telling are clear, or The Witness and its obscure overly simplistic approach, The Spectrum Retreat fails to hit the benchmarks laid before it. One constant running through all of these games is the central focus on puzzles, and I guess that’s why we choose to play them.
The Spectrum Retreat ends up feeling like an amalgam of the genres best; a greatest hits played by a cover band. The core of the games puzzles focuses on matching colours and moving them about, never really evolving to a point where they could be defined as interesting and dragged down by the anchor that is the story. Without knowing the plot, it was hard to push through each puzzle and knowing that I had missed a leaflet or two weighed heavy as there was no way to backtrack. The only time that there was a clear advancement in anyway was through the introduction of
more colours, and even then there isn’t much to be said about that. It was never exciting and it was definitely never challenging, thus lacking any of the key components of any good puzzle game. By the time I hit my 20th puzzle, all I really wanted was a conclusion.
There is some redemption for The Spectrum Retreat, however, and it lies in the environmental detail. Without the constraints of the real world, the virtual hotel is finely crafted down to the minutest of details. Curtains are gingerly draped from the ceiling and allow just enough light to glisten on the marble floor. And footsteps reverberate throughout the hotel as you walk through, echoing just enough to question if you are truly alone. Everything is curated, even the maintenance robots. In fact it was so well curated, I questioned whether it was a hotel or a museum. It’s all so aesthetically pleasing and gives a haunting feeling of loneliness that was curiously enjoyable.
Unfortunately a haunting atmosphere and fancy drapes aren’t enough to save The Spectrum Retreat. While there is no single aspect is deplorably bad, there’s not much to shout about either. It tries to have its cake and eat it, but does neither. Buried under a pile of careless notes lies the potential for a truly interesting story, but its laid out in such a way that its probably best left for the cleaners.