Sometimes it’s difficult to explain exactly why something is so good without (in this case literally) giving the game away. With that in mind, rest assured that The Spectrum Retreat could well be the strongest contender for my personal Game of the Year so far.
Lone developer Dan Smith, who was awarded BAFTA Young Games Designer in 2016, has been refining this idea for years and the care and dedication poured into every asset of The Spectrum Retreat can’t be overstated. Not only does it have exceptional production values but perform flawlessly on a technical level, helping to emphasise the stark tonal contrast between the game’s two main environments.
Puzzles are cleverly and integrally woven into the narrative; perhaps better than in any other example, the great Portal included.
There are moments when you can be walking down a hallway and find yourself losing your bearings, certain that a door just turned up in front of you. Your surroundings begin to undertake more significant changes as you progress further into the mystery, and closer to the truth, as expertly realised visual distortions give clues as to where the story will turn next. As events unfold the name of the hotel, “Penrose”, suddenly takes on a more deliberate meaning.
Puzzle sections boast a similarly natural progression, managing to take fundamentally simple mechanics and build them gradually to show you the ropes without a shoehorned tutorial to speak of. The variety from just a few simple mechanics is staggering and provides an ever-increasing challenge the deeper into the rabbit hole you go.
Games often struggle to provide genuinely compelling reason for puzzles to exist within their worlds, but in The Spectrum Retreat there’s no doubt that they’re cleverly and integrally woven into the narrative; perhaps better than in any other example, the great Portal included.
Reaching the story’s conclusion is a fitting and brave cherry that tops a thoroughly compelling journey, delicately unfurled over a four or five hour runtime, emphasising just how much can be said without directly telling the player very much at all.
While you may think you’ve seen it all before with the first-person puzzle genre, The Spectrum Retreat begs you to look again and think about how you’d feel in the protagonist’s situation. The potent combination of story and gameplay places it above anything else I’ve played this year, and the entire package is both effortlessly simple and fantastically detailed. With an asking price of just a tenner, there’s no reason you should miss it.