Dan Smith's puzzle game prototype SPECTRUM
won the BAFTA Young Game Designers Award in 2016. Not satisfied at leaving things there, he partnered with publisher Ripstone Games to develop the prototype into the first-person narrative puzzler now known as The Spectrum Retreat
. Players find themselves at The Penrose hotel at some point in the near future. On the surface it looks peaceful, but it soon becomes apparent that the hotel just serves as a hub for test chambers filled with puzzles that will make your stay anything but relaxing.
We took on the authentication test, a series of five of those puzzle chambers. Their clinical appearance is in stark contrast to the art deco glamour of the hotel itself. Progress through the chambers is blocked by laser gates, which are either white or orange in colour. If the white gates are active, you'll be able to pass through the orange ones, and vice versa. You can switch which colour gates are active by drawing colour from or supplying colour to a series of blocks that are strategically placed around the level.
The rules sound simple and the puzzles reflect this at first. Players are simply tasked with drawing colour from one block to step through the gate, before supplying colour to another block through a window to open the next gate. The first three chambers are passed without much problem. Then the fourth test chamber begins and there's a sharp rise in difficulty as we encounter multiple paths, bridges, and the need to prepare the colours on multiple blocks before being ready to pass through a series of four gates. The puzzles aren't advertised as "mind-bending" for the sake of it — it takes an embarrassing amount of time before the solution clicks into place and we can move on.
By the time we get to chamber five, players need to take looping diversions to prepare the colours on the blocks before they can pass through the gates. At this point, it's really easy to forget where you've been, and it's just as easy to get lost and forget where you're going. As you wander around, you get the first glimpses of a world outside of the chambers. There's a child's table and a pile of toys discarded in the corner of a room. Upon approach, an answer machine reveals the beginnings of a narrative that hints at the reasons for our stay at the hotel. Hopefully, those will become clearer as players progress through the game.
As indicated by the game's announcement trailer
, the puzzles promise to become even more complicated with gates of three or four colours in the same level. The hotel also seems intriguing, and even if it does just serve as a hub world before the pièce de résistance that is the puzzle chambers, we can't wait to poke around and discover some of its secrets.
It would be wrong to deny that there are similarities to other recent puzzle titles, such as Q.U.B.E.
, and Portal
, of course, but the title is intriguing enough for it to deserve your attention upon its release on Steam later this year.