Choosing a hotel that includes breakfast is always a good shout. It tends to save you a bit of money, plus it means that you don’t have to leave if the weather isn’t too pleasant in the morning. It just gives you a bit more flexibility over your holiday by giving you a fixed option. The character you play in The Spectrum Retreat has definitely made this one good choice, but everything else is questionable.
For starters, the hotel workers are entirely made up of creepy mannequins with speakers instead of mouths. Weirder still is the fact that some of these seem to move around of their own accord. To say it is deeply unsettling would be underselling it. It’s a good job that the service is alright, otherwise you’d have to wonder why you chose to stay here at all.
On your way down to breakfast after your creepy wake up call, your phone starts to display some weird messages. It’s here that the game starts to show itself for what it is. It turns out it isn’t just a hotel guest simulator, much to the surprise of everyone who plays it, but rather a first person puzzle game. There are two distinct parts of this game, one of which is the puzzles themselves, which we will get to, the other is a walking simulator style experience in the hotel itself.
The hotel exploration gives the game time to flesh out the story, drop hints, and also show you the subtle changes that are introduced as you progress through the game. The environmental story telling does a good job of being full of exposition, but also incredibly sly, and at no point will you feel like the areas are beating you over the head with what is going on. There is some major backtracking required at certain points though and it can feel a little sluggish. Just walking the corridors gives you some time to look around at the areas that surround you, but ultimately having to go back down the lift just to wander around for a couple of minutes and then come back up again is kind of annoying,
The puzzles are the heart of the game though, and they’re generally pretty enjoyable. Initially you merely have to exchange colours in order to pass through different barriers. You start off only having to worry about orange and white, so nothing too complex, but by the end you will also have green and blue to contend with. While this may not sound like much, the constant addition of new mechanics through the puzzles makes for some very tricky late game challenges. The only real issue with these puzzles is in the harshness of the punishment if you slip up; in the event you’re doing one of the longer puzzles, falling and having to restart the entire thing is immensely aggravating. It isn’t a game-ruining thing by any means, but it feels like the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
Each puzzle has a flow all of its own, despite the fact that the puzzles all share the same basic foundation, they all manage to feel separate enough to keep them interesting. At no point do the additions feel overwhelming, nor do they feel like they are too spaced out, and it’s an impressive balancing act that is managed well here. Once again there are plenty of little bits of story telling threaded throughout the tapestry of each conundrum, with snippets of history for you to investigate that allow you to slowly build up the truth of what has happened.
What happened, as it turns out, is pretty messed up, and also painfully realistic in places. There won’t be any spoilers here, but there was one moment in particular that made one of the puzzles infinitely harder by making the whole thing almost distressing. The Spectrum Retreat deals with some rather heavy themes, some of which may well hit close to home depending on your own experiences in the real world. It certainly adds some extra weight to the game, and the ending helps to cement it in a meaningful way as well, and it is a very well crafted experience in that respect.
As far as hybrid genres go, this is an interesting one. The combination of walking simulator and the integration of the puzzles is very well done, while the drip feed of the story is steady enough to keep your focus, driving you through the small niggles that arise throughout a play through. The whole thing is tied together with some great voice acting and great music. Overall, The Spectrum Retreat grabs hold and refuses to let go, while its clever combination of pure puzzling and story telling makes for an enjoyable and unique experience throughout.
Version Tested: PS4 – also available on PC and Xbox One