Choose a hotel with breakfast is always a good reputation. It saves you a bit of money, and it means you do not have to leave if the weather is not so pleasant in the morning. It just gives you a bit more flexibility over your vacation by giving you a firm option. The character you play in The Spectrum Retreat has definitely made this a good choice, but everything else is questionable.
For starters, hotel employees are made up of creepy mannequins with speakers instead of mouths. Stranger still is the fact that some of them seem to be moving on their own. To say that it is deeply disturbing would undercut it. It's a good job that the service is alright, otherwise you would have to wonder why you ever wanted to stay here.
On your way to breakfast after your creepy wake up call, your phone starts displaying some strange messages. Here the game starts to show what it is. It turns out that it's not just a hotel guest simulator, much to the surprise of those who play it, but rather an ego puzzle game. There are two different parts of this game, one of which is the puzzle itself, the other is a walking simulator-style experience in the hotel itself.
Exploring the hotel gives the game time to flesh out the story, give hints, and also show the subtle changes that are introduced as the game progresses. Environmental storytelling is a good thing to be full of exposure, but also incredibly smart, and at no time will you feel that the areas are knocking you over what's going on. However, there is some important tracing required and it can feel a little sluggish. Running in the corridors gives you time to look around the areas that surround you, but in the end you have to drive down the elevator, just to walk around for a few minutes and then get up is kind of annoying
The puzzles are at the heart of the game, and they are generally quite pleasant. At first, you only need to swap colors to overcome different barriers. You only start with orange and white, so nothing too complex, but in the end you will also have green and blue. While this may not sound like much, adding puzzles to new mechanics adds some tricky late game play. The only real problem with these riddles is the severity of the punishment if you break out; In the event that you solve one of the longer puzzles, the fall and restart of the entire game is immensely annoying. It's by no means a game that ruins the game, but it feels like the punishment does not fit the crime.
Each puzzle has its own flow, although the puzzles all have the same base, they all feel separate enough to keep them interesting. At no point do the supplements feel overwhelming, nor do they feel too far apart, and it's an impressive balancing act well mastered here. Once again, there are a lot of little stories going through the carpet of every puzzle, with snippets of history that you can research to help you slowly build the truth of what has happened.
What happens, as it turns out, is quite confused and painfully realistic in some places. There will be no spoilers here, but there was a special moment that made one of the puzzles a lot harder by making the whole thing almost embarrassing. Spectrum Retreat deals with some pretty heavy topics, some of which can land close to home, depending on your own real-world experience. It certainly adds a bit more weight to the game, and the end helps cement it sensibly, and it's a very well-crafted experience in that regard.
As for the hybrid genres, this is an interesting thing. The combination of running simulator and puzzles integration is very well done, while the drip of the story is steady enough to keep the focus and guide you through the little niggles that arise during a game. The whole thing is connected with a great voice and great music. Overall, Spectrum Retreat holds on and refuses to let go, while its clever combination of pure riddling and storytelling provides a pleasurable and unique experience.
Version tested: PS4 – also available on PC and Xbox One