The Spectrum Retreat is a first-person perspective game that uses a lot of puzzle-solving. I am told that the creator, Dan Smith, got a BAFTA Young Game Designers Award (YGD) when he was 18, and it is easy to believe. Assuming that this is Mr. Smith’s first effort, it is quite a good one.
I will have to say from the get-go that The Spectrum Retreat is an acquired taste. If I had to compare the game to anything, I would say Myst. Granted, it is not as picturesque as that adventure on the surreal island, but The Spectrum Retreat is thick with elements of surrealism.
To begin, the main character (you) wakes up in a hotel, and finds there is someone at the door. It turns out to be a robot, and the Pemrose hotel seems to have one type of model that you can see in the image. The robot greats you like he was a human bellhop, and tells you to go to breakfast.
Of course, you need to do what the game tells you. Now here is where I have to question the game. You see, since the game is in first person, I cannot tell what the person’s reaction should be within the context of the game. After all, if I were staying at a hotel, and was greeted at the doorway of my room by this automaton, I would freak the hell out. By the way, I like the minimalist look of these robots with their white shell of a skin and speaker for a mouth.
However, I don’t think that I am spoiling the game in revealing that you play a character who has amnesia. I have heard that this is a lazy video game storytelling convention, and done to death because it is easy to write a game in which the main character knows as much as the player about the game’s setting: nothing.
This is one of those games where you have some kind of voice with you to give you advice. It reminds me of The Journeyman’s Project 3 (another cool nineties game), but the voice isn’t funny. In fact, that voice is pretty serious, attempting to guide you through the hotel. In some cases, I believe that the voice gives you too much advice, as she reveals clues that are a little too much. I won’t spoil it like she does, but take my word for it, you will know what I’m talking about when you play the game.
Note that I didn’t say “if you play the game”. I would recommend this game if you like games of the nineties with their point-and-click functionality. Much of the images of game, including the one that I use, show the beautiful art-deco design of the Pemrose hotel. This is a big feature of the game, and of the hours that I have played so far, it appears the main character must go up the floors of the enigmatic hotel while solving puzzles in between.
It’s the puzzles that I really want to talk about. While the Pemrose hotel has a really cool art deco look to it, many of the puzzle levels have a sterile look to them. As the vocal assistant says, much of these puzzles involve changing your PDA/Smartphone/I don’t really know into something of the same color of a wall or a floor to walk through it. Again, this makes sense when (again emphasized) you play the game. You might be disappointed as the visual style of the puzzle areas is such a stark contrast to Pemrose.
Still, The Spectrum Retreat has a backstory that I’ve not finished discovering as yet, but I enjoy finding the clues for it. Again, you can draw similarities between Myst and even Bioshock. The one thing that this game has is that unnerving feeling. I mentioned in my review of The Station how games with no music create an eerie atmosphere, making the player jump with each unknown noise. The end result is nothing short of unsettling, and it works to the game’s advantage.
You can play The Spectrum Retreat on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. Again, I’m going to emphasis that you really should do this.