By Ronald Gordon
Everyone loves a nice hotel stay from time to time, but what if your hotel had mysteries and secrets beyond your wildest imagination?
The Spectrum Retreat is a first-person puzzle game developed by Dan Smith Studios and published by Ripstone Ltd. Here, you are a person named Alex, and you’re trapped within a virtual place called the Penrose Hotel – with seemingly no escape. One day, you get a call from a woman named Cooper who tells you how you might just be able to break free and get back to the real world. Like everything else in life, however, escaping won’t be an easy task to accomplish.
Throughout the game, Cooper leads you through a myriad of puzzles to help you disrupt the system of the virtual hotel and unlock more floors to get to the exit. But these puzzles are different from the ones in other games, as you have to use colors to solve them. Using your phone, you take a color and store it within the phone for as long as you want.
Once you have a color stored in your phone, you can place it onto a block to get rid of it or switch it with another color from the block. You can also use the colors stored in your phone to walk through walls of light that have that same color. If you have the color red stored on your phone, for example, you can walk through red walls but not white or green walls. And if you have no colors on your phone, you can walk through white walls but not red or green walls.
The Spectrum Retreat is narrative driven, as there are many times when Cooper tells you important information. Plus, the android staff’s interactions and mannerisms tell you more than they let on. For instance, in order to unlock the second floor of the hotel, you learn that you have to find someone who talks about the weather – this hint appears on a poster for an afternoon magic show. If you had paid attention to the dialogue of certain people, like I did occasionally, you would know that the manager at the front desk talks about the weather quite often. Once you piece together that the manager might have some connection to the second floor, you pay a visit to his room and find the passcode for the second floor access point.
There’s also a story regarding Alex and his son, who seems to be constantly sick and absent from school as a result. This story is slightly hidden because it isn’t told to you directly; rather there are certain spaces you find within the levels you explore that give you clues and information about the story of Alex and his son. You soon find that Alex has been paying many hospital bills for his son’s treatment, yet none of the visits to the hospital wield any sort of good results for Alex’s finances or his son’s illness. Since I don’t want to ruin the surprise, finding out what happens to Alex and his son before Alex ended up in the Penrose Hotel is entirely up to you.
The music in The Spectrum Retreat is tranquil and calming most of the time, but it can switch to something more dramatic and downbeat when it needs to be. The the look of the game’s android staff and the design of the hotel really makes you feel like you’re stuck in one place and that you’re the only one that’s truly human. The androids have human-like traits but they don’t have eyes, noses, or ears, and only a light up speaker for a mouth. There are blinding lights that skew your view of the outdoors from every window or door to the outside, and there’s no one else there but you, the androids, and Cooper, who can only talk with you through the phone. This is one of the things I enjoyed about that game, strangely enough, because even though being alone with mannequin-like androids is creepy, it gave me a reason to want to locate and reach an exit, even if I were far from it. That way, I wouldn’t be isolated and alone, with no other human interaction – for who knows how long.
The Spectrum Retreat is a game that I’d recommend to those puzzle fans who like a nice relaxing atmosphere and an interesting and intricate game. The design and atmosphere make the player feel sympathetic to Alex and his goal to escape from the seemingly perfect Penrose Hotel. Nobody, not even the most antisocial person, wants to be truly alone in a virtual world.
Ronald Gordon is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronx’s DreamYard Prep School.