The Spectrum Retreat is a brilliant and thought-provoking puzzle game from the one-man developer Dan Smith Studios. Not only is Dan still studying at the University of Leeds, but the prototype for The Spectrum Retreat actually won him a BAFTA YGD back in 2016. Imagine waking up with no knowledge of who or where you are, only to find yourself in a beautiful and majestic hotel which is run by android-like beings. Now, imagine finding out that things aren’t what they seem and you must slowly recover your memories through various difficulty-increasing puzzles in order to uncover the truth and escape the madness that surrounds you.
This is the basis for The Spectrum Retreat – can you uncover the truth about yourself or are you willing to live in this human-less world?
Check-in to The Spectrum Retreat for a stay you won’t forget. Manipulate your way to the truth in this captivating narrative-driven puzzler.
The Spectrum Retreat has an interesting premise surrounding it. As I stated above, you play a faceless protagonist who awakes one day and finds himself within the Penrose hotel, a peaceful yet unsettling refuge from the outside world. At first, you only ‘contact’ within this hotel is with android-like beings who seem to be running this hotel for yourself and possibly a few others, based on observations you will make early on. Before long, you will have contact with a mysterious female known as ‘Cooper’ who will contact you via your rather impractical circular mobile device – I have no idea how he fits that in his pocket!
With the guidance of Cooper, you will soon discover that not everything may be as it seems as you are pushed to uncover hidden memories and realise the secrets behind your life. However, you don’t just stumble upon these memories, you must uncover them yourself as you work your way through five floors of increasingly difficult colour-based logic puzzles. You’ll also be tasked with exploring the Penrose hotel which is where you’ll find various data cubes, documents, clues on how to open the next puzzle room and more.
The game literally had me hooked from the moment I started playing and I didn’t stop until I had completed the game – which took about 6-7 hours with no guides, help or hints (as it’s pre-release and nobody can talk about it yet). Do you know what I did once I finished the game? I pressed ‘new game’ and played it all the way through for the second time. Why? There is a trophy which requires two playthroughs (you can’t backup a save and cheat – I tried that), yet I also found it really enjoyable to play through, so I wasn’t annoyed that I had to play it again.
Check-in, and Check-out the puzzles!
Okay, so let’s talk about the core gameplay mechanic of the game – the puzzles. Basically, think of The Witness and The Talos Principle crossed with Q.U.B.E 2 and you’ll be thinking of something similar! Once you enter one of the puzzle rooms (there are five in total, with a varying amount of puzzles in each), you are tasked with figuring out how to get to the exit doorway and progressing to the next puzzle. It sounds easy but some of them can get pretty complicated and will pretty much force you to restart the puzzle numerous times until you correctly get the order you must complete it in. At its core, it’s all about bypassing coloured doorways by using your oddly shaped mobile device to absorb a colour from a cube or coloured object and then making your way through the level.
However, it’s not as simple as that. You may have a corridor with multiple barriers, such as a red, white, red, white, and green barriers in a row. You can only have one colour at a time, so you need to pre-plan your strategy and place colours in various other blocks which you can access as you walk through the corridor – that way you can swap out for the correct colour as you make your way through. The Spectrum Retreat also likes to change things around a bit as it introduces more colours, rooms which rotate based on platforms you step on, teleporting to certain panels if you hold the right colour, moving blocks and more! Your goal is always the same, yet your journey is forever changing!
If the above doesn’t make much sense to you, I’ve put a video down below where I talk you through the first few puzzles and show off a later, more advanced, puzzle. Check it out – seeing it may give what I said more context.
I’ve forgotten my door key!
The Spectrum Retreat isn’t just a puzzle game based around coloured blocks – that’s just the main part of the game. The other part of the game revolves around the same routine, a bit like a ‘Groundhog Day’ effect. You’ll wake up, talk to Cooper, go get breakfast whilst you discover something new, proceed to the new floor you unlocked by completing the puzzles, and then hit a brick wall. Not literally! You’ll encounter the next puzzle room which is locked by a keypad. Now – the game is open to cheaters as the code is always the same so you could just put in the codes and progress, but I would advise you not to. If you do that then you’re missing out on about 1/4 of the game.
If you don’t cheat then you’ll either search the current floor or go back to the ground floor and search various rooms for clues and hints on what the number could be. These are said to be hidden clues which maintenance leaves behind in case they forget what it’s been changed to. Once you’ve uncovered the codes, as well as a few data-cubes and a jump scare here and there, you can proceed to open the door and take on the next set of puzzles. I really enjoyed these parts as they broke up the logic puzzles with a bit of context and exposition in the world. These parts also add to The Spectrum Retreats overall story as any clues or exposition missed means less understanding and context to the ending to the game.
So, I would say that you should play the game spoiler and guide free for the first playthrough, take notes of the codes you find and then use the codes on your second playthrough so you can get through it a little faster if you are going for the 100% trophies/achievements. Don’t buy the game and then just cheat your way through the whole thing – It’s a brilliant puzzle game with a very interesting story.
I think one of the stand-out moments in The Spectrum Retreat is when you first enter the hallway and the camera pans around the reception area with the incredible music playing in the background. I’m happy to say that the amazing music continues throughout the game as well, with it always perfectly complimenting the situation and making the overall experience a lot more relaxing yet intense at the same time. I must also praise the voice actors within the game, especially Cooper – or Amelia Tyler (@AmeliaTyler) – as she was perfect for the role and delivered her lines with so much passion and emotion. Plus, I think it’s the first time I’ve heard someone say “bollocks” in a game before!
Similarly, Jay Britton (@VoiceJayBritton) does an amazing job as the hotel manager with his kinda patronising yet happy and carefree tone. Both actors did a great job in The Spectrum Retreat and I’ve just noticed they actually stream and play games together as well sometimes over on Amelia’s YouTube channel – check them out: https://www.youtube.com/user/AmeliaTyler
Visually though, The Spectrum Retreat is so clean and pristine. It’s setting is a hotel ran be sentinel beings and supposedly set in the future, but instead of having a load of futuristic tech all over the place, it seems like the kind of hotel you could goto today. Obviously without the data-cubs and mysterious puzzle rooms! Everything from the design of the dining room to the complexity of the puzzles looks and feels amazing to play. Sure, the textures are quite simple when you jump into the puzzles, but that’s the point, it’s all about the gameplay and the colours more than anything and this game focuses on the gameplay more than a lot of games out there.
That being said, the visual changes which happen at certain times, the lighting effects, the bloom, and the character designs are all top-notch. Everything just comes together and fits the overall mood and tone perfectly.
However, did I have any issues with the game? One or two. First of all, you can’t run. I know it’s not a biggie, but when you get to the point where you are going up and down the elevator in order to search for the codes to open the doors, it would be nice if you could move a little faster sometimes. When you start the puzzles you don’t really want to move faster as you want to be precise, but in the hotel, I feel we should move a little quicker.
The only other issue I had was the hand holding. Thankfully this doesn’t happen in the puzzles as you are left on your own, as Cooper can’t contact you, and you must work out all the solutions for yourself. However, outside of the puzzle rooms, Cooper is like the annoying kid in the backseat asking “are we are there yet”, every five minutes! No offence against Amelia or the writing, as both are brilliant, but she is constantly giving you hints on where to go to get the next keycode for the door. After a few minutes of looking, she basically tells you exactly where to go and what to look for. I would have liked it if it was a bit more hands-off with you – maybe give you the option to ‘ask for a hint’ rather than being told the answer before you have a chance to look for yourself.
First 25 minutes with commentary (How-to):
The Spectrum Retreat is a challenging, first-person puzzle game set within the near future. As you awake and being to explore the Penrose hotel, you will begin to unlock your memories through the various colour-based logic puzzles and various interactions you have with the mysterious Cooper. You must solve each of these ingenious puzzles as you uncover the truth behind why you are in such a place and who is behind your imprisonment. The Spectrum Retreat has AAA quality voice acting, an amazing soundtrack and the perfect amount of mind-bending and thought-provoking puzzles all contained within a single package. For me, this is the new Talos Principle/The Witness, it’s my favourite puzzle game of the year on the PS4 and it sets a new standard for smaller indie puzzle titles as it raises the bar considerably.
The Spectrum Retreat£9.99
- Very interesting setting and story, if you decide to uncover the various data-cubes and read up on what's happening/happened
- The soundtrack is amazing
- The voice acting is on-par with a AAA game
- The puzzles are all well thoughout out and satisfying to conquer
- The game scales in difficulty perfectly, introducing new mechanics and hazards to increase the difficulty gradually.
- Cooper needs to tone it down a little, she gives you too many hints and doesn't let you figure things out on your own
- The walk speed within the hotel is a little slow in my opinion
- I noticed a few graphical glitches with the lighting - not game breaking but I did report them to the publisher
- You have to play the game in its entirety twice in order to get the last trophy but there is no extended or secret ending for doing so, just a standard second ending. I would have liked maybe a little more info on what happened next as a reward for doing it twice, maybe?