I love puzzle games that try something new and has a ‘hook’ to them which keeps you wanting to push forward despite the difficulty and confusion the solutions may generate. Two such games I can think of are The Sojourn, which was a very difficult puzzle game set within a beautiful world, and Superliminal, the mind-bending perception-based puzzle game. Last night I completed Relicta, a gorgeous puzzle game with an interesting story, confusingly difficult puzzles, and a hilarious antagonist – it also contributed to the biggest headache I’ve ever had!
Relicta is Mighty Polygon‘s first game, a developer based in Valencia, Spain who set out to create an original game with both a strong narrative and great mechanics, but did they succeed? Let’s find out…
There’s one thing that had me hooked and encouraged me to keep trying despite how confusing and difficult the puzzles got within Relicta, the story. Just like with Superliminal, I was surprised and impressed by the narrative present within the game as I was expecting nothing but a set of puzzles with the odd line of text here and there, but there’s actually a reason behind everything you do within the game. I obviously don’t want to ruin too much of the narrative, as there are a few surprises and ‘wtf’ moments, but here’s the gist of it…
You take the role of Angelica Patel, a physicist who has been sent on an expedition to investigate the derelict Aegir Labs Moonbase with a few other scientific colleagues. Whilst investigating, you came across a strange anomaly which you refer to as the Relicta, a strange and powerful entity that has the power to terraform the Moon’s surface into lush forests, cold ice biomes, and green fields. Afraid that UHA would simply weaponise this unusual source of energy (those who sent you), you decide to keep this discovery a secret as you continue to research and investigate it.
Due to your role and experience interesting her, your daughter is on her way to help out, but something’s not right. You get pulled into the Relicta and awake shortly after with no recollection of how long you’ve been out. As such, with your daughter getting close, you need to head out and solve the mind-bending experiments (puzzles) which the previous tenants left behind in order to start up various generators so that she can dock safely. You’ll also find PDA entries scattered around which delve deeper into the orbital politics and your ex-husband (who’s in charge of the UHA) and the AI aboard the ship will both chip in with their own perspective on the events and situations.
Gameplay (the puzzles)
Relicta is a first-person puzzle game that revolves around magnets, gravity, restrictive doorways, and robotic nullifiers. Although the entire game is pretty much created from a single concept, it progressively adds more mechanics and hazards into the mix as you get further into it, resulting in the final stages being some of the most difficult puzzles I’ve ever experienced. The game also requires you to think outside of the box constantly, utilising gravity with momentum and the angle at which you ‘push’ objects to thrust them in the air, rather than simply working with right angles. It’s all very clever yet frustrating and mind-boggling at the same time.
If I was to simply break down the concept, it’s all about magnets. You’re wearing some ‘gravitoelectromagnetic gloves’ which allow you to change the magnetic source of boxes and wall/floor panels to positive or negative (red or blue in the game). If you, for example, turn a wall panel red and a box blue, they will attract and the cube will get sucked onto the wall if it’s within range. If you had them both as the same colour then the box would be repelled and pushed away. This is then further enhanced by allowing you to disable the gravity of the boxes, so if you stick a box on the wall then disable gravity, you can turn it into the same colour as the wall and it’ll fly in a straight line until it hits something.
As you progress, Relicta begins to introduce coloured walls which only allow certain things to pass through. Purple lets you through but not the boxes, Green allows boxes but not you, Orange allows all but it turns off the non-gravity and colour you have selected, and Blue is the entrance to the next puzzle (which turns Red and locks you in once you enter). These, combined with the complexity of the puzzles, increases the difficulty vastly, which resulted in me taking around 15-20 hours to complete the game despite there being a trophy for completing it in under six!
I’ve talked about the difficulty a few times but it’s tricky to describe how hard this game really is – at least to me. I often found myself overwhelmed and confused as soon as I stepped foot within a puzzle area due to how big the puzzles are and the fact you have literally no help at all. I would, like a thief, spend a while simply waking around and casing the joint before I even started to plan in my head what I’m about to do first. For me, it was all about trial and error, for the most part, seeing what worked and what left me in an un-recoverable position that led me to reset the puzzle and lose all my progress. It may be frustrating but it’s very satisfying once you’ve solved a difficult puzzle.
If you have a logical mind then you should be able to recall how you’ve completed previous puzzles and then use that to your advantage in solving later puzzles, but the casual gamers may feel too confused and overwhelmed by the complex solutions required. For example, a lot of times you’ll have to ride on top of the boxes as you shoot yourself from wall to wall, often colouring in other wall panels to push you around or pull you closer as you try and avoid walls and posts. You’ll also need to place boxes next to floor panels so when you repel it, with no gravity, they shoot diagonally up towards switches and higher areas, rather than straight up or to the side.
I think one of the most confusing parts for me was the use of the teleporting boxes. There are various docks where you can drop a box into them and have them branded with a certain symbol. Once branded, you can summon these boxes at any of these docks, allowing you to move them past walls or into new areas. However, when you summon them, the original box vanishes, so you have to also strategically work out which type of box to use for each puzzle as summoning it to complete a puzzle might actually render it unsolvable as you’ve just recalled an important placement.
Seriously, this game is a lot more complex and challenging than I originally thought it would be!
As stated previously, one of the main reasons I carried on, despite rage quitting a few times and having to have a lie down due to my head literally exploding with pain, was to see the continuation of the narrative. The game opens with an event involving the Relicta, then it cuts to two years prior when you are trying out your gloves for the first time and talking to your daughter. This builds up to reenacting the opening event before you get sucked into the Relicta and awaken (as I wrote earlier on). From there on, you’re solving the puzzles to activate the generators whilst also trying to find your colleagues within the various biomes.
Without any spoilers, the part I love the most is about halfway through when a new character enters the game. I don’t want to talk about it in detail, as anything will be classed as a spoiler, but I found myself laughing a lot at this character as he says what’s on his mind and is very blunt about everything. He even has a one-liner at the end of one of the endings which cracked me up!
The game contains a lot of PDA lore entries to find and a few collectables to pick up as you venture through the various sections of the Moonbase. These are all optional (unless going for the platinum) but they offer insight into the events which have happened and the results of the investigations you and your team have been carrying out. As such, I recommend you try and find each of these if you’re interested in obtaining the full story. I personally used a guide to ensure I found all of these simply because I knew it would be a long game and I wanted to ensure I didn’t miss anything.
Finally, the game has two endings, allowing you to pick one then simply press ‘continue’ on the main menu and see the other. I’ve never understood why games do that, if you have two endings then surely you’d want the player to pick one or the other, not reload and see both – The Spectrum Retreat and Death Come True both forced you to replay the entire game to see both their endings. I felt both options ended the game in a way that I was satisfied with the narrative, I’m now left wondering if we’ll see the return of the four characters at some point in the future? Maybe in a different type of game or a set of new puzzle mechanics?
Swipe right for ‘Resolution’ and left for ‘Performance’.
For a first-person puzzle game, Relicta is beautiful. Thanks to the mysterious power and the previous team who occupied this lab, the Moon is now covered with various biomes that offer white snow, green grass, and massive trees. If you weren’t told this was the Moon, you’d never know. I often found myself distracted by the lakes, the forests, and the massive ravines as I admired the beauty briefly before putting my brain to work on the ingenious puzzles. Also, despite how confusing the game got in terms of all the various mechanics and rules within the later levels, it was never hard to see what’s going on thanks to the clean visuals and nice art design.
I realised, when I was nearly finished, that on the PS4 Pro (possibly other consoles too) there is an option for Resolution or Performance Mode. Now, I have no idea what the numbers are in terms of resolution (but there is a sliding comparison shot above this segment), but I can say that the Resolution mode is 30fps and Performance is up to 60fps. I played the majority of the game, on my 4K TV, in Performance Mode and I thought it looked really pretty, Resolution Mode looked very similar but you could instantly feel the jerky 30fps – I have nothing against 30fps, but you can feel it if you swap between the two. So, my recommendation (as it’s easier on the eyes) is to play it in Performance Mode.
The voice acting and music were spot-on in my opinion. The cast members are all high calibre and fit their roles perfectly, all coming from backgrounds of film, TV and video games. What I found the most refreshing was that the main protagonist and her daughter are both Indian, something you don’t usually see (hear) too often in video games – or at least not something I’ve heard a lot outside of games like Assassin’s Creed Origins. The dialogue itself was very entertaining and made the whole experience much more enjoyable – as the puzzles did start to frustrate me after a few hours due to my lack of logic (and patience)!
Relicta also contains a comprehensive photo mode, but I never really used it. When you jump into the mode (by pushing the touchpad), you can move around within a short distance of the invisible character model. That’s why I didn’t use it much – there’s no model added as we saw in games like Doom Eternal, so the appeal wasn’t there for me. However, there are a few filters, focal options, a ‘quality’ slider that does something (I guess), and a few other toggles for those who wish to capture the beauty of the game.
Despite the combination of the scorching heatwave and the confusing puzzles giving me the biggest headache of all time, Relicta is one of the best looking and most complex first-person puzzle games I’ve ever played. Although the game is built around a single concept – magnets and no gravity – each puzzle introduces new mechanics and rules to keep you thinking and experimenting for the solution. The narrative holds the game together nicely, giving you a reason for why you’re actually trying to solve the puzzles, yet there’s a lot of backstory and exposition to be found in the optional PDA collectables which are scattered around as well. This isn’t a puzzle game for those who get confused easily, but it’s a massive challenge for those who are looking for something unique and special to sink hours into.
- - Very clever puzzles which will challenge even the most hardcore puzzle fans
- - Interesting narrative which keeps you hooked
- - Continues to add new hazards and mechanics throughout
- - Great voice acting and music
- - Very pretty environments
- - Loading times are a little slow at times (in comparison to the PC version)
- - The puzzles get frustratingly hard with no help, so some people may give up
- - No dramatic difference between Resolution and Framerate Modes
- - The "beat in under six hours" trophy will be a pain to achieve as nobody even has it yet