Spoiler alert: everything goes tits up. At least, that’s what I would say if that wasn’t how the game started out (ah, good ol’ in medias res).
In Relicta, you play as Angelica Patel, a scientist working for the AEGIR corporation, as she wakes from unconsciousness in the middle of her workplace during a chaotic event, all potentially related to a spooky-looking object housed within the chambers of this place. And from that point on, it’s up to us to help Angelica in her day-to-day life of doing Aperture-esque science experiments as we find out what the hell is going on and what led to things going south. While neither the most original of premises, or even the most unpredictable, the narrative does engage thanks to enough little fun flourishes throughout.
Now, the story is fun and all, but what about gameplay? Well, have you played Portal? Then a lot of Relicta‘s core gameplay should feel familiar.
This is a first person, physics-based puzzle game—or, in a more detailed explanation, you put snazzy-looking blocks on top of panels so you can move to the next room, with the methods of doing this becoming more elaborate and difficult the further you get. However, unlike Portal, Relicta doesn’t give you an amazing cannon with transdimensional abilities. Instead, you get a pair of science gloves that let you change either the magnetic polarity of the cubes… or even change their gravity. You can combine these abilities with various contraptions you find in the levels to open up the final door of each room. These contraptions range from plates that you can change the polarity of to pull the cubes in or launch them, barriers that block either you or your cube depending on the color, and most amazingly of all… lifts that elevate you to a higher plane (mind blowing, I know).
All of this sounds awesome and like it could lead to some clever little puzzles that make you feel like a smart person. And at first, it is like that; you go through a lot of rooms in the game’s beginning, thinking about the physics, feeling a bit clever when you solve them. But then you start encountering puzzle rooms that feel somewhat illogical. There is obviously an intended solution for them, of course, but it doesn’t always feel that reasonable. Those feel less like you’re figuring them out by being clever, and more like you just stumble upon the solution as you mess about, trying to just get out of there.
I am admittedly not the brightest bulb in the house, but to bring back the Portal comparison again: if you think back to the puzzle solutions in that game, you’ll probably say to yourself, “Aw yeah, those made sense!” Relicta, however, has some puzzles that don’t always have that fulfilling feeling. You will get good ones spliced in-between many of those too… it’s just that those less than stellar ones feel more designed with difficulty in mind rather than cleverness. So, the levels are a mixed bag, though standing on top of a cube and launching across a room never fails to make me smile, no matter how annoying the rest of the puzzle is.
I should also mention that there are some collectibles in this game, either in the form of miscellaneous objects found in the interconnecting lab environments, or in the form of PDA documents that flesh out some of the world. And don’t worry about not noticing these, they’re very clear to spot due to their emitting of… bubbles? Okay…
Presentation-wise, Relicta is pretty solid. The graphics look nice, nothing major to complain about. The game does shine when you get to the main levels, which can look outright beautiful at times. And with there being multiple biomes to go through, from sun-drenched valleys to frozen caves and plenty in-between, you’ll get a good variety of pretty places to take screenshots of.
In terms of music, the game reminds me a bit of Clint Mansell’s score for Moon, with similar kinds of eerie and lonely-sounding tracks that help create a nice, emotionally resonant soundscape. Some nice piano cues here, some synth here… it’s nice.
As you could probably tell from the preceding ramblings, I have somewhat mixed feelings about Relicta, most stemming from the collection of puzzle rooms feeling like a bit of a mixed bag in terms of design and difficulty curves. However, I generally enjoyed this game thanks to a fun story, a decent score, and a collection of satisfying puzzles.