Anyone who Googles ‘Physics-based puzzle game’ today will have another search result. Relicta – developed by the Spanish Mighty Polygon – may at first sight be a thirteen in a dozen Portal clone, but believe it or not, Relicta has its own appeal despite its far from original-looking design.
Put on the spot
To start at the beginning, yes … abandoned is indeed one physics-based first-person puzzle game in which Companion Cube-like objects are central and where you as a player have to put yourself through a test track. Instead of a clinical lab called Aperture Science where a sarcastic AI is messing with you, find yourself in the Moon’s Shackleton Crater. Angelica Patel – so you – is a scientist on Chandra Base, a space base where everyone has been enjoying terraforming and where a very mysterious discovery has also taken place.
The team Angie is part of has hit an entity that has been spelled Relicta for the sake of convenience, but pretty much everyone agrees that the employer is better off not knowing about this freshly discovered creature. Of course you already feel when you arrive at your Moon Boots that Relicta is not so easily locked up and before you know it Chandra Base starts to go to the galleries and Angie loses contact with the rest. In terms of timing, things couldn’t get much worse, because Angie’s daughter is just about to dock. So huppakee… reboot that Chandra Base, deal with that rambunctious Relicta and make sure everything is as it should be. All you have to do is go through all the test courses, because they simply remained active so as not to give suspicion to the pounding of Aegir Labs.
Who the glove fits …
To successfully complete this test course, Angie is equipped with special gloves that enable her to effortlessly pick up and transport heavy cubes towards – let’s say – one of the countless pressure-sensitive plates that each physics-based puzzle game must have and that Relicta is also rich. But Angie’s gloves are true technical feats and also enable her to provide these blocks with a magnetic field and defy gravity. And therein lies the unique aspect in Relicta, because hanging out the mover is one thing, but doing that in a world full of magnetic manipulation is quite special.
Relicta is progressing smoothly from a simple-looking puzzle game with cubes to an intriguing experience that regularly puts the brain to work. Every section you enter contains a challenge that requires quite a bit of spatial insight and knowledge of polarity, and looking around very carefully is also a pretty important virtue. In addition, Relicta also knows how to keep things interesting through constant new ones mechanics to the gameplay. Just when you think you’ve finally mastered the trick, a new element mixes up everything you’ve learned and you need to plan even further ahead.
Gameplay with necessary gravitas
This intriguing gameplay is just a double-edged sword. When it works and you can complete a difficult task after a lot of thinking, it is wonderfully beautiful. But one of the core elements in Relicta – making the cubes weightless – causes frustration as often as euphoria. The biggest drawback to this ‘zero gravity’element creates an unpredictable trajectory of the object in question, and the solution that clearly lies in manipulating a weightless object can therefore fail just as hard because Relicta leaves little room for tolerance. The fact that the gameplay of Relicta forces the player to solve the puzzle according to the standard method is also evident from the invisible barriers that the game has. Secretly ‘cheating’ by being outside the designated path is downright impossible.
This sometimes forces the player to rely on ‘trial and error’-behavior, where you keep repeating the same actions until physics finally do what you expect from it, which is a shame. For the rest, Relicta is a pretty challenging game with well-thought-out puzzles that are guaranteed to put you to the test. When you have left the tutorial phase well behind you and have shown that you know how to play with polarity, Relicta knows head scratchers to care. For example, the addition of colored electronic barriers – which in one case only let you through and in other cases only the cube – makes your brain sweat a lot.
Fortunately, you have something nice to look at when the annoyance strikes, because Relicta can be put through a ring of Saturn, as far as a largely static puzzle game can excel in graphic splendor. The story facilitates the possibility to model a varied game world around the gameplay and Mighty Polygon has not skimped on designing beautiful vistas. Within the walls of Chandra Base it is all more clinical and the spaces feel a bit copied, but that does not mean that it all still looks fine. Obviously, Mighty Polygon has taken the development process very seriously.
In any case, Relicta radiates a fairly high production value for an indie game, something that also translates into, for example voice acting. Now the dialogues are not of the highest level and I personally think that Relicta throws almost forced F-bombs, but overall it is with the voice acting mustache. In any case, it is better than you would expect from an independent studio, which in most cases does not really have the budget to throw a star cast at it.
Reaching for the stars
With Relicta, Mighty Polygon is reaching for the big stars called Portal and The Talos Principle, and if you ask me, the Spanish studio is entitled to that. Now I have to admit, Relicta may not quite measure up to the greats in the genre, but I do believe that this inventive physics-based puzzle game may venture into the same universe. Relicta may not have the impact Portal ever had or the depth of a game like The Talos Principle, but with its unique mechanics it does something that gives it its own appeal. If we add to this that Mighty Polygon is making its debut with Relicta, I can only look forward to future projects from the studio.
With Relicta, the Spanish Mighty Polygon has settled in the physics-based puzzle gamepool where many developers have already dipped their toes, but the Spanish studio does not seem to be afraid to dive right in with full swing. In terms of production value, you would think that the Spaniards have been around for a while, because in the audiovisual field Relicta is solidly constructed. Even the story is easy to digest, although it has to recognize its superiority in other major players in the genre.
It is therefore a shame that the zero gravity part of Angie’s skills in particular can disrupt the otherwise tightly directed gameplay, giving you the feeling that you are sometimes forced into a ‘trial and error’approach that is also limited by a level design with tightly delineated invisible barriers. Nevertheless, Relicta delivers – except for these frustrating points – a very solid puzzle experience that will especially appeal to fans of games like Portal and The Talos Principle, even though Relicta may not quite reach the level of these two greats.