A Game About Magnetism That’s Equally Positive As It Is Negative
One of the neat things about puzzle games is that the only thing they need to be sure of is sound level design and fun gameplay. Everything else, including the environment and even story, is just icing on the cake. But then there’s Relicta, which sort of utilizes the opposite approach. And while the focus on science fiction story and world-building is meant to serve as an accompaniment to its challenging gravity-defying puzzle-platforms, unfortunately it feels utterly disconnected from the rest of the game and just takes far too long to get anywhere. Something which we break down here in our Relicta Review.
Developed by Mighty Polygon and published by Ravenscourt, Relicta was originally released on August 3rd for PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC. The game plays similar to the critically acclaimed Portal, except instead of end-to-end waypoints it utilizes magnetized boxes and gravity. Given its longstanding development period, the final product should be much better than what was delivered but plays like it’s trying too hard to be too many things. Here’s why.
Environments That Are Beautifully Distracting
Let me begin by stating what Relicta has going for it. Despite its flaws, the game is utterly gorgeous. The environmental backdrops and backgrounds make for some truly beautiful scenery. Relaxing still pieces that if you take a minute to enjoy, you can easily get lost in. What’s crazy is that these polished visuals and smooth texture designs are actually locations set within a terraformed moon. It’s pretty fascinating science fiction defying logic holding entire ecosystems on an uninhabitable rock. The problem is that, for the most part, the environment has no affect on the gameplay. They work entirely separate from the puzzles featured within the story.
The environmental terrains where the puzzles take place are backdrops. The puzzles themselves, which are incredibly challenging even for the most seasoned gamers, are considered security for some odd reason. These are the doors and gates you have to solve to continue trekking each environment. Yet, the annoying thing about the game is that its very ambiguous as to why and even how all of it works. The puzzles are simply the puzzles. You have to solve them to reach different areas in the game, even if logic and level design shows that a normal person would simply just walk around it. The game corrects this error by simply putting shields where it doesn’t want you to go (but then… why have shield gated doors if that’s the case?).
In between these levels are the futuristic halls and corridors of the moon station which serves as the game’s waypoint between levels. Seen below, it’s pretty high tech but also pretty boring outside of finding the occasional collectible. While pretty to look at, you’ll find that just like most people who played this game, it’s unbearably frustrating because there’s no navigational guidance system whatsoever. It’s mostly just an unnecessary hub to ride trains, push buttons, and open doors to lead you towards more zones filled with puzzles.
Now, had the game just been a puzzle game, I wouldn’t be as harsh on it. More importantly, had the game invested just the slightest bit in a guidance system, a pause menu with an objective list, or even just a ping system for where to go next, it would’ve been grand, because puzzle games are about level design and gameplay. But instead, there’s little tutorial about this game, little direction about where to travel next, and even the gravity-defying puzzle physics locations have no instructions. It’s just point A-to-B with a laundry list of unnecessary distractions along the way.
I understand the need for confusion and mystery in science fiction. But this is borderline unbearable. I think most players, including myself, will be turned off just hours into the game. To make matters worse, even when you get the hang of the game, the repetitiveness and unnecessary treks through the waystation feel tedious if anything. But really, it’s just a reason to drop wordy long-winded exposition for a game whose story isn’t well thought out.
But hey, it’s all pretty to look at.
Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?
Relicta follows the story of Doctor Angelica Patel, a scientist working on the Aegis Moon lab. Her team discovers a strange rock-like entity (seen above) known as the Relicta, and have been tasked to harvest it. Yet, early into the game, catastrophe happens, and Angelica wakes up in her room the day her daughter Kira, a brilliant woman in her own respects, is allegedly on board a shuttle to visit. With no explanation as to what happened save for an angry research partner, Lami, who is there to push Angelica forward and serve as a character foil.
It should also be noted that there’s some unique representation in that all three characters are women of Indian heritage (just based off accents). Yet, despite its attempts of being high-brow science fiction, the game uses an excessive amount of low-brow language. As every person in this story seem to curse a LOT. In fact, the entire reason this game has an MA rating is because everyone swears excessively like a sailor at an urban dictionary convention.
It’s soon found that the AI of the base is bugging out and messing with Angelica. So like in many good science fiction stories set in space, Doctor Patel will need to figure out what Relicta is and why the base is failing. Yet, while the science fiction element feels refreshing for what’s essentially a puzzle platformer and almost feels similar to Portal, it moves at a snail’s pace to get anywhere.
So, in terms of world-building it is a very pretty game. Yet, these environments don’t really contribute to either the gameplay or the story. Likewise all the swearing is really just an attempt at feeling grounded and familiar with characters who have nothing that truly develops with them. There’s no character journey in this story. It’s mostly just frontloaded exposition devoid of cliffhangers, hooks, and even choice (except for its ending). All of which signals to me that it’s just poorly designed science fiction storytelling.
I had no idea why I was desperately unlocking level per level. The only reward I felt for solving puzzles was getting even more complicated puzzles. I really wanted to find out more about the story after each level. Yet, nothing kept happening. At least until the middle of the game (which is really long given this game will take you 10+ hours to complete).
What’s even more frustrating is that as you journey across the puzzle terrain you often question, why not just walk around a door? Or simply pick-up a box and drop it in this hole if it’s the key to opening it? The answer is often because the game wants you to solve the puzzle in a certain way. Yet, because of the gravity-defying physics that is supposed to be the game’s appeal, you will accidentally solve as frequently as you accidentally fail. Often because certain boxes are bouncing in an improper way to solve the puzzle.
The biggest draw for many players is the science fiction element. Which, unfortunately, the game takes ridiculously too long to even slightly develop. Most of the game’s conflict isn’t even revealed until the halfway mark. Between that and the frustrating mechanics I had to learn on my own due to the lack of instructions, I already greatly disliked this game midway through.
F*ck You, Patel
That isn’t me cursing this game out, that’s actually the most used line in the game by the second half.
Alright, so for what Relicta lacked in its story and dialogue, it does make up for in its puzzles. Challenges that are surprisingly difficult the further you progress into the game. It’s obvious that the game very much wanted to be an object driven puzzle solver like Portal, but instead of a portal gun, uses gloves that can negatively or positively charge cubes and panels. Opposite charges can attract a cube together; similar cubes repulse. You can also negate gravity on a box that effectively suspends it into the air. Really, just any sort of intriguing combination of pushing and pulling, all while navigating shielded gates and teleporting cubes at different stations.
I’ll admit that it’s a lot of fun at first. Where the game falters is in its learning curve. Especially as the gravitational slowdown and physics tend to be a little off. Less 100% accurate and more like playing a game of billiards. You can also accidentally pass/fail a lot of puzzles by accident as gravity-less cubes can wander or drift just outside of the desired trigger zone. Something which gets infuriating in the game’s latter stages. A lost cube or a minor drift in the wrong way can force a needed reset, wasting minutes which can turn to hours, especially as the puzzles become more complicated.
Again, for a game that’s meant to be a specific pattern puzzle solver, this is very much a horrible issue. Had there been more flexibility in the game, or even more fluidity with the possible environmental factors that it lacks (maybe cold levels make the cubes slide more, or forest levels utilize the sun, anything to be creative here), I think then the puzzle could be more forgiving. Instead, you have intricate level designs that are supposed to be specific yet are not, with puzzles stacked after puzzles whose reward is seemingly more puzzles. There’s also a lot of dialogue exposition but minus the spoilers, I don’t think it inevitably leads to the conclusion this game reaches at all. And a part of me strongly believes that the game’s puzzles and the story/ship campaign itself could’ve been entirely separate video games. With the gameplay being by far the more compelling part of the story despite its slight imperfections.
Again, I stress that the biggest problem with this game is that it desperately needs a better tutorial. Something that explains the capabilities of the gloves and puzzle mechanics. Because most of the problems lay not in the puzzles themselves, but in the fact that you’ll likely not have known you could do that with the gloves and gravity. It just seems lazy. And had they just given a few examples of new level mechanics, it would be tremendously less frustrating and rather fun. Best of all, less of a waste of time.
It’s Tries Too Hard
Relicta has too much gone wrong for it almost immediately into the game. What was great about Portal was that the game relished its simplicity and as a result, was able to be something surprisingly more, even game of the year worthy. Relicta doesn’t feel like that. With a plodding plot you have to trudge through, puzzles that are fun yet flawed, and characters whose motivations seem few and far between beyond finding ways to slip in a swear word, the game seems to be trying too hard to be deeper than what it needed to be. Though the puzzle aspect is incredibly challenging, beyond that, there really wasn’t much to enjoy about this game.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PS4 (Reviewed); Xbox One; PC; Stadia; Developer:Mighty Polygon; Publisher: Ravenscourt; Players: 1; Released: Augst 3rd, 2020; ESRB: M for Drug Reference and Strong Language; MSRP: $19.99