When you get involved in a great puzzle adventure, delivered with a unique gameplay concept, it is sometimes tricky to do justice to the story context or narrative. Games like The Witness provide a visual narrative that can be abstract or oblique in its telling. Then you have the Portal franchise – something which has given the whole puzzle genre a context and a hugely successful act-driven story, if only because it gives you a reason for doing what you are doing. Relicta is a puzzle-driven adventure that embraces a lot of narratives, all while pushing you through a unique physics-busting puzzle-solving experience. But does it work?
Relicta puts you in the comfortable space shoes of Dr. Angelica Patel, a scientist specialising in physics and magnetism. We find her working on the Moon which is slowly being terraformed into something quite stunning. She is conducting scientific experiments with a weird artifact called the Relicta – an artifact that allows her to manipulate gravity, objects, and physics. There are tests spread across the whole surface of the moon, but then something terrible happens. Her daughter who is traveling to visit her is separated from the base and it’s up to the mother to go and rescue her. But to do so she has to complete multiple tests in order to progress.
The story is intriguing and it does a great job of keeping you on tenterhooks in regards to what is actually going on, and that works well instead of revealing everything in the initial stages. I like the characters that we get to meet, but at times the dialogue feels like it is trying a bit too hard, failing to ever come across as ‘real’. But it does a good job at giving a context to the actual puzzle rooms, and that’s because 90% of Relicta focuses on the gameplay. And that’s what we should be talking about.
Relicta is played in the first person, split into two distinct parts. The first section focuses on wandering around the space station, working between different departments and opening the doors, picking up documents, and operating computers to gather information. You can also spend time having the odd chat with those you bump into. The second part though – which is the major focus – takes place on the surface, across different environmental areas, taking the form of experimental tests.
Early on in Relicta you gain access to some pretty innovative gloves; with these you can basically control blocks, issue several different commands or perform the best science tricks. For instance, a normal stage in Relicta will consist of some barriers that you need to get through. Yellows barriers are the ones that you can’t pass through, normally signifying the end of a level. The purple barriers are the ones that you can go through but you can’t take a block through with you. Got it?
The blocks can be picked up manually or by using the magic gloves, letting you pick them up using magnetism. On a very simple level, you will get a block, place it on a pressure pad and the barrier to the yellow gate will open, allowing you to move through. Of course, it gets much more complicated than that and this is when the different colour systems come into play and the use of polarity is needed to progress.
You can change the colours of the blocks with a quick touch of the RT and LT buttons, switching them to either red or blue. If you have two boxes of the same colour they are attracted to each other so they come together as one, whilst if you have boxes of the opposite colours they fly apart. It’s a case of trying to use that basic knowledge to get you through some ever-increasingly complicated puzzle systems. The added bonus that is dropped into the science equation though is that of gravity; you can switch the blocks into gravity mode so that they float in the air, move across chasms or get propelled longer distances across the ground, all in combination with polarity. All these combinations of elements come into play when tackling the puzzles.
Relicta does this puzzling side of things brilliantly, but don’t expect it to be an easy ride. You will quite quickly have to put your brain into overdrive to work out the best route forward, else you’ll be left stumbling around forever more. I love these puzzles but have spent more time than I care to imagine trying to work out specific stages. You see, sometimes the physics feel a bit like playing pool, trying to knock one block against another. And that is where it all goes wrong. Thankfully a handy reset button is at hand to put you back to the start of the level with ease.
Visually Relicta looks great – especially for a low budget game – and its environments both outside and inside look fabulous throughout. I love the extra features, like the little bits of detail in the main character’s room in the space station. It all looks clean, colourful, and bright which is always great when dealing with anything sci-fi related. The soundtrack has a pretty relaxing vibe to it too, with some nice effects, yet whilst it’s obvious that the actors have done a great job with all the voice-over work, I just feel that the script lets them down a bit.
Overall, if you’re a fan of puzzle adventures such as The Witness and Portal then you won’t be able to resist this charming and original game. The price is perfect – in fact, perhaps it is a little cheap for the number of hours you will put into it – and in terms of the story Relicta on Xbox One is all very intriguing; the ideas behind it are fantastic. The script doesn’t quite work all the time and the physics might annoy some, but if you’re looking for a test of the mind, this is certainly worth looking at.