It’s the ultimate doomsday scenario. Machines finally become sentient, and decide to remove humans from the top of the food chain. The idea has been explored many times, but mostly it’s from the perspective of terrified people fighting for their lives. Retro Machina offers a different take.
You play as an unnamed robot who becomes corrupted, and due to its imperfections is exiled from a city controlled by machines. You set out on an epic quest to repair yourself and return home. However, in the process you start to unravel the mysteries of the catastrophic events that have befallen this now desolate world.
As soon as you set out, it’s hard not to be impressed with the beauty of Retro Machina. It looks absolutely fantastic, instantly setting the tone for this atmospheric action puzzler. Hand-drawn backgrounds and foregrounds create a layered effect to the environments, which sometimes obscure hidden passages.
This attention to detail extends to the cutscenes, which are equally well-crafted and usually take the form of a small sequence of still images. They are used sparingly, but to great effect. All of this combined creates a BioShock-style setting populated by machines that could easily have come from War of the Worlds.
The soundtrack doubles down on the evocative but dangerous theme of Retro Machina, often sounding like something straight out of Stranger Things. It’s hard not to get sucked in by the authenticity of it all. It really is a beautiful world that the talented folks at Orbit Studio have created here.
It’s the mystery that shrouds the game world that will keep you hooked once you start, and how it masterfully unfolds as you play. Through exploration, you’ll find conversation excerpts, letters and other items that tell the backstory of Retro Machina, going some way to explain the ravaged world you find yourself roaming around in and what part the enigmatic “Nucleonics” organisation played in it. It’s a genuinely gripping story that is drip fed to you as you progress, rewarding your progress and motivating you to play on. This aside, you’ll just want to explore anyway because the vibrancy of Retro Machina makes it so intriguing. As you do, you’ll come across a few famous pop culture references to boot.
You’ll meet plenty of other hostile robots, each looking like something out of an H.G. Wells novel. The design is consistently retro throughout, and there are plenty of unique enemies to fend off in order to survive. Your trusty wrench is your only weapon, but you can also roll dodge to avoid enemy attacks. The combat is a pretty simple hack and slash affair at first, before you start finding upgrade modules.
At “Craftronic” machines, you can upgrade yourself in numerous ways, such as increasing your health bar, reducing damage taken by enemies and learning how to cast an energy shield to offer some much-needed protection. However, you’ll need to collect enough machine bits and upgrade cores to be able to do this. Upgrading is important as you’ll regularly get ambushed by stronger and more numerous enemies, and without doing so you’ll soon be overwhelmed. However, you do have one more trick up your sleeve.
Your plucky little SV unit has the ability to take control of another machine and operate them at the same time as it navigates the environment. This opens up the puzzle aspect of Retro Machina, requiring you to use certain machines and their unique abilities to get around. The vast majority of these are simple to solve, but still well-constructed enough to be satisfying when you do.
It starts with you taking control of tiny robots who can squeeze into small spaces, helping you access sealed off areas. Before long you’ll be taking control of mechanical frogs to swim across large pools of water to reposition floating platforms, and operating cranes to help you clear gaping chasms and climb up to higher platforms. It’s all fairly straightforward but delightfully well-designed at the same time.
The game is split into three distinctly different areas: Atomic City, Marine Nation and Serendipity Mountain. Each is large enough to take 2-3hrs to complete however progression isn’t linear. Instead, finding key cards and backtracking is crucial to success, as well as a good memory. That said, it’s normally fairly obvious where you need to go next and you won’t be getting stumped too often. Whilst you are in Atomic City you will gain the ability to briefly jetpack across large gaps between platforms, which opens up lots more areas for you to explore.
Thankfully, it’s not purely down to your memory skills to find your way around. You have a fairly detailed map which will guide you on your quest, although it can sometimes be difficult to figure out exactly where you are. This is because your avatar’s location isn’t always deadly accurate, and you play across both surface and underground planes which slightly confuse the map at times.
Each area requires you to find four keys in order for you to progress to the boss battle, before clearing the level. Ultimately, you’re on the hunt for batteries in which to repair yourself with, but you’ll need to defeat some pretty fearsome machines first.
Each of these encounters follows the combat formula – that being bashing your enemies with your wrench. However, here you’ll need to master dodging and learn your opponent’s attack patterns, rather than storming straight in. The brief build up to the first boss battle is nothing short of epic, as a colossal machine in the distance notices you and starts to approach…
I must say I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed Retro Machina. Its art-deco style certainly piqued my interest, however what I wasn’t expecting was such a deep and well-crafted adventure that kept me playing all the way to the end. This reviewer would definitely like to see more in the future.
Retro Machina is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It’s hard not to get invested in the eerily beautiful but ultimately bleak world which has an engrossing story to tell.
Retro Machina is now available on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One