Ever since falling in love with Portal back in 2007, I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for these first-person, physics-based puzzle games. Especially those that offer some interesting gameplay mechanics to test not only your reflexes, but that also get the old noodle working too. From indie developers Mighty Polygon comes Relicta, the new first-person puzzler on the block.
Set on Chandra Base, an outpost on the moon which is powered by a crystal structure, the titular Relicta. You play as physicist Dr. Angelica Patel, who finds herself stuck on the base after an incident and separated from he colleagues. You have to deal with the A.I. of the base that is having some obvious issues, as you search for clues as to exactly what went wrong at the base and discover the secrets of the Relicta itself.
So first things first. These type of games always have some kind of gameplay hook that you have to master to progress though the various challenges. With Portal it was… well portals. Here with Relicta, your going to have to get to grips and toy around with gravity and magnetism. You are given a pair of special gloves which allow you to lift and move specific blocks with ease or even magnetise them. All of which is the main thrust and mechanic you’ll be dealing with to solve the ever increasing complex puzzles you’ll face. Charge a block with either positive or negative magnetism, give it a touch of anti-gravity and you’ll soon be moving blocks around with ease.
The game is split into multiple areas, the main hub being the Chandra Base where you can run around and explore, go looking for collectables, etc as the story slowly evolves. Then the main puzzle element takes place in various biomes, each with their own look and aesthetics. You’ll be puzzle solving on icy glaciers, arid canyons, tropical beaches and more. Each biome is split into smaller, gated areas and it is in these areas where you have to use the game’s main gameplay mechanics, that gravity and magnetism thing. You use your special gloves to either positively or negatively charge blocks or even apply anti-gravity. The main goal is to move a block or several blocks to open the main gate and move onto the next area, where you will learn more of what has happened on the base. Sounds easy, but it is the obstacles and puzzles you’ll have to work out that makes things a tad more tricky.
It is those puzzles that really sell these type of games. They have to be creative, yet familiar. Taxing, but not overtly so. There has to be a strict balance for the game to work, and several of these first person puzzle games just don’t have that. Thankfully, Relicta isn’t one of them. The puzzles here are very well thought out and designed. They’ll have you continually experimenting to try and get to the exit of each biome. Though the basics with the gravity and magnetism remain constant through the game, each biome you have to deal with adds a new twist. It could be the ability to add magnetism to a wall, mastering turning your block(s) into movable platforms, force-fields that you can not physically cross but the blocks can, teleporters, drones that cancel out any effects you apply and more. Every time you clear one biome, you’re given a new, fresh challenging set of puzzles in the next that offers more and more variety, while still using those same basic mechanics of gravity and magnetism. They just get used in new ways each time.
The puzzles here are both clever and fiendish. While I got stuck on many of them several times, I never felt cheated. I could either see what I had to so, but not quite work out how to do it, or it would be vice versa. I would find myself often running through the solution in my mind and then trying to act it out in game… to fail. But that failure was not because the puzzle was ever badly designed, it was because I was overlooking something or I had missed a pretty obvious factor. I’d go back and re-plan, try something else, tweak my approach until it all just fell into place. In short, the reason you will get stuck is not because of how the game is designed, but more so because you are either over or under-thinking the solution. Relicta is wonderfully simple and beautifully crafty with its puzzles that can be as complex as they can be easy and despite getting myself stuck, it just enticed me to keep on playing and experimenting with the game’s mechanics.
Story-wise, to be honest, I kind of lost interest with what was going on. The moon-base has gone very wrong (or you have) and the A.I. installed to help doesn’t much. There’s a plot about you trying to contact your daughter, Kira, a subplot about your ex-husband setting you up or something and all sorts going on. All while trying to unwrap the mysteries of the Relicta itself. But truth be told, I didn’t really care. The story of these games is not what pulls you in and keeps you playing for the most part, that’s just pretty set-dressing. It’s the puzzles in these games that really draw you in, and that’s exactly what they do here. Now, I don’t blame the writing of the game for my lack of interest in the story at all, it’s really just me. I was too focused on all the puzzle solving that I just auto-tuned out whenever a story beat popped up and just lost the thread of what was going on.
Relicta is also a very pretty looking game too. The various biomes you’ll find yourself in graphically vary, always giving you something new to look at. The sterility of the main base itself with it’s typical sci-fi-like looks gives way to warm and welcoming mountain ranges, plush green forests, stunning ice caves, lush jungles and more. Being stuck, trying to work out a specific element of a puzzle is actually quite rewarding on the eyes as you take in the wonderful and beautiful vistas. It really is a very stunning game to look at and the various biomes offer a feast for the eyes one after another.
There doesn’t seem like a lot of replayability here, unless I am missing something, once the story is done… that’s it. It would’ve been nice too see some special challenge rooms, online leaderboards for fastest time to finish a puzzle, maybe even a puzzle creator mode to challenge others online or something. As far as I can tell, Relicta is very much a one-and-done type of game. Plus, I also felt that, for a game of this type, it did go on a bit too long, and it’s possible that some players may become a little tiresome before the credits roll. But what is here is really bloody enjoyable. A nice puzzle game that is as frustrating as it is rewarding.