From developer Mighty Polygon comes Relicta, a narrative-driven puzzle game set against a science fiction background that uses physics as its main puzzle mechanic. The game is out for PC and consoles, and we tested the PS4 version.
I’ve always enjoyed puzzle games, from simple box pushing ones like Sokoban and original takes like Lemmings to elaborate 3D brain teasers like The Talos Principle. Relicta most closely resembles Croteam’s gorgeous puzzler, while also channeling the likes of Portal and Q.U.B.E. All of those are titles that I’ve enjoyed, so I was eager to start my journey in Relicta.
Playing as scientist Angelica Patel, you’re working on a moon base doing all kinds of physics-based experiments when there is suddenly an accident that isolates the crew members from one another and puts them in mortal danger. As the lead scientist, it’s your task to push forward past the (now broken) experiments and restore them in order to progress and guide them to safety – a task that is extra dramatic and personal because one of the crew members is your own daughter.
Although the (voiced) narrative pushes the story forward and revolves about both the accident and the mysterious artifact called the Relicta, the gameplay is structured around individual challenge rooms that you have to tackle one at a time. The (radio) conversations in between these puzzles hold the narrative together, and as a story-driven experience Relicta certainly delivers in making the player want to push forward in order to discover what happens next. Fans of Portal will also appreciate that there’s a GLaDOS-like A.I, though the one here isn’t quite as memorable and not nearly as funny.
The core puzzle dynamic in Relicta is all about using magnetism and the ability to manipulate gravity, thus combining puzzle elements from games like Q.U.B.E. and the gravity manipulation from titles like Portal. The way that the various challenges are setup reminded me of another (lesser known) franchise as well though – ReThink series by Yaeko, with puzzles that also very much feel like isolated experiments that are all based around a familiar theme.
In Relicta, that theme is your ability to apply colors to metal cubes to make them attract (or repel) each other – a skill that you combine with the ability to apply a zero gravity effect to these same cubes. Using these skills helps you move cubes towards the end goal in each level, allowing you to pass. There’s a good amount of creativity that went into the design of these puzzles, and the campaign showcases plenty of diversity over the course of its runtime – which was close to nine hours on my first playthrough.
But where Portal’s puzzles – and especially those in a game like The Talos Principle – feel very ‘sandboxy’ in nature, letting you experiment with possible solutions, Relicta feels overly restrictive in places. I wouldn’t call it an abundance of hand-holding, but the game certainly wants to push you in a certain direction and discourages you from playing around with its mechanics too much. This is a shame, because although I appreciate that in the context of a tutorial I enjoy playing around and trying new things once I’m in the actual campaign.
Perhaps part of that is that, unlike games like Sokoban, Relicta doesn’t feel like an abstract puzzler – largely on account of its excellent graphics. While like indie/mobile puzzlers have an easier time getting away with straightforward puzzle design, realistic first person visuals like these can change people’s expectations, especially after some of the excellent examples in the genre mentioned earlier.
Having said that, I still enjoyed Relicta. Perhaps it doesn’t live up to personal favorites like Portal or Q.U.B.E. 2, but it’s not far off from the also highly enjoyable The Sojourn. If the titles mentioned here strike a chord with you, definitely check out Mighty Polygon’s take on the genre.