What happens if you cross Portal 2 with The Witness, throw in a storyline about family, and set it on the Moon? The answer is Relicta.
Set on the Moon in the 22nd Century, we are placed into the boots of scientist Dr. Angelica Patel. We soon learn that Dr. Patel is on the Moon due to the research of Aegir Labs who performed a few shady experiments on the Lunar surface. One such experiment was in building the sprawling Chandra base to then terraform the Moon’s craters to support human life. Whilst stationed on the Moon, Patel is tasked with creating an anti-gravity device that can only be tested by creating elaborate test environments – where’s GLADOS?
Its not long before something causes the expedition to go pear-shaped when something alien is discovered under the surface. As power surges start to effect the base, Dr. Patel has to navigate the various biomes to re-activate the main communications array, as well as rescue her daughter from an approaching transport shuttle. Naturally this is no easy task and due to the ongoing situation the station’s A.I. refuses to shut down the experiments, so in order to save the day Dr. Patel has to finish her work beforehand.
The core mechanics of Relicta will be very familiar to anyone who’s played a sci-fi puzzle game over the last few years. To travel from A-B we need to solve puzzles by activating blocks and switching switches to then open up a lift at the end. Sounds pretty simple however each course has various gates that will either block the player, block the anti-gravity cubes or block both. To navigate these we then have to switch the cubes polarity or even its gravity to then navigate these test tracks. It’s all very straightforward to begin with but the complexity soon increases in difficulty and can cause a few head-scratching moments.
Relicta uses its environment very well, and it’s not long before the single gate levels are replaced with multiple gates, switches, teleporters and cubes. This creates a wealth of testing environments which range from small compact areas, to massive sprawling environments. Whilst the overall environment seems huge, we are kept on the beaten track by invisible walls, rivers and rock faces. There are no hints given to how to solve these tests although once you deduce the logic it does make you feel like a complete genius. Some of the tests did allow me to deviate from the set solution which will no doubt be patched out in the coming weeks.
The Lunar landscape is made up of various unique environments, with each new area adding a new layer to the puzzle sequences. The majority of the legwork is done in these Biomes with the Moon Bases deserted corridors and modules set as an in-between. Whilst not vital to the gameplay the base itself acts as a way to hunt for collectables and data logs and is there to serve the story rather than the gameplay.
Outside of all of this there is a story of a fractious Mother/Daughter relationship interwoven with a broken marriage. The collectable PDAs do a great job at fleshing out the wider universe of Relicta as well as the story of Dr. Patel and her daughter. There’s enough story there to keep you grounded to the central plot and the whole narrative moves at a steady pace whilst keeping just enough intrigue aside.
With the majority of the story coming from character dialogue the voice acting is pretty decent. There is just enough light-hearted moments in the acting that steers Relicta away from the horror elements of being stuck in space. The character relationships are well defined during the dialogue and there is a good chunk of sci-fi references thrown in for good measure.
In terms of graphics Relicta is a beauty to look at. Each area has its own style and colour palette and the Lunar landscapes and the subterranean base both capture a sense of awe in whats taken place up on the Moon. Who would of thought that the Moon would have Artic Tundra or even a Jungle nestled within its previous barren craters? yet here they are all expertly crafted without feeling out of place.
Relicta is a near perfect way of how a sci-fi puzzler should present itself. With a clear crisp presentation that gives you just enough pull to then push you back. Whilst some of the games many puzzles can be frustratingly hard at first glance, there isn’t anything that can’t be unsolved through taking a step back or with fresh eyes. Relicta manages to stick to the basics first introduced way back with Portal and it twists the formula in its own way, without destroying the mold. Whilst some areas lack a bit of polish and some of the environments are inconsistent with what can and can not be interacted with, there isn’t anything that’s defined as game breaking. Relicta’s main strength is its ability to give you many “Eureka” moments whilst it subtly throws your logical thoughts out of an Airlock.
+ Gorgeous landscapes.
+ Narrative flow.
+ Wealth of puzzles.
– Lack of polish.
– Some puzzles can be manipulated outside of the established path.
– Frustrating in parts
Reviewed on Xbox One X (also available on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC)