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August 2021


Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Stadia, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: Mighty Polygon
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2020

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Relicta'

by Joseph Doyle on Oct. 21, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Relicta is a sci-fi first-person puzzle adventure that blends together science, nature and mystery.

One of childhood's great rushes is discovering what makes everything tick: moments when you can see the variables that you can change and see how the situation evolves. Maybe it's moving a twig in the middle of a line of ants or flipping switches in a room where one light is controlled by two different switches. This same sort of wonderment is available during Relicta, a physics puzzle game by first-time developer Mighty Polygon. The sense of discovery is fashioned into the game's puzzles and the incredibly compelling story. Through its use of a subtle narrative, world-building, and well-designed puzzles, Relicta shines as a wonderful example of how engrossing a game can be with a relatively simple concept.

"I'm doing it for Kira," you say as you force yourself into the chamber. Mauve crystalline shards flare out of the floating rock-like corona as you approach it, arm outstretched. Desperate pleas and incessant buzzing alarms drone in the background as the stone releases a tether of floating shards that wraps around the aforementioned arm and ignores your resistance as it sucks you in.

Roll title.

Tensions are assuaged as you step into a more comfortable time and place in the life of Dr. Angelica Patel, a scientist and researcher who's studying gravity and magnetism in technology on a piece of beautifully terraformed moon. Plucky and witty, she progresses through her tests with ease, keeping herself occupied by sparring with the AI system via repartee. It's trite in most scenarios, but Patel's charisma handily wins out.

From here, we're introduced to the rest of the supporting cast: Laia Alami, a fellow researcher and perfectly cranky foil; and your daughter Kira, a passionate student angling for her PhD (Go Samarkand University!) to join you in your research; and a few others to round out the plot. This is paired with the slow drip of world-building as off-hand blurbs illuminate the situation, breathing life into a game that perhaps needed none. A tip of the hat to Mighty Polygon for not only creating a game where I feel so effortlessly immersed in the story of scientists on a lunar base, but also making the protagonist a middle-aged woman of color who's a badass scientist and a good mom. It makes me sad that this is the first game I've played to see this sort of role, but it brings me hope that this sort of representation is more widespread in the future.

Your terraformed base is filled to the brim with different experiments, so getting from point A to point B is rife with puzzles. To progress through each biome, you must harness the power of your high-tech gloves to direct cubes to their correct places by manipulating magnetism and gravitational pull, fighting both the environs and the test-makers to unlock gates to progress.

Hailing directly from 3D puzzle greats like Portal and The Talos Principal, Relicta relies on the player's ability to adapt to the physics of the world to prevail. While movement in the game, along with some stiff controls, takes some time to get used to, it's incredibly rewarding once you beat the learning curve.

Finding solutions to the puzzles strikes a good balance between challenging and engaging, utilizing the intrigue of physics to capture interest. Cubes glide through the air, soaring over gates they cannot pass, pushed by vibrant magnetic energy and imbued with anti-gravity. Sometimes, they violently fly in opposite directions due to their matching polarities. Soaring on top of a cube hurtling toward the ceiling necessitates both a quick mind and hand, keeping the player's attention drawn on several levels.

Likewise, Relicta keeps players on their toes by introducing new mechanics every so often, such as giving them the ability to change the magnetic fields of certain pads on the floors and walls, or gates that cubes can go through but your body cannot. Even when challenged with multi-part puzzles, the game gives you enough to work with but never holds your hand. While filling the shoes of something the likes of Portal is a Herculean task, Relicta does so in a way that revitalizes one's child-like inquisitiveness into simple cause and effect, and the title celebrates it.

In terms of visuals, Relicta relies on vibrant colors and heavy lighting to build its setting and direct the puzzles. Cubes become magnetized in neon blues and reds, while bits inside them float to show that it's been imbued with anti-gravity. Gates that block progression are comprised of startlingly bold purples, reds, and greens throughout the challenges.

The incessantly sparkling veneer consistently reminds us that they're in a fancy moon facility, which admittedly does look kind of cool. Untouched by your miracle gloves (magnets... how do they work?), the cubes gleam with perhaps extreme amounts of reflections and refractions. Ice is so glossy that, from the wrong angle, it could easily blind an unsuspecting bystander. The inside of the labs, a prominent locale, is likewise washed in icy blues and sterile whites, much to the detriment of one's eyesight and one's ability to navigate this hub world.

While the doorways are marked, you still end up getting lost in a series of hallways, rooms, and corridors that all suffer from blatant sameness. Because the game opts for this faux open world, you end up ambling and annoyed at points.

Likewise, the backgrounds for many of the games different biomes are lovely. The De Gerlache crater, where you begin, features beautiful riverbeds, craggy rockfaces, grassy outcroppings, and different sorts of trees. Paired with the lighting, the scenery is gorgeous, and this sort of visual juxtaposition of the lab is almost certainly a narrative device of sorts, but it doesn't do the lab any justice. While the components of this world are put together well and look nice, it suffers from being repetitive at times, detracting from the aesthetics and gameplay.

The audio isn't as variable as the visuals in Relicta; it's well orchestrated but takes a backseat to building the tone of the game. In the Spartan amount of cut scenes, you'll hear drums, rising violin, or bassy synths that ramp up the suspense and put the player on edge. A lot of the usage of these instruments and musical effects are appropriate, but at times feel clichéd. Paired with the choice to use music incredibly sparingly, Relicta is a game directed by the sound effects. The crackles and hums of magnets colliding into/repelling against one another are atmospheric and reel in the player, but they're neither the focus nor the intent of the game. While puzzle games don't need to be paragons of music and sound design, the game feels a bit empty from a sonic perspective.

Mighty Polygon unabashedly stands on the shoulders of giants with Relicta. The wheel is not reinvented but rather pleasantly spun around and flipped on its head. While further investment into the artistic aspects of this game may have helped clarify some of the issues with sameness and emptiness, the gameplay and narrative overpower these concerns. Puzzles pose just enough of a challenge to keep the player fascinated while the narrative, strong character, and world give the player incentive to progress. Throw in collectibles to round out the details, and you've got quite the adventure for the curious. With a $20 price tag, Relicta may have its shortcomings, but it's challenging, narratively compelling, and — dare I say it? — magnetic. If you enjoy the likes of Portal, get this game.

Score: 8.8/10

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