You know what I miss? A solid puzzler, the likes of which you’d find in The Talos Principle, Portal, even Human Fall Flat. These games have a cult following behind them, and two of them are still alive in the modding community. Relicta, developed by Mighty Polygon and published by Ravenscourt and Kochmedia, tries to follow in the footsteps of popular puzzlers before it, utilising interesting gameplay mechanics in the process. Unfortunately, as you’ll soon find out, terrible dialogue, poor story, and irritating puzzles are what soil the opportunity for this title to be something great.
Relicta is a first-person physics puzzle game, where you play as Angelica Patel (Angie) and utilise magnetism and gravity to complete puzzles. Chandra Base is the main hub of Relicta, where you’ll regularly travel to and pass through to get to different testing tracks that each house a different series of puzzles. There’s a little more going on in Chandra Base than it might seem, including a strange alien AI that the base has found and kept hidden from the outside world. All of the secrets of Relicta will be unravelled as you progress through the game, but for now that’s the non-spoiler summary of the game.
As for the spoiler version, well, spoilers ahead until you see this pop up (!). Relicta is a strange one to review. I mean, it’s a sci-fi story that starts off amazingly but ends up rather poorly. I’ll start from the beginning. Angie is in regular communication with her daughter, Kira, as she progresses through the testing tracks and completes the puzzles within them. As she’s completing the puzzles, she gets informed of three things: Kira is coming to Chandra Base to work alongside Angie, kind-of love interest Dr Laia Alami (it’s confusing to work out where they stand with each other), is stuck with her team in the freezing cold Shoemaker dome and need to be rescued, and also the Relicta is acting up. Then, Angie makes the decision to volunteer and shut it down, Alami begs her not to go through with it, Angie still goes ahead with it, then fade to black…
There are a few major things that happen throughout the story. One of those is that you learn that the strange alien AI I mentioned earlier is self-conscious and is now a parasite inside Angie’s brain. Also, it can speak to its host inside their brain and can share the same information at the same time to other infected hosts. Another major plot point is that Kira is docked at Chandra Base and she’s also infected with this parasitic AI… thing. In the first portion of this game, I was getting major The Talos Principle vibes in the fact that this Relicta object is mysterious and I had to work through the game to grasp an understanding of what I’m up against. However, by the end of it, there’s a series of things that the game does that makes the end of the story come across weak.
One of the other major turns in the story is the death of Dr Alami. As you know, before Angie falls unconscious, she learns that Alami and the rest of the team on Chandra Base are stuck out in Shoemaker Dome and are currently freezing to death. Angie, of course, went ahead and tried to shut down the Relicta but instead she gets infected blah blah blah 5 months have passed blah blah blah Alami is dead. Now you might be thinking Hey! Ben! That’s a really bad way to describe the death of a major character, you should know better. Well, I’ll tell you now, that’s basically the way the writers of Relicta have treated this character’s death; completely unimportant. Allow me to elaborate. At the point that Angie discovers Alami is dead, and that she herself has been unconscious for over 5 months; she’s angry and grieving. There’s a lot of emotion here, and it’s delivered well. However, as you progress through the game Angie kind of forgets that Alami… died? It’s mentioned about once or twice after, and sure that’s fine, but eventually Angie befriends this parasitic alien AI and they work together through the end portion of the game. There are times when Rangar, Angie’s ex-husband and (sort of) antagonist of the game (again, it’s hard to know where to stand with the characters), is speaking to the parasite and the parasite regularly offends him. Angie starts taking a liking to the AI since they now have this one thing in common, and that gives Angie enough reason to fully trust a parasitic alien AI with unknown motives. I’m grasping at straws to determine why anyone would be welcome to trust any kind of space parasite, especially since it caused the death of her colleague, friend, and love interest. If her daughter, Kira, had been the one killed, would Angie still eventually welcome it with open arms? Judging by the story direction; probably. (!)
The other thing that the story is affected by is the writing of the dialogue. If this game wanted to take itself seriously, it’d have chosen not to reference memes and internet humor like “new phone, who dis?” to instil to the player that the AI isn’t aware of who they’re talking to. If it’s not outdated humor, then it’s repeated jokes. For example, it’s a sort of catchphrase for Angie to say “f*** you (INSERT NAME)” whenever she is annoyed or strongly disagrees with someone. This happens so much that the AI picks it up, then kinda does it multiple times in the story. Once is funny enough, any more than that and I began asking when they’re gonna write any more jokes. There’s plenty of examples of this through the game that I couldn’t include them all if I tried. Overall, the comedy, and the writing of the dialogue, seems to lack any substance for me to feel any emotion at any point through the story.
Now that we’re done with the story, let’s get onto the gameplay! As you know by now, Relicta’s gameplay mechanics revolve around magnetism and physics. You can only affect objects that have magnetic capabilities, such as specific metal plates and boxes. Thus, of course, you have polarity to attract and repel magnetic objects. For example, switching two attracted object’s polarities to repel each other results in them flying off in opposite directions. You can also alter the gravity of a magnetic box, allowing said box to either hover, float, fly (given enough force), or fall. Couple all this together, and you can use boxes to fly across ravines, shoot them at pressure plates etc; anything to complete a level. I never got sick of using these mechanics throughout the entire game; they’re seriously fun.
The puzzles in this game start off interesting and fun. I began to really like the puzzles because you had to use a bit of creative thinking to find the solution (since everything is new to the player). However, it soon becomes apparent that there’s only a limited number of things to do with the mechanics before you start noticing the solutions have a set pattern, and you begin flying through the levels. It seems like the devs noticed this too, and at one point the puzzles became incredibly hard. Like, not even a progression, they felt downright impossible. However, there’s only a single reason why they became so difficult; the puzzles still used the same completion patterns, yet the task was finding where to begin the puzzle. Think of it like a Rube Goldberg machine. In an RG machine, it’s always about the start; everything else has a set path to the goal and the pieces have a domino effect on each other. So, in Relicta, once you find and complete the first task, all the pieces fit together because the completion patterns are the same. That’s just artificial difficulty, and it has no semblance of a challenge. If anything the puzzles are tedious. Coupled with the large number of invisible walls this game has, as well as a very strict path to the goal, this game soon becomes irritating. I really hoped that I could use creative thinking throughout all the puzzles, but just like the levels themselves, it’s a very limiting experience.
However, as with physics-based puzzlers there comes the glitches and exploits. This game starts off polished, but just like the story and the puzzles the quality drops off; hard. And there’s plenty of ways to exploit and bypass entire levels; even with all the invisible walls. Check out the video below.
As you can see in this video, there’s quite a list of tasks required to complete the level. But, it’s super easy to bypass the level and be done with it. I’ll be honest, I found more satisfaction and enjoyment working out ways to cheat the levels that completing the overused puzzle patterns.
If it’s not exploits that is an issue, then it’s the glitches. I had a glitch where a drone lost its path and got stuck, resulting in me having to restart the section from scratch. I had a couple audio glitches occur as well. For example, when the characters would deliver their lines, the audio at the end would sometimes cut out and you’d miss out what they’d say. To combat this, I had the subtitles on, but even then sometimes the subtitles were shown either too early or too late. At one point, a whole portion of a character’s dialogue didn’t even show up in the subtitles. I also had an audio glitch where the audio of the elevators would not stop playing. Those elevators are pretty loud as well, so that got annoying quickly. In terms of other non-audio glitches, I had birds fly through walls and structures, rather than (as you’d expect) high above. It’s kinda funny though to see numerous birds phase through walls on occasion.
I have a couple grievances with the game as well, and they’re really just due to the puzzle design. The first one is the choices of implementing red herrings. I only noticed one red herring in playing, and it was annoying due to the fact that it’s the only red herring in the game as far as I could determine. I’m at a loss as to whether it was there as part of a puzzle solution, it was a forgotten part of a puzzle that the devs forgot to scrap, or it really just was a red herring. Either way, it’s annoying to experience because there’s literally no other red herrings in the game. So, either the devs are having a laugh at the player’s expense, or it’s just a forgotten detail meant to be scrapped. The only reason I raise this as an issue is because this game could’ve done well utilising red herrings. With the solution paths being so straightforward, and the only difficulty is finding where to start, throwing the player off the true path would’ve added some semblance of a challenge, and would’ve been an easy way for the player to utilise a level of creative thinking that otherwise isn’t required to play this game.
My other grievance is the difficulty. Namely, the artificial difficulty. To put it plainly; it’s silly. Take one of the last portions of the Sverdrup Dome trial. You need to place two boxes with symbols on their respective buttons. But, if you place one of the boxes on the correct button, an impenetrable barrier will activate and you’re blocked from grabbing the other box. So, what do you do? You remove the box from the button until both boxes are next to each other and then you place them where they need to go. Obviously, It wasn’t hard; it was just silly to add an unnecessary “challenge.” It was simply a waste of time and adds nothing to the game, nor challenges the player in any regard. There are a few instances of these moments, all of which are there to add extra playtime to this title; providing nothing else in return.
Relicta started off strong, and it was a highly enjoyable experience in the first few hours of the game. But as I progressed through this title, it soon became clear that the quality of the story, dialogue, puzzle design, and technical design fell off by about halfway through. The puzzles had specific completion patterns, there was little to no need for creative thinking, exploits were more enjoyable; so on and so forth. There’s a lot of things wrong with this game, and what shines through the mud is the gameplay mechanics and physics. Those two elements are what make this game enjoyable. However, those two elements can only improve this game so much, until everything else comes falling down on top of it.
Relicta is a puzzle game that tries to be like The Talos Principle and Portal, but falls flat. The gameplay mechanics, as well as the physics, are a solid and fun experience. However, it falls short due to a weak story, terribly written dialogue, repetitive puzzle design, and various technical issues. If you’re looking for a puzzler that you can easily find exploits in for a speedrun, check this out. But, if you’re looking for a puzzler with replayability, where you have to utilize creative thinking, and the puzzles are all uniquely designed, then look far, far elsewhere.