“Portal-like” should be a genre, because I run into many puzzle games that are obviously inspired by, or even unwittingly share some DNA with Valve’s classic. There aren’t any real significant comparisons between the two besides blocks, pressure plates and forcefields, but it’s enough to warrant a mention. Except in Relicta you’re not thinking with portals, but rather, with polarity.
Relicta is a first person puzzle game where you use blocks to push down pressure plates to progress. Forcefields usually block your path—different forcefields allow for different things to pass through. Purple allows just the player, green just blocks, yellow allows neither. But Relicta’s real mechanical uniqueness lies in its magnetic attraction mechanic. Red blocks attract blue blocks, and same colors repel. You can also remove gravity and friction from blocks, allowing them to be pushed until they hit another object—or are attracted/repelled by blocks or plates.
In its most fun moments, Relicta allows you to use the repelling and attraction functions mixed with the anti-grav function to ride blocks, or push blocks down to gain access to them. Most puzzles in Relicta are some variation on this, with forcefields complicating things further. Some of the puzzles felt genuinely clever, but it never feels as tight as other puzzle games. Relicta feels like it could have done with more play testing or adjustments for quality of life. The Talos Principle to me felt a little loose like this too, but in Talos Principle, finding a way to run on the top of wall to bypass puzzles felt clever, but here, you can’t even do that, as even the most innocuous geometry is covered by a forcefield.
Despite this, the puzzles in Relicta don’t really feel tight. There was at least one puzzle where I attempted what I knew just HAD to be the solution, to no avail. I tried multiple different variants on that same solution, to see if those worked, and when I then went back to my original idea, it finally worked, despite thinking it wouldn’t and giving it another shot anyways to see. In other puzzles, I feel like I got lucky with how my block sailed off.
Of course, despite the ability to make blocks stop reacting to gravity, you can’t just push these blocks. Blocks need other blocks to interact with—or plates with polarity you can sometimes change. Not being able to interact with the blocks beyond picking them up is fine, because so many puzzles would be trivialized with the simple ability to push these gravity-blocks where you want them. The story does a bit to explain why things work the way they do, but it doesn’t go far.
Relicta isn’t a humorous game. It takes itself rather seriously for what it is. That’s okay, but its story is a little ho-hum. This is especially sad, because this is one of the parts of Relicta that was most immediately intriguing. Most of the story is told through dialogue, usually after you complete a series of puzzle “rooms.” The story, despite showing off the cube manufacturing and maintenance, does little to explain much until hours into the game, and by then, I had forgotten the extremely interesting opening sequence.
Relicta doesn’t skimp with the production values. There is a lot of voice acting, and it’s all pretty well done. The graphics are just okay. The levels are surprisingly detailed, but empty, and very homogenized per zone. Once you see a set of props for an area, you’ll probably see them displayed in different positions in the next, similar area. This isn’t unheard of, or egregious, especially for a game that is puzzle-focused, but it’s a strange juxtaposition between how polished it looks, and how much it repeats.
Besides its interesting magnetic block mechanics, Relicta doesn’t do too much to shake things up. It’s a competent puzzle game, and worth playing through, if you crave the blocks on pressure plate style of puzzle game. But it squanders its great opening with a mystery that I barely cared about once the story came back around to it.
Relicta is available starting tomorrow, August 4 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
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