Is Relicta trying too hard to be another Portal or can the first-person puzzler fashion its own identity from its magnetism-based mechanics? Yeah, kind of. I guess.
The powers of magnetism and gravity are compelling when aggressively tested by complex level design and well considered puzzles, but the inconsistency in the game’s physics can easily become frustrating as the story deepens.
Despite any faults, developers MightyPolygon have turned in a breathtakingly beautiful sci-fi world, leaning heavy on atmosphere even if the finer details don’t always look so good. By finer details I mostly mean the pitifully designed cubes that lie so central to all of these environmental puzzles. It’s not much of a big deal, but the constant interaction with these drab cubes as you manipulate their magnetic charge can feel a bit jarring in a world that’s otherwise impressively well built.
In 2120, you play as terraforming scientist Dr Angelica Patel who fancies herself pretty damn clever with her pair of slick magnetism-wielding gloves. The way she uses them is simple and intuitive, interacting with various cubes and switches to churn through some truly brilliant head-scratchers, and some bland ones as well. Consistency is the game’s biggest problem, especially towards the middle of the story.
Speaking of the story, the tension of work and family dynamics is fine, even if it doesn’t hold much weight over the gameplay. The narrative especially feels tacky and thin when it attempts to delve into politics, or have any sort of didactic message. Though it would be difficult to spin a game like this with any sort of cohesive, overarching storyline. As for the title of the game, it comes from a mysterious purple mineral that holds significant implications for technology.
The middling narrative would be much more of a downside if puzzle design wasn’t so brilliantly crafted, for the most part. Walking into a new puzzle room and seeing just how well MightyPolygon has layered these tasks makes solving them all the more rewarding, daunting till the very last minute when the solution finally clicks and you get a gooey dopamine hit.
Progression is also quite steady and keeps the game from feeling overly repetitive. That being said, replay value is quite low seeing as early-game puzzles can feel incredibly tedious after you’ve been spoiled with bigger, more demanding environmental challenges. Cracking the ambiguity code on the more intensive challenges also and then reverting to simple challenges feels like going from a tier-five cryptic crossword to a five-year-olds find-a-word and expecting you not to fall asleep.
Anyone who enjoys a good mind-bender will quickly take to Relicta. It may not be destined for award-glory like Portal was, but its a perfectly serviceable entry to the category, and one which manages to squeeze a lot from simple and straight forward mechanics.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Inventive and cryptic environmental puzzles; intuitive and smooth puzzle mechanics (not so much the few platform elements); great world-building.
Lowlights: Story can be thin and generic at times; no replay value; physics can be inconsistent and frustrating at times.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC