Part six of our EGX Rezzed hands-on previews looks at The Spectrum Retreat from Ripstone and Dan Smith, Windlands 2 from Psytec Games and Lake Ridden from Midnight Hub.
The Spectrum Retreat
During EGX Rezzed 2018, in the basement level of Tobacco Dock next to a giant golden BAFTA award statue stood a young man called Dan Smith showing off his first full game, The Spectrum Retreat. Dan has already won a BAFTA for the prototype of this game (called SPECTRUM) but it took just a few moments with The Spectrum Retreat to realise that this likely won’t be the only award that this talented man wins during his game developing career.
The first person puzzle genre is one that’s already jam packed with invention with the likes of QUBE 2, ChromaGun, Antichamber and, of course, Portal pushing the boundaries but The Spectrum Retreat feels tighter in design and more mysterious with its narrative that its peers. The demo that I played at Rezzed was what was described as “the authentication test” which felt like a tutorial on how to use the main tool in your puzzle solving arsenal – a spy glass shaped device that can remove or install colour on blocks. Using this tool, you’re challenged to pass through a number of gates that react to the colour applied to blocks around them. At first, this was as simple as applying the colour to a block, stepping through a gate, removing the colour using a gap in a wall then applying it to a different block to open a subsequent gate. Then things started to get tricky. Eventually, I found myself in an infinite loop that required me to find a colour then drop down a hole which returned me to the start of the puzzle again. And again. And again. There’s this mind bending aspect to the game that started to shine through as an answering machine message started to unravel the early narrative. This was joined by glitching environments resembling real world locations appearing in some of the rooms.
I managed to speak to Dan for a few moments about the game and it sounds this perspective altering, purposeful built confusion will feature heavily in the final game ; “We chose a hotel because it’s an easy place to get lost in. You look along any corridor in a hotel and they all look the same. This is something I wanted to play with” he said. While the demo I played looked nothing like a hotel, the game certainly looked fantastic. The lighting, in particular, was spectacular with the orange colour blocks reflecting off the walls in such a way that I needn’t have had to turn a corner to know what blocks I’d already painted with my tool.
As a demonstration of what’s to come, those 5 puzzle rooms I played of The Spectrum Retreat filled me with anticipation. It’s obvious from the teaser demo that Dan has the game design chops to create something very intriguing with The Spectrum Retreat and the game is now a firm feature of my “most anticipated games” list for 2018. With the help of Ripstone, The Spectrum Retreat will be arriving on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC this Summer.
“We’ve listened to all of the feedback from the first game and built on it. This is a much bigger and better game than the first” Psytec Games’ Community manager Luke Sanders said to the crowd as we queued for a demonstration. Props to the guys from Psytec Games – Using PC’s in enclosed cupboards that were having fan issues, on the hottest day of the year so far, in a room that can only be described as a greenhouse that was packed with close to 100 people, they were soldiering on like troopers to give everyone a go with their newest VR game Windlands 2. Thankfully, despite the very air of the room feeling like fire, the hottest thing in the room was the Wildlands 2 demo itself.
Despite being set in the same universe as the original game, there’s been some big changes for Windlands 2. The first hint of this was right at the beginning of the demo when I was aboard a flying ship, rocketing across a desert and a giant snake like beast that would have been at home in The Last Guardian rose from the dunes beside me. Being in VR, the impact of this moment was fantastic. The Lickitongue-esque pilot of the ship started to run around the deck of the ship frightened while our guide strutted across the side of the ship warning us of the dangers. This whole sequence was very cinematic and engrossing but it was just a teaser of more to come. Fade to black.
When my vision returned, I was now in a familiar looking location, matching the art style from the first game but on a much grander scale. I say “I”, when I should say “we” because another other big change for Windlands 2 is the inclusion of 4 player co-op. Together with my 3 team mates, we swung through the treetops doing what the first game did so well. Using the touch controllers, we did our best Spider-Man impressions, soaring through the air, launching from branch to branch, launching sticky wires as we went. This was the single best and biggest selling point of the first game and it feels even better this time around. I’m not entirely sure what technical wizardry Psytec Games have implemented since the release of the first game but not once did I feel dizzy or even mildly disorientated while playing the demo despite travelling at fast speeds in mid-air. Despite being a locomotive VR game, it felt very comfortable to play.
Finally, my team and I converged on our target location – a spider mech boss. The last and greatest addition to Windlands 2 is the inclusion of weaponry. By pressing the grip buttons on the controller, my hands transformed into a bow and arrow and by pulling back on the string, I was able to fire off arrows. To beat the mechanised arachnid, we needed to shoot the shields on its legs before shooting its core which sounds much easier to do when it’s not rushing you or shooting you with its lasers. The spider mech had the beating of us early on until we learned to work as a team. 2 of my pals were keeping the spider busy on the ground while another member and I hung from the trees around the outside of the area and pelted it with arrows. If felt so brilliantly satisfying to be hanging from a tree and firing arrows at the same time. This is a real game changer. While we weren’t able to defeat the boss in the demo time limit, we got close and it was a thrilling experience in co-op.
Psytec Games are being smart with the direction of Windlands 2. The original game is a well known title among VR enthusiasts that did something – the Spider-Man-esque swinging – before anyone else did and better than anyone has to this day. The VR market has moved on a lot since then but it’s pleasing to see that Psytec and the Windlands games are moving with it. The inclusion of co-op, weaponry and that cinematic experience I got a taster of is signs of a more mature, refined and rounded experience that should absolutely be on your radar when the game hits Oculus Rift, HTC Vive & PSVR later this year.
When I included Lake Ridden in our list of “50 indie games to get excited about in 2018” earlier in the year, I described it as “walking simulator”. After spending a little more time with the game at EGX Rezzed, I’m willing to admit that I’d got it all wrong about this game. My limited time at last years EGX included a lot of walking but my time at this year EGX Rezzed was something entirely different, packed with puzzles and atmosphere.
In Lake Ridden, you play as 13-year-old Marie who’s searching a creepy forest for her younger sister who has disappeared. Playing just 15 minutes of the game, I got the feeling that the forest itself was working against me with locked gates and winding paths of thorns arching around you, giving the game a claustrophobic feeling. In the demo, to progress, there were simple puzzles to solve like finding objects to use in certain locations and disk puzzles that task you to rotate sections to form a picture. Exploring the forest and its spooky atmosphere feels like it’ll be a big part of Lake Ridden but it’s much more compact than walking simulators, only giving you a few steps to take in the surroundings before putting another item to examine or puzzle to solve in your path.
One of the most striking aspects of Lake Ridden is the art style. The visuals are highly detailed, even at this stage of development, but rather than going for hyper realism, it has an artistic flair about it. It’s like Dishonoured in this respect – steeped in reality but with this exaggerated, dream like quality. The lighting effects in the demo were also superb. As you light various gas lamps around the forest, it lights up the area, pushing back the darkness and fog and lets the see the area in greater detail. There’s also some very impressive water effects dotted around too.
The one aspect of Lake Ridden that I didn’t get a feel for was the narrative which is down to the nature of show floor demo’s more than anything else. A quick wander around a chunk of a game in a busy room packed with hundreds of gamers probably isn’t the best place to experience a game like Lake Ridden. The one story element that really did shine through in the demo is the vocal performance of Emily and a near constant reminder that you’re playing as a 13 year old. I can’t remember the last time I played a game that had a young teenager girl as the protagonist in a realistic setting but I’m looking forward to seeing where Midnight Hub take the plot when the game releases on PC later this year (bang it on your Steam wishlist by clicking here).