Every once in a while, I'm looking for something to play and I come across some game that went completely unnoticed but is actually really good. This is the case of Relicta, a surprisingly good indie puzzle game that kept me glued to the screen for the last few days.
Wanna know how I discovered this game? Piracy. I was checking out Fitgirl's website and it caught my eye because the screenshots instantly reminded me of Talos Principle, so I downloaded it, played it, and I bought it. 19€ is a small price to pay for something this good, and it's also quite long at 12-15 hours.
Relicta is a 3D puzzle-platformer. The main mechanics are magnetism and gravity: boxes and other elements can be magnetized positively or negatively with the left and right mouse buttons so that they will attract or repel each other; boxes can also have their gravity toggled with the middle mouse button.
In addition to those, we also have the typical puzzle game elements: pressure plates, switches, elevators, teleporters, barriers, etc.
These simple mechanics are masterfully combined to create puzzles that constantly introduce new concepts that you have to learn, master and reuse, such as manipulating magnetic fields to fly a box around some obstacles.
After the initial tutorial, the game is divided into 2 main parts: the first part mostly introduces the story, the various environments and the basic mechanics with puzzles that are fun and cool but not particularly difficult; the second part ramps up the difficulty considerably (especially the last area), with huge puzzles requiring you to solve 3-4 different subpuzzles, to bring stuff between them in creative ways and to think outside the box.
The puzzles are generally well designed, but I must unfortunately point out the presence of a few puzzles that are execution dependent. Great puzzle games like Talos Principle do not depend on your execution being flawless: if your logic is correct, you can be slow and sloppy but you'll get to the end; a few puzzles in this game however require you to do stuff with precise timing or hit things at the right angle and that can be frustrating. I'm not going to be too harsh on this since it usually took me just a few tries, but still, it's something that should be avoided when designing puzzles.
The game features a variety of environments: alpine, ice, forests, caves, desert, tropical, jungle, and technological, however it is very linear: there is a central hub but you can only access the various areas in a predefined order and you cannot go back to an area after completing it; each area contains a number of puzzles that must be done in a specific order. There is zero exploration in this game apart from the central hub (where there are some collectibles), and there are invisible walls everywhere to prevent stuff (or you) from getting out of a puzzle.
Overall, I'd say the game is as hard as Road to Gehenna, so hard but not insane or frustrating.
The game is set on the moon in the year 2120 in a research station with several biospheres that replicate different earth environments. The researchers find an alien artifact, the relicta, which contains some sort of alien virus that infects the station's AI (called Systems), as well as our protagonist, Angelica Patel, which is the only survivor of the station's crew.
The story is narrated mostly with conversations that take place between puzzles, where Angelica talks to Systems, her daugher Kira, her ex husband Ragnar, and of course the alien parasite. Of all the characters, I found the alien to be quite funny, especially in the last part of the game. In addition to these conversations, you also find emails and audio recordings around the central hub.
Despite being linear, the game has 2 endings, and you choose the one you want after solving the last puzzle.
Overall, the story is entertaining and gives soul to this game. Patel's thicc ass, featured prominently in the promotional material, is unfortunately absent from the game.
Relicta is based on Unreal Engine 4 (DX11) and runs extremely well, even on older and lower end hardware. I played it on ultra settings in 1440p on a GTX 1080 and it never reached more than 50% GPU usage.
For fun, I tested the game on a GT 1030, and it was playable on ultra settings in 1080p 30fps or 900p at mostly 60fps, so the game is pretty well optimized and definitely runs on a potato. The game however does warn you about the physics becoming unstable if the framerates dips too low so it's something to keep in mind if you get stuck in a puzzle because you're playing on a 10 year old GPU or something.
Graphically, the game is alright but unimpressive: there are a lot of low resolution textures, some of the trees and the grass look straight out of an Xbox 360 game, and the first few areas (especially the tutorial) have a distinct 2013 look to them. I can't give this game too much shit for it since it's an indie title, the art style makes up for it, and graphics do get better later on in the game, with the last few levels looking genuinely nice.
In my playthrough I did not run into any major bug and the game never crashed, so I'd say it's well tested and stable.
An area where Relicta falls flat on its ass in my opinion is the soundtrack: there is almost no music in this game, just ambient sounds. I'm not sure why they did this, but I would have appreciated some relaxing music like in Talos Principle, it definitely sets the mood and improves the atmosphere.
I give this game a solid 8/10: great puzzles, great atmosphere, long and satisfying.
I whole heartedly recommend Relicta to anyone who enjoys puzzle games. It's the best game I've played this year and the best puzzle game since Talos Principle came out in 2014. Definitely a thumbs up.
A GNU/Linux port would be appreciated btw,
and a GOG release (the game was released on GOG on 2020-10-16).