I’ve always enjoyed physics-based puzzling in games. From the seminal moments Half Life 2 created with its use of Havok onwards, it’s a genre that appeals to me no end. Relicta fits into that mould perfectly, using some heavily sci-fi enhanced physics to lay out fun, challenging courses wrapped up in a equally sci-fi tale that is full of intrigue.
The bulk of the game see us playing as Patel, a scientist stationed on the Moon base Chandra, solving physics-based box puzzles under the guise of completing experimental test tracks for Aegir Labs. Using her custom gloves, she’s able to pick up and move large boxes around in order to activate switches, opening up the gates to the next area. While that may sound pretty mundane, the actual act of solving the puzzles is anything but.
They waste no time in properly testing our logic and planning, as these are no ordinary box’s or gloves. In a similar vein to Portal‘s…portals…each trigger allows our hand to imbue the boxes with a different polarity; either Red or Blue. Placing two of the same colour within their magnetic field sees them snap together, while using alternate colours has the opposite effect, sending them flying apart. Again, this is simpler in theory than in practice. Early puzzles have a fair degree of leniency to them, but it’s not long before there are cases where we need to be accurate in our angling and positioning before changing the polarity. Various gates that only allow the player to walk through, or only allow the box to pass through, add to the challenge and each room entered needs to be properly scouted out before we make any initial move. A reset option is available, handily, but it’s not the kind of game to rush into and try to brute force.
In addition to the polarities is the ability to suck the laws of gravity from the boxes. Not only is this just fun to play around with – piling up boxes before sending them flying in zero-g never gets old – but it expands the scope of the puzzles immeasurably. Often this tends to result in trying to fling a box upwards to one of the magnetic plates dotted around the world, but other times they come in handy as a makeshift means of getting across a large gap, or up a high cliff. At any point the boxes current state can be changed – as long as it’s in eye sight – so you can imagine some of the later areas that need not only solid pre-planning, but deft feet too as we dash from one area to the next to catch the box before it passes by.
Every room entered feels initially overwhelming as we sees the nooks and crannies that can be used, or the plethora of switches that need hitting down the way. Take a second to soak it all in though and it’s usually clear where our starting point should be. I did feel at times the difficulty spiked a little too much before breezing through the next area, but mostly I’d put that down to my trying to rush things. And while there are clearly preferred solutions to each room the nature of physic based puzzles is that they are often a least somewhat malleable – one example required me to lift a box up and over a gate using another box and a plate, but thanks to zero-g and a bit of luck I was able to skip over a large part of the solution.
All of this clever puzzling is wrapped up in a sci-fi story of political battles, otherworldly elements and a hell of a lot of potty-mouthed scientists that for the most part is entertaining and engaging. The titular Relicta is an alien object that the scientists on Chandra are mystified by, and much of the power struggles come from political rivals trying to one up each other’s research. The world building on show – from the abandoned dorms of the outpost to the stunning vistas outside – is great, but it’s definitely the gameplay that is the star of the show. I found the slower exposition sections between test tracks to be just fine, but I also wouldn’t have missed them too much either.
Relicta offers up some clever, challenging puzzle scenarios that use physics in a way that feels natural while also embracing the sci-fi elements of its presentation. The difficulty can occasionally spike, and the story elements, while entertaining, definitely take a back seat to the actual puzzle solving gameplay. But when that gameplay is so good and rewarding, that’s no bad thing.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.