Relicta is a sci-fi puzzle game involving magnets that has satisfying problems to solve but is let down by frustrating physics.
Relic is a heavily physics-based first-person puzzle game that uses the attraction and repulsion aspects of magnetism to overcome obstacles. The game has lots of great puzzles and an intriguing story that pushes the player forward, but is let down by janky physics that sometimes turn what should be a fun experience into a frustrating one.
Relic takes place aboard a station on the Moon, where scientific experiments involving an artifact known as Relicta have been taking place in secret. The player takes on the role of Dr. Angelica Patel – a physicist at Chandra Base who is testing a new device that allows the user to manipulate gravity and magnetism. A mysterious accident aboard the base separates all the crew members, including Angelica’s daughter, and she must go on a mission to rescue them. The experiments set up before the accident are still active, so she will need to complete them to continue her journey. Relicta’s story is told through a number of radio conversations between Angelica, the stranded members of the team, and the obnoxious AI that runs the base. The mystery of what is happening at the base and its connection to the Relicta is one of the game’s strong points, with the dialogue-rich narration fitting well with the growing sense of dread regarding the fate of the other members of the crew.
The basic game loop of Relic consists of guiding metal cubes to the end of each stage, in order to stop the energy field that prevents access to the next area. The player can use the power of his costume to change the color of the cubes to blue or red, which have their own energy field of the same color. If two cubes of the same color approach each other, they repel each other while cubes of the opposite color attract each other. The player can also activate an anti-gravity effect on the cubes, allowing them to float in the direction they are pushed. The game has many similarities with Portal and its gate cannon. The “thinking with portals” effect plays a lot with Relic, gravity and magnetism taking the place of dimensional gates.
The majority of puzzles Relic are stellar and there is a genuine sense of satisfaction that comes with their finish. Once the player becomes familiar with the different physics in play, it will be natural to manipulate the cubes to move around the room using magnets or using them to press switches. There’s usually an initial moment of frustration that comes with exploring a new area and trying to figure out how to proceed, but once everything clicks, then it’s nice to send the cubes through force fields and through gaps to complete the puzzles. The game would have benefited from a minimap that shows cube locations and which buttons connect to which devices, as we were often forced to use free-roaming camera mode to find necessary items in the game world. .
The main problem with the gameplay of Relic involves floating mechanics. Many puzzles involve making cubes float by combining gravity, magnetism and force. These puzzles are unanswerable and more akin to playing pool than anything else in the game. There are times when the player can line up the same move twice in a row, perform the same actions and have an outcome different every time. It looks like a shoddy design when you try to send a cube flying across the room and it takes multiple attempts to perform the same action for it to work.
The visuals of Relic are beautiful, with most areas located outdoors with impressive views beyond. The problem is that the levels are much smaller than they look, as the player is contained within invisible walls. It’s not really a problem with the exterior of the scene, but the invisible walls exist in places where they shouldn’t. This is related to the fact that there are many barriers that prevent the player from moving forward to make a puzzle work as intended. The developers have also ensured that Angelica is unable to perform basic actions that are standard in most games, such as being able to crawl across a large space or climb a ledge at the waist, so some puzzles work. These are related to a larger problem in the game that tries to prevent the player from completing a task in a way other than what the developer intended. Physics puzzles in games like breath of the wild allow the player to experiment in order to complete them, while Relic just throw invisible walls and obnoxious barriers everywhere to make sure every task is completed as planned.
Relic is an enjoyable puzzle game, but some of the stages can be more frustrating than fun, thanks to a mix of unreliable mechanics and the developers forcing the player to stick to a strict set of limits at all times. Relic still offers an enjoyable puzzle-solving experience despite its issues, and the mystery of what’s happening on the base is enough incentive to keep pushing through the boring parts of the game.
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Relic will be released on Google Stadia, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 4, 2020. Screen Rant received a digital code for the PC version of the game for the purposes of this review.
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