Austrian developer Broken Rules follows up their eShop title Chasing Aurora by taking the Arkham City approach. Using the same gameplay concepts of the flight-based original and removing the walls, removing all the narrowly tempered level design and replacing it with distant corners and long-stretching vistas.
The core of Arkham Asylum translated beautifully to an open-world setting, the constant outbreaks of combat and collectibles fitting more comfortably into a player-chosen pace. Broken Rules hope for the same result, taking the frantic Wii U original and entering Steam’s Early Access for their expansive continuation. But does Chasing Aurora’s flappy physics suit the exploration that The Secrets of Raetikon opts for?
The most immediate and arresting element is the highly stylised art. The paper craft design is ornately beautiful – every bit of shrubbery and woodland creature is a wonder of geometric elegance. They look creased and pre-existing, as if you’ve become a part of a long-standing universe that just happens to have been meticulously created by Buddhist monks. The Secrets of Raetikon intends to calm, its guiding emotional force is wind gently breaking through branches. The tone reaches for a zen-like ideal – the origami-aesthetic, the enigmatic totems of spirituality, the a-moral indifference of nature where not even murder leads to judgement. But, despite striving for the enlightened centre of the universe, the game is at odds with itself, unable to shed the rigid goals that tie it to the physical realm.
Actually playing within the gorgeous diorama involves constantly pressing a button (a controller is recommended but using a keyboard is also possible) to keep yourself above ground. Another allows you to grab hold of the environment for basic puzzle solving and another allows you to squawk out to the surrounding animals. That’s the breadth of it, just keep tapping to let your wings spread out. You’re a bird, literally dive-bombing into an ever-expanding mosaic of minimal design – rustling trees shaped with triangles, autumnal shades fading into the background, a sound track of sprinkling chimes. Raetikon aims for exploration, you’re presented a sprawling collection of levels contextualised with a haze of mysteries. You’ve just a breezy notion to keep flapping on forward. It excels as a game for headphones and trance-like bursts, a soothing experience without any of the intensive peaks that typify a more tightly structured form.
It falls apart once that structure is applied, imposing order onto the vast expanse of nature. You’re woken from your meditative state by a demand to pick up the thing, all the thing. Endless sky curtailed by road blocks of air-currents which push you into the next cache of golden collectibles. Fly off to another sweeping wild only so you can stick to the route that’s been laid for you. A workable objective if it weren’t offset by levels where it’s easy to shoot skyward and forget where the rail is, where your motivations are kept intentionally vague, where there’s no navigational tools. The lack of any map may have been a purposeful choice, a sense of being lost in this ancient world. Unfortunately, it only adds to the frustration – one simple mini-map would have left me feeling a lot warmer about the experience.
Your goal contradicts the game they’ve been created for. It works best without a fixed plan, without a definitive win-state. A reflective Jetpack Joyride instead of the aimless Donkey Kong 64 that we’re left with. At this stage, The Secrets of Raetikon feels more like a proof of design, an interesting curio that should have spent more time in development to truly hammer the interesting birdy physics into a game worth playing.
As it is, it can only be recommended as something to pick up on the cheap. A minor figure as part of a Humble Bundle collection. The hour you’ll play of it before moving onto something better will be engrossing, anything beyond that and the loose seams will begin to show. A frustrating idea that fails to live up to its potential.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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