Secrets of Rǽtikon – PC (Alpha Access)
Developer: Broken Rules Interactive Media GmbH
Publisher: Broken Rules Interactive Media GmbH
Release Date: January 7, 2014
ESRB Rating: N/A
Nerd Rating: 6 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
Important: This is an alpha-access title, not a finished product!!!
Secrets of Rǽtikon (it’s a Latin extended B) is a great open-world exploration/adventure game developed and published by Broken Rules Interactive Media GmbH, which is based in Vienna, Austria. In the game, you play a stylized, bird-like creature and need to collect shards to activate ancient, powerful machines and unlock… well, the Secrets of Rǽtikon. According to Broken Rules, you’ll, “Fly through savage mountains, encounter wild animal tribes and discover the secrets of an ancient culture “ The good news is, it’s pretty much as cool as it sounds- to a point. Released as a playable Alpha access title earlier this year, Secrets of Rǽtikon still has a few bugs and other issues, but with the right tweaks will make an outstanding game.
The game offers both keyboard/mouse and controller support, and in fact the controller is the recommended way to play. I found that activating the mouse directional controls resulted in only so-so precision, but then the game is less about pinpoint accuracy than enjoying the ride. Although you can use W, A, S, and D to point your character, the mouse if the better way to go IMO if you’re not going to use a game pad. Doing so gives you a little target triangle that helps you gauge your intended vs. actual direction.
Additional actions like diving (E) and grabbing objects (Q) can be performed, and other keys allow you to release collected items to advance in the game. The Space bar allows you to flap your wings, for instance to maintain position against a headwind or move objects you’ve grabbed.
There are swift currents of air traveling through and around the various areas of the game world, and they can represent fast tracks for movement, or nearly insurmountable obstacles depending on their speed and direction.
Although combat is an element in the game, it’s not straightforward. Trying to fight directly with hostile animals is a losing proposition. When you’re attacked by birds of prey or other predators, going toe-to-toe will just result in an ass-beatin’. Not only are the controls not precise enough, you really don’t have any effective direct attacks. Diving only sort of works on the innocent little woodland creatures in the forest- if you can hit them as they run and jump around on the ground below. Instead, you’ll need to learn how to use the environment to defeat your attackers. They can be tricked into smashing into the sides of mountains and other hazards, but it takes some time and skill development.
Health can be recovered fairly easily, either by uprooting small trees or killing animals.
The first thing you’ll notice about the graphics is the style of art employed. The backgrounds might seem plain at first, no more than simple polygonal shapes to depict the mountains, green valleys, caverns and other elements of the environment. And yet, these humble shapes, taken together create a unique visual experience that goes along with the other singular features of the game. You quickly realize there’s a lot going on as you swoop into the trees and skim down the steep cliffs bracketing the valleys.
The creatures and objects within the world are rendered in an equally simple and quirky style. Floppy-eared rabbits , lynx, foxes and other animals occupy the terrain below you, and several species of birds compete for air space. In addition to the rocks and trees, there are other interesting goodies scattered throughout the world. The developers made use of a varied and vibrant color palette, and although the animals, like the background are simple, you can nonetheless identify most of the creatures.
The game does do a bit of disorienting zooming while you play, taking you in close so your field of view is limited, then backing up until your character is just a little speck on the screen.
In-game music is quite good, mysterious and driving, with percussion and haunting notes drifting through the air. The beat becomes more dynamic in dangerous areas, or when the player is under attack. The sound effects, by comparison, are confusing at best. Birds occasionally croak rather than call, and rabbits and other terrestrial animals are pretty silent unless you’re attacking them. Background ambiance is also minimal, but better than the creature effects. None of these things really hamper the overall quality of the game, they just could have been more substantial.
The Bottom Line
Secrets of Rǽtikon has the potential to be a groundbreaking title. The concept is novel and the game play offers its own particular challenges. Due to the limitations of the character, the player needs to think about solutions to puzzles and develop unique tactics to deal with enemies and obstacles.
However, there are several areas in which the game basically shoots itself in the foot.
The first is the nearly complete lack of documentation and a very minimal tutorial. Given the uncommon nature of the controls and the game itself, at least a rudimentary manual is a must. I was stuck in the first tutorial area for quite a while before I realized that in addition to grabbing rocks, I could topple huge boulders by grabbing them and flapping my wings. The size difference between them and my little bird was so great it just didn’t occur to me, even with an obvious passage behind the rubble. But that’s really on me, although some form of manual would be a great addition.
The second issue with the game is the graphics. Not their simplicity; just the opposite. True, the whole environment is composed of simple polygons, but there are a LOT of simple polygons. Secrets of Rǽtikon choked the POS into a nearly comatose state despite the fact that the system exceeded all the minimum requirements.
The developers recommend at least Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. I’m here to tell you, that’s absurd. The little Radeon in the POS is statistically a bit better, yet I experienced sustained periods of less than 5 FPS. Judging from the performance of the 5570, I’d say you need Radeon HD 6000/NVidia GT630 to get any kind of playability, and 7000/GT 650 + for a truly good graphical experience. As a caveat, since HD 4000 is a more modern chipset, it may be leveraging its ability to use newer graphics protocols that the 5570 can’t. I wouldn’t take any chances. This game needs more power than many others in the graphics hardware department.
There are some other, lesser gripes. The controls, while acceptable for navigating, are not up to the other tasks the game ask you to perform. Moving objects can be a pain, as you not only have to repeatedly flap your wings, but be pointing in the right direction. You also run the risk of getting irreversibly stuck between interactive objects. Likewise, carrying objects requires more work than it should. Really, the pickup control should be linked to a single key, rather than two and should be a toggle so you don’t have to hold the button down for the entire time you’re carrying something.
The color palette, as it relates to the machines could be a bit better. Activating them results in an impressive graphical sequence, but as it’s all one color, it’s possible to have trouble locating the larger piece of the grand machine you need to collect and deposit.
Secrets of Rǽtikon incorporates elements that are unique and different from any game I’ve ever played. It deserves special recognition just for the concept. Unfortunately, the execution is still lacking. While the environment and creature models are cool and distinctive, the control mechanics need a good polish and some tweaking before they’re an asset, rather than a hindrance and the developers may need to take a closer look at the minimum requirements to play the game.
I look forward to playing the finished product. Secrets of Rǽtikon offers enough novelty and originality that it could be a title that has long-lasting and profound influence on other games and the industry in general. I’m hoping that like anything this different, it just takes some time for the creators to iron out the kinks and let this game realize its full potential.
As an Alpha build, I give Secrets of Rǽtikon a 6 out of 10. The poor graphical performance (versus the stated requirements) and control scheme is really hurting it.
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