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Video Game / The Spectrum Retreat

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Ah! Good morning. I hope you had a restful sleep...

It's 20 Minutes into the Future and you're the guest at the Penrose Hotel, a luxurious retreat for those wanting an escape from the everyday world. You've been here... a while. You don't know how long, really, but this didn't matter - until today. As you go through your daily routine, it quickly becomes apparent that something is wrong. Your phone glitches uncontrollably, urging you to act "normal". The front door doesn't open, the only other exit, the roof, is perpetually undergoing repairs, and you can't see anything out of the windows. Finally, a woman named Cooper contacts you and reveals the truth: you are a prisoner, held in the Penrose against your will.

If you want to escape, you have to find your way to the roof.

The Spectrum Retreat is a 2018 puzzle game by Ripstone Studios. The game alternates between exploring the hotel, attempting to find the clues about both it and your past, and puzzle sections as you attempt to solve various color-swapping-based puzzles to gain access to each subsequent floor of the Penrose on your way up.

As this is a plot-heavy game, expect spoilers.

Tropes present in the game:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The game takes place sometime in the 2020s - presumably between late 2021 and early 2022, given what we learn of the main character's past. However, the manager implies that he's been in the Penrose for several years. Outside of the full-immersion VR you're in and more advanced AI, it's unclear how far technology had progressed.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The manager system can be obstructive and becomes wary when you break your routine. But this trope is eventually subverted: It's doing so just because Alex asked it to prevent him from leaving, and offers no resistance should the player decides to leave.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Downplayed; if you choose to leave the Penrose, the last sound in the game is Alex's breath as he awakes from the simulation, but it's left uncertain whether he abandons his Roaring Rampage of Revenge or continues with it.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Cameron Worrall's logs are text-only and written in first-person perspective. Add the fact that "Cameron" is both a male and a female name, and it's really impossible to tell.
  • Amnesiac Hero: Alex, the story's main protagonist, starts the game without knowing why he's in the hotel at all. Though the "hero" part quickly disappears once we learn that he's committed murder, and may still be planning to commit more.
  • Animal Motifs: Birds - two of the more important characters in the past are named Crow and Robin. Also a minor one is Robin's school principal, whose surname is "Sparrow".
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • if you get stuck during a challenge you can reset it.
    • the final challenge takes place in a huge, long tunnel. Instead of taking long walks back and forth between puzzle platforms you can just pull levers which propel you instantly to the next puzzle.
  • Arc Symbol: The double circle of the game's logo. It's omnipresent in the hotel's decoration, from windows to book covers to library carts. Several puzzles require you to look through it, and even the designs of the staff robot's heads could be seen as an iteration of it. As is shown in the Floor 5 puzzle, it's the logo of the Spectrum company itself.
  • Art Deco: The Penrose is built in this style, down to the antiquated elevator and the clothes of the robot staff.
  • Asshole Victim: Subverted. Matthews was acting like an asshole and denied Maddie insurance money because it's what his job required of him. In his phone call to his wife, he almost broke down telling her about the case, as he has two children of his own. Unfortunately, while Alex heard that, he apparently didn't care.
  • Beautiful Void: The Penrose hotel is mostly pristine, but apart from you, the manager, and the few staff robots it controls, the place seems to be utterly empty. It turns out that, as revealed by the manager, this is because Alex rejected the simulation when it was filled with AI guests, so it was restarted empty.
  • The Blank: The manager and the hotel staff robots have no facial features.
  • Book Ends:
    • Every day begins with you getting out of bed, and ends with you returning to bed.
    • If you choose to reset the "Groundhog Day" Loop at the end, the game will end exactly as it begun, down to the manager knocking on the door.
    • Less pronounced if you choose to leave the Penrose - then, the game begins and ends with Alex waking up, though the circumstances are very different.
  • Break the Cutie: What seems to have happened to Worrall, going by the progression of their logs from excited to be working for the Penrose to disillusioned and fighting a losing battle against the company's morally bankrupt management.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The basis of the puzzles - you have several colors (starting with two, ending at four), and you can swap them between your phone and the cubes that hold them. The most basic obstacle in the puzzles are color-coded gates that require that your phone has the appropriate color before they let you pass.
  • The Computer Is Your Friend: The manager attempts to force you to remain at the hotel, supposedly for your own good, though it turns out you asked it to.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The management of Spectrum is implied to be this, as they appear to care far more about their profits than the fact that they've created a Lotus-Eater Machine that may have trapped a ton of mentally disturbed people, and they have no idea who's in it. As Worrall points out, you don't get to grow this fast by keeping your hands clean.
  • Corrupted Data: According to one of Worrall's logs, following some sort of scandal, all of Spectrum's data has been wiped out, meaning they now have little idea who's in their retreats. In fact, there seems to be at least one murderer in here...
  • Corrupt Politician: A newspaper article prominent in the game suggests Governor Crow might be one, going by his dismantling of the public healthcare, which would obviously favor the private sector.
  • Creepy Crows: Images of crows are seen at multiple points of the story. This is some good Foreshadowing as well, since a gathering of crows is called a "murder"...and Governor Crow is one of the people Alex blames for the death of his son.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Alex seems to have crossed this after Robin's death. Judging from the memories player comes across throughout the puzzle sections, his house becomes increasingly disorganized, as pizza boxes, alcohol bottles and due medical bills pile up. And then you see the divorce documents with his and Maddie's signatures on them...
    • Implied to be Maddie's case, too, if her falsifying his ex-husband's signature to have him trapped in the Penrose Hotel is any indication.
  • Developer's Foresight: While this is a puzzle game that's all about controlling colors, it does have a color-blind option for players to choose.
  • Driven to Suicide: It's heavily implied that if Alex succeeds in his plan of killing Dr. Wright and Crow, he'll take his own life at the end. The hint is that the photo of him (the hooded figure) was marked as target "number 4" - after Dr. Wright (number 2) and Crow (number 3).
  • Fisher King: As the days go by, the hotel becomes "infected" with Alex's memories, from pictures in frames filling up with his family photographs to various posters and leaflets being replaced with ones reading "Vote Crow".
  • Flash Step: How the teleporters introduced in Floor 3 work - as long as they're in your line of sight and of the right color, you can leap to them.
  • Flatline: You can hear in in the flashback where Dr. Wright told Maddie she can no longer continue treating Robin, signalling clearly what happened to the boy.
  • The Ghosts: Everyone - except for you and the manager - is only a voice, whether in your ear (i.e., Cooper) or in flashbacks (everyone else), though you get to see Alex's victim and would-be victims in the photo frames around the hotel on later days.
  • Gilded Cage: The Penrose provides high-quality service, endless entertainment and gourmet food... but you can't leave. Furthermore, the manager says at the very end that the hotel's previous versions had also more guests, but were retired because Alex was apparently unhappy. Then again, it's revealed that you are the one who decided to stay in the hotel and its endless cycle.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: At the end of the game, the manager encourages you to stay at the hotel, while Cooper tries to get you to leave. It's up to you to judge who's the good angel and who's the bad one.
  • Gravity Screw: Floor 4's authentication challanges introduce wall pads that, when you press yourself against them, change the gravity so that they're under your feet.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Apart perhaps from Crow, whose reasons for what he did are never explored, every other character seems to be a victim of circumstances rather than an outright villain. Perhaps the darkest shade of gray belongs to Alex, the confirmed murderer; but even then, when you see what he went through, it's kind of hard to tell how dark he is.
  • Grief-Induced Split: The player gradually encounters the memories of what led to protagonist Alex's placement in the "Hotel California"-esque Penrose Hotel. His son Robin died after Alex and his wife Maddie were unable to keep paying for medical treatment, spiraling Alex into a depression that resulted in divorce. Maddie then had him committed to Penrose to put an end to his grief-laden Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop:
    • According to Cooper - and going by the manager's behavior - your every day at the Penrose looked exactly the same before she contacted you, down to the table you sit at and the food you eat. It's even notable in some details in your room: the small calendar by the side of your bed has every day as 20th of May and marking the day in it is always reseted by the next morning.
    • The entire game is an iteration of one - as Cooper realizes, and the manager points out, you've reached the roof on your own several times already, only to return and wipe your own memories clean. You can choose to continue it, or break the cycle.
  • Hell Hotel: Downplayed. The Penrose is pristine, but... let's just say more than a little bit off, what with its odd management and repeating the same day. Then again, things only get truly bad when you and Cooper start mingling with the simulation.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Maddie's crying. It starts when you watch the flashback of the hospital ending their treatment of Robin, and ends only when you finish the puzzle, which can take a while. At least one player was quite disturbed by that.
  • Herald: Cooper's message is what breaks you out of the loop. Or not, as on the last day it is revealed that you've reached the roof several times already without her help.
  • Heroic Mime: The only time the player character makes a sound is the sharp intake of breath as he wakes up from the simulation, and that's only if you choose to leave Penrose at the end.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: After the flashback of what is not-so-subtly implied to be Robin's death, you can hear Alex's wife Maddie crying, and it's not pleasant at all.
  • Inside a Computer System: The Penrose is a full-immersion VR designed to simulate the perfect vacation resort. The final puzzle level shows ads with many other possible resorts that could serve as alternate destinations.
  • Internal Reformist:
    • Worrall remained at Spectrum to attempt to get them to start behaving more ethically about their client base. A shame it didn't seem to be working too well.
    • Cooper is heavily implied to be working inside Spectrum while trying to help you and everyone else trapped in their retreats get out.
  • Internal Reveal: It takes Cooper a bit longer than the player to realize that Alex murdered Matthews.
  • Jump Scares: Three notable instances:
    • When Alex has done finding clues in the room behind the stage, he walks out... only to be greeted by a hotel staff member who's inexplicably behind the door, saying that Alex isn't supposed to be here. First-time players seem to be quite startled by it. Not helping is that Cooper is urging Alex to leave, saying he'll be in trouble if he gets caught.
    • When Alex has finished reading the history of Penrose in the library, he turns around... only to find out that the manager has apparently been standing behind him for more than a moment. To top it off, the manager then proceeds to not-so-subtly express suspicion about Alex's unusual behavior. Accompanied by a subdued Scare Chord no less.
    • As you get on the elevator to the fifth floor and turn around, you see the Manager staring at you and he wasn't there a second ago...
  • Karma Houdini: As far as we know, Alex hasn't received any punishment for murdering Matthews. Then again, being locked in a place where your memory (that is, the person itself) could get deleted, perhaps forever, could count as a way to lock him.
  • The Last DJ: Cameron Worrall seems like the only member of Spectrum's management that seems to have any professional ethic left, and admits they're only left because of Penrose - their pet project - being a massive success. This eventually got them booted from the company.
  • Leap of Faith: If you choose to leave the simulation, you take a leap from the hotel's rooftop.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: What Spectrum is, in essence. It's full-immersion VR that seemingly allows any particularly determined customer to wipe their own memories of the outside world.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Matthews' death, apparently, as the authorities initially classified it as an accident. It didn't work well, though as rumors of it being homicide - not to mention actual eyewitnesses - quickly abound.
  • Meaningful Names: A couple.
    • "Penrose" could be considered one, albeit not by its designer's intention - "Pen" as in cage, and "Rose" as in decoration, meaning gilded.
    • The company that made the whole hotel simulation thing is called "Spectrum". In physics, this word refers to the range of varying frequencies of electromagnetic waves - including the visible lights that give rise to colors. What do the game's puzzles revolve around again?
    • Governor Crow's name is also meaningful, considering that a group of crows is considered a "murder", which is what Alex plans to do to Crow.
  • Memory Gambit: Alex deliberately lets his memories be wiped to keep himself from getting out of the Penrose and killing people, and perhaps also to forget about Robin's death.
  • Multiple Endings: At the end, knowing what you know about the reason for you being in the hotel, you can choose to wipe your memories and remain in the simulation, or leave, uncertain of what you'll do now that you have the freedom to continue your misguided crusade.
  • Murder-Suicide: What Alex's plan was, before Maddie forced him into the Penrose - to kill everyone he believes responsible for his son's death, ending with himself.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Cooper mutters the latter part of this upon realizing she might've just helped a serial killer in the making escape his prison.
  • Ominous Visual Glitch: Begins to show up starting from the second floor. As Alex's memories begin to return, the environment of the hotel gets... weirder. At some points it even looks like the whole place is going to glitch out of existence as parts of the floor and the walls turns into glowing blocks, then the hotel staff robots, who're already a bit uncanny to begin with, start to show even more erratic behavior.
  • Ontological Mystery: The game is as much about escaping the Penrose as it is about figuring out how you got into it.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Alex and Maddie's son died of an unknown disease in part because they didn't have money to pay for his continual treatment, and the governor dismantled the public healthcare system.
  • Red Herring:
    • Worrall's log when he said he gave the manager AI the control over the entire hotel implies this is a case of A.I. Is a Crapshoot. In fact, the manager's attempt to keep you in is exactly what you wanted.
    • Despite being advertised everywhere and talked about by the hotel's staff, you never get to see Splendisi's magic show.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A particularly misguided one. Alex - you - decided to take your revenge on every person he believed responsible for Robin's death - the insurance salesman who couldn't lend him more money, the doctor who decided to divert the hospital's resources to other patients due to lack of results, the governor who dismantled the public healthcare plan, and, finally, himself.
  • Robot Maid: The entire staff of the Penrose is composed of robots, all the way to the manager.
  • Score Screen: Perfectly integrated in the story: just before the finale, you get to see the Manager's notepad, where completion times for the challenges and the number of deaths and restarts are recorded.
  • Shout-Out: A rather out-of-universe one - many of the game's achievements reference the song Hotel California.
  • Sigil Spam: The double circle logo of the game can be found everywhere in the hotel, as it is Spectrum's logo, and the company wants to make it very clear who made the Penrose.
  • Sound-Only Death: As with all flashbacks, you only hear Alex pushing Matthews under the train.
  • Story Breadcrumbs: Two sets of these:
    • Your memories, which're encountered as small scenes, documents, and dialogue bits in the puzzle sections.
    • The journal logs of Cameron Worrall, one of Penrose's designers, strewn about the hotel itself.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Heavily implied to be how Alex plans to murder Dr. Wright. In a memory scene, we found that Alex had purchased rat poison, and was making notes about the locations of the hospital's kitchen and Wright's office.
  • Teleportation: The teleporters, introduced on Floor 3, which will pull you towards them even if the space between you and them should be too small to squeeze through.
  • Villain Protagonist: Alex could be considered one, as he has committed murder.
    • Tragic Villain: If you consider Alex to be the story's villain, then he could easily be this. Basically, his son and only child died of a disease. His family went broke paying for all the healthcare - his wife Maddie mentioned losing their house, and all the medical bills you see throughout the game aren't pretty. In his despair, he tried to right these wrong... by planning to murder the people he regards as responsible for his son's death. He in fact succeeded in killing his first victim, and got away with it too.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Cooper. Literally, as she researches various names you find in the Penrose to provide extra context.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Maddie, arguably. She forged Alex's signature to force him into the Spectrum's Lotus-Eater Machine, but she did so because he's already murdered one person and would probably continue if not stopped.
  • Wham Episode: Floor 4, where it's revealed that after Robin's death, Alex decided to murder everyone he believed responsible for it, and actually succeeded at murdering Matthews.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Alex turns out to be a serial murderer in the making. But even after knowing that, most players will still feel sorry for him, given his rather tragic backstory.