It has been interesting watching the evolution of first person games in real time. My formative years were in the early days when the likes of DOOM and its many clones eventually turned into Half-Life style games with a focus on narrative and the addition of careful platforming. What started out as a revolution eventually became reviled, as precise first person platforming started to be seen as a negative and something that could spoil an FPS entirely.
But then we got Mirror’s Edge. A game that may not have been as revolutionary as the aforementioned titles, but one that eventually spawned a whole new genre. Platforming in first person didn’t have to suck and could, in fact, be the best part of the game if you make it both cool as hell and not too stressful to pull off. Recent years have seen the likes of Ghostrunner and Neon White, both of which are masterpieces and both of which have slick movement and platforming as their primary function.
Needless to say I was excited for the release of Spectrolite, a game that follows in a very similar vein albeit with zero combat. If they pull it off, this could prove to be another fantastic first person parkour game to add to that admittedly rather short list.
Many thanks to Dolores Entertainment for the review copy.
If there’s any of kind of plot to Spectrolite, it’s so unobvious as to appear non-existent. The game starts you off in what seems like a futuristic void, with huge bland white structures for you to traverse. Of course, this is but a tutorial area in order to teach you how run, jump, wall run, and use the weird air bubbles that are able to launch you into the distance. It’s a pretty bland-looking area, and feels quite tedious as you work your way through a tutorial that’s both incredibly long-winded and visually quite boring too. It’s a really poor start to the game that made me just want to stop playing before I’d even begun.
But, then that moment happens. You know the one. The games that start off with dull area only to contrast it with intentional beauty as you finally make it out. It’s a dangerous game to play right at the start, and it’s one that the likes of Oblivion pulled off with aplomb. The same could be said of Spectrolite, but it sure takes its time teasing you. Even when the slog that is the tutorial is finally over, you still find yourself in some rather confined corridors until you finally make it outside and see the vaporwave landscape ahead of you. It’s absolutely stunning when that moment hits, even if the game has very almost lost you at that point.
Thankfully this exuberance only continues to build as the level progresses and you’re hopping between giant skyscrapers and avoiding trains that are moving across the skyscape. It’s beautiful, yet also unsettling as you find yourself running alone through this seemingly abandoned cyberpunk landscape. Where is everyone? Who are you? Where is this place? There are no answers, unfortunately, but the wonder still exists and rarely lets go.
As for the platforming itself, it’s relatively easy to do, in principle, as there are very few button inputs that you have to contend with. The right trigger is assigned to your jump, and your ancillary abilities and techniques revolve around that. You start off being able to wallrun and use special bubble that launch you into the air, but you’ll later learn other techniques to add to your repertoire. What makes the game tough is doing what you need to do without fail: whether it’s wallrunning around the interior of a cylindrical building, or hopping across narrow rails, a certain degree of precision is required. The good thing is that things rarely feel unfair, even if there are some moments where thing don’t quite seem to work properly. Whether it’s falling through bubbles or not quite sticking properly to some wallrunning surfaces, there are certainly moments that can cause you to fail – thankfully though, these moments are few and far between.
The overall difficulty of the game is also aided by the relatively frequent checkpoints dotted around the stage. Each major challenge is usually placed within two checkpoints, so difficult sections don’t often feel too overwhelmingly impossible. The occasional one can be a little too far away for my liking, especially when you have to start racing against a ghostly opponent, but they’re still quite generous. The problem with these checkpoints is that they don’t actually hard-save your game when you exit (something the game doesn’t really warn you about either), meaning that you’ll have to make it all the way to the end of an entire stage if you want to maintain your progress. Given that even the early stages can take upwards of an hour to beat, it’s a pretty big ask – even for hardened gamers. Hopefully the development team see fit to address this in a future update, as this alone will likely cause many gamers to put down the controller.
Whilst it may not hit the highs of other first person parkour titles, Spectrolite still manages to scratch that freerunning itch. Even though the game probably could have done with some better save functionality, gamers looking for a challenge will still find a lot to love here – assuming that they’re willing to put up with the long slog it takes to get through the brutal stages.