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Secrets of Raetikon review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £7
inc VAT

The game's structure feels a little flat at times, but this gorgeously realised world is well worth exploring

Outside of flight sims, the idea of soaring through the heavens is rarely explored in games. Characters are usually rooted firmly on the ground and, unless you happen to acquire an airship somewhere along the way, that’s where you’ll stay. Secrets of Raetikon from Austrian developer Broken Rules bucks that trend by giving you the wings of Fink to play with, a strange bird man who must uncover the mysteries of his alpine homeland by offering up tiny golden “slivers” to ancient, mystical altars.

Secrets of Raetikon
The fox den is one of the game’s most stunning and beautiful areas

The single-player follow up to Broken Rules’ Wii U-only multiplayer title, Chasing Aurora, Secrets of Raetikon takes your breath away from the very first frame. As Fink freefalls out of the clouds, the game’s beautifully prismatic art style looks even more striking and refined than its Wii U predecessor. It’s a style that basks in bright, warm colours yet feels more intricately detailed than almost any other indie game we’ve played in recent months, and it helps create a world where you want to spend as much time in as possible.

There are plenty of secrets to uncover, but Secrets of Raetikon lets you discover them at your own pace. After a few quick tutorial control prompts, you’re free to explore this largely linear place at your own leisure. You’ll glide through dense forests, crest high craggy mountain tops and nosedive into deep blue lakes before you’re through, and the neighbouring wildlife only help it to feel that much more organic and alive. The tiny chirps of sparrows ring from every canopy, rabbits and hares jump and box when you fly nearby and magpies squawk as they trail in your wake, just waiting for the moment when you stumble upon something shiny they’ve had their eye on.

Secrets of Raetikon
Strange statues abound in Secrets of Raetikon, but you’ll have to find all 26 runes to discover the story behind them

Other more hostile birds cruise these forests as well, including vicious buzzards and huge black ravens, but while these foes are always ready to pluck a beak full of feathers out of you, it’s the magpies that you’ll grow to hate the most. For as soon as you offer up enough slivers to each altar, you must return its glowing treasure back to a colossal shrine at the western most edge of the map, and those golden orbs are perfect magpie magnets. They’ll do all they can to stop you, whether it’s snatching it from your arms mid-flight or bandying it about between them like a bunch of school yard thugs.

It’s best to steer clear of them altogether, as your powers to fight back are limited. While buzzards have a health-crippling swoop attack, Fink only has his hands to try and grab hold of his attackers and maybe throw them into the nearest bramble patch if he’s lucky. More resourceful players might be able to wield thistle branches as a kind of makeshift spear or lug a rock around as an unreliable shield, but neither solution is particularly easy to carry out when the wind is blowing everything awry.

Secrets of Raetikon
Most of the time, the camera is tightly focused on Fink, but occasionally it will pan back to reveal the massive scale of the game’s environments

Combat isn’t really what Secrets of Raetikon is about, though, and dodging your pursuers is all part of the game’s challenge. If anything, the controls are even more finely tuned than they were in Chasing Aurora, and Fink’s fluid sense of movement is so satisfyingly smooth that it’s a shame there weren’t more open spaces where we could stretch our wings. Admittedly, flapping around through tight corridors of trees and thorny dens can feel a little lethargic and unwieldy at times, but the freedom of movement you’re afforded everywhere else more than makes up for the few odd moments where you’re stuck in close quarters.

Secrets of Raetikon isn’t simply a series of fetch quests strung together one after the other, though, as you’ll need to manipulate the environment to your own ends to uncover every last treasure. You’ll find light jigsaw puzzles where you’ll need to reconstruct various animal statutes to unlock shortcuts and different altars, and deep underwater passages that require some incredibly precise dives (and maybe the odd bit of help from a large rock as well). It’s here where you realised just how finely tuned the game’s physics engine is, as puzzle pieces will flip round and slide together depending on which edge you grab, and plunging headfirst down a canyon will see you quickly bounce back to the surface if you miss your target.

Secrets of Raetikon
This altar’s sentient branches won’t let you leave with its treasure unless you trick it into grabbing something else

Our only main complaint was just how much backtracking was involved in carrying the altar treasures back and forth across the world. For a game about flight, the main routes are all relatively flat, and we would have liked to have seen a few more alternate pathways that took you above the ever-present altitude ceiling that sends you arcing back to earth if you fly too high.

Likewise, we felt the game’s revive system was a little unfair. As well as red life orbs you can collect from smashing eggs and uprooting sprouting plants, you can also collect green orbs by hatching sparrow eggs in nests and reading the healthy supply of runestones scattered around the map. Once you’ve collected enough green orbs, you can be revived instantly when you die, but if your revive bar isn’t full, you’re sent straight back to the shrine at the start of the map, with all your hard-earned orbs floating around where you last fell. The only problem is that these green orbs don’t regenerate, making it difficult to not only build up your revive bar in the first place, but also even more tricky to fill it up again for the return journey.

Secrets of Raetikon
Wind currents guide you through each scene, but flying off the beaten tracks is far more rewarding

Secrets of Raetikon is also incredibly short, clocking in at just over two hours. Some may feel that £7 is a rather high entry fee for such a short game, but we’d say it’s well worth the trip. With an art style unlike anything else you can currently find on PC, Secrets of Raetikon evokes a genuine sense of awe with each new scene that unfolds and its soothing, hands-off approach to 2D exploration gives you the time and space to explore the world at your leisure. If you’re looking for something a little different to the usual indie fare, Secrets of Raetikon certainly deserves your attention.

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